Friday, May 02, 2014

BHFF ’14: Finding Family

In a cruel twist of fate, Oggi Tomić’s Sarajevo orphanage may very well have been shelled by his Bosnian Serb relatives he had never had a chance to meet. It could have been an ironic tragedy worthy of Sophocles, but somehow Tomić survived the Siege. In collaboration with fellow filmmaker Chris Leslie, Tomić documents his bittersweet Bosnian homecoming and a somewhat reluctant journey into Srpska in search of his roots in Finding Family (trailer here), which screens during the 2014 Bosnian-Herzegovinian Film Festival in New York.

Born with excess cranial flood, Tomić is arguably lucky to be alive. However, the infant came through emergency surgery with no long term damage, except for a bit of scar tissue on his scalp. The question of how much his birth-mother knew of his prognosis before abandoning him will understandably nag at the British based filmmaker.

Despite his Serbian name, Tomić always identified as Bosnian. After all, he was just as vulnerable to Serb shells as his fellow orphans. Without question, enduring the Siege instilled profound feelings of Bosnian solidarity in Tomić, undiminished by his new life in the United Kingdom.  As a result, he has serious misgivings about meeting his blood relatives, well beyond mere abandonment issues.

Given its structure (including an opening teaser), the hour-long Finding Family was clearly produced with the European television market in mind. Obviously Leslie & Tomić’s film addresses deep issues of identity and family, but its emotional impact is considerable nonetheless. Tomić is remarkably honest and direct expressing his lingering pain and resentments to Leslie and his camera. He also vividly recreates a sense of what it was like to come of age during a time of war.

There are moments in Finding Family that are raw and very definitely unscripted. Yet, it is a surprisingly optimistic film, capturing Tomić’s reunion with his early protector and his reawakened love for the city of Sarajevo. While several of Tomić’s encounters are indeed quite moving, the film never relies on cheap sentiment. Recommended for general doc watching audiences as well as loyal festival patrons, Finding Family screens this Saturday (5/3) as part of programming Block #6 at this year’s BHFF in New York.