The annual Sarajevo Film Festival opens its doors Friday evening for the 11th time, which began as an act of defiance during the 1992-95 Bosnian war.
"We are sure that this year Sarajevo is going to be confirmed as the main meeting place for all regional film makers and also the main place they can meet international colleagues from the film industry," said Miro Purivatra, who has been the director of the festival since its beginning.
Movie-goers queued up days ago to get their tickets and to be among the expected 100,000 to watch 170 movies from around 40 countries. About 1,000 film industry guests are led by director, writer and producer Alexander Payne, two time winner of the Golden Globe Awards and this year's Academy Award winner for his film "Sideways." Payne will preside over the jury for the short film award.
The guest list also includes British actors Daniel Craig and Vanessa Redgrave. Margot Stilley will promote her movie "9 Songs," to Sarajevans.
The festival started when this Balkan capital was besieged by Bosnian Serb forces positioned on the mountains surrounding the city during the war. With people cut off and under attack, the festival was created to remind the world that Sarajevans were starved for culture as well as food.
"Ten years ago, we ran through bullets and shells to come see the festival and escape from the harsh reality for few hours," Sanja Custovic, a 38 year-old pharmacist said. "Now, it is the most important annual cultural event in the country with VIPs coming from around the world."
At the first festival, about 15,000 movie-goers dodged sniper fire to attended screenings in a downtown basement. The feature film, "Pulp Fiction," proved memorable because the boom of explosions outside offered a backdrop to the ones on screen.
Eleven years later, explosion from artillery are replaced by fireworks and a 2,500-seat open-air cinema replaced the basement. Celebrities are set to stroll along a red carpet at a gala Saturday evening event.
"The main task of this festival is to discover, promote and help regional authors and producers. Our red carpet is reserved only them and from here we want to open doors for them to go to the biggest European film festivals: Cannes, Berlin and Venice," Purivatra said.
The festival gives moviemakers from southeastern Europe the chance to network and find distributors for their work. Bosnian director Danis Tanovic presented his "No Man's Land" here, which went on to win the 2002 Academy Award for best foreign film.
More than 200 producers will be present at the 11th festival, "basically looking for a new Danis Tanovic," Purivatra said.
This year, "Go West", a movie by Sarajevo director Ahmed Imamovic, will be promoted during the festival. The movie, depicting gay love during the Bosnian war, sparked fierce debate in Sarajevo even before it was finished.
Eleven movies from nine countries from the region will compete for the Heart of Sarajevo award this year, the AP reported.