The Sarajevo Film Festival has distanced itself from a controversial Serbian film that has been accused of glorifying Serbian nationalist groups after experts from the feature were screened at the festival’s industry forum.
Heroes Of Halyard, written and directed by Serbian filmmaker Radoš Bajić, is set in a remote Serbian village at the tale end of World War II and tells the story of three brothers and their family torn between conflicting ideologies: Mirko fights in the units of the right-wing Yugoslav Army, Sreten has joined the progressive partisans, while Ilija, the youngest son, is torn between two sides.
The film was not screened as part of the festival. Clips from the pic, currently in post-production, were presented as part of a presentation at Sarajevo’s CineLink industry forum by its producer Telekom Srbija, Serbia’s state-backed telecom company. News of the presentation immediately sparked criticism on the ground in Sarajevo, with local attendees describing the film’s depiction of the right-wing Yugoslav Army as revisionist.
Benjamina Karic, Mayor of Sarajevo, told local press that she is calling for the resignation of the people responsible for the film’s presentation in Sarajevo.
“I am asking for concrete responsibility from the City of Sarajevo if they want to continue cooperation with this city administration,” she said. “Concrete responsibility implies the resignation of the person in charge of this part of the program and the selection of films in this program. The city supports the festival as a major cultural event, but such attacks cause immeasurable damage to the festival and the city of Sarajevo.”
The Yugoslav Army, often referred to as the Chetniks, was aligned with Nazi Germany during WW2 and was responsible for numerous war crimes, primarily against the non-Serb (Muslim and Croat) populations of former Yugoslavia.
In a statement posted on its website Wednesday, the festival said it accepted responsibility for the “inappropriate content” of the film. Still, it said Telekom Srbija breached their trust by launching the screening without permission.
“Up until now, we have communicated with all partners in professional trust regarding the material they would present. The content of this project was never mentioned. It is evident that this supposititious revisionist content has breached that trust,” the statement read.
Moving forward, Sarajevo said all films screening as part of both its competition and industry events will undergo selection by the festival’s programmers.
“The Sarajevo Film Festival will not allow itself to be used for the promotion of historical revisionism of any kind,” the statement ended.
The backlash against Heroes Of Halyard was swift and came after Sarajevo canceled all screenings and social events on the ground to mark Bosnia’s national day of mourning following a high-profile triple murder-suicide in the country’s Northeastern region.