Saturday, May 28, 2011

BHFF ’11: Best Documentary—Much Ado in Mostar

In a divided city, young people try to forge personal connections. It sounds almost Shakespearean. Yet, it is Shakespeare who is the catalyst, bringing together not Capulets and Montagues but Bosnians and Croats in the ancient city of Mostar. Wisely though, the nonprofit Youth Bridge Global (YBG) chose to stage a comedy rather than a tragedy in the still war-scarred city. Their 2009 production of Much Ado About Nothing is chronicled in Steve Nemsick’s Much Ado in Mostar (trailer here), the winner of the Golden Apple for best documentary at the 2011 Bosnian-Herzegovinian Film Festival in New York.

With news of the recent capture and impending war crimes trial of Bosnian-Serb Ratko Mladic, Ado is perhaps timelier now than when it screened at the festival. Indeed, bringing some of the worst perpetrators of war crimes against the Bosnian people will surely help many survivors’ personal recovery process. Yet, YBG co-founder Andrew Garrod (brother of the late Sir Martin Garrod, the EU’s post-Dayton special envoy for Mostar) persuasively argues throughout Ado that the real healing will begin for the city when younger generations start to look past ethnic and religious differences, for the sake of getting on with the business of life. That is the whole idea behind the YBG’s staging of Shakespeare’s Ado.

Though his resources are limited, Garrod is determined to mount a professional grade production, with a cast of neophyte actors (mostly in their early twenties, but some in their mid-teens). Some of his casting choices inspire immediate confidence, others will be an adventure. However, if there were any “us vs. them” tensions behind the scenes, they were not recorded in Nemsick’s Ado. That is significant, because Garrod’s only hard and fast rule was that his ensemble would scrupulously reflect all traditional constituent groups of the Mostar population, including Bosnian-Serbs.

The idea of promoting peace through staging Shakespeare might sound hippy-dippy, but Garrod is all business directing the young Mostar cast. Frankly, he is pretty impressive pushing them to up their game rather than fretting over their self-esteem. Low and behold, it seems to work quite well.

Those scenes of Garrod coaching his young cast puts Nemsick’s Ado squarely in the tradition of the inspiring teacher film. Indeed, the film pays off handsomely in the end. Unfortunately, its early attempts at historical context are a bit thin, largely recycling conventional sound bites. Still, as a film about the personal (with political implications) rather than the macro-geopolitical, it is a rewarding viewing experience.

Nemsick’s Ado was one of at least two sell-outs at this year’s BHFF, which is pretty impressive for most New York fests not called Tribeca. As an award winner with increased topical interest, it should have a considerable run ahead on the festival circuit.