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The Feeling of a Festival

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By Teresa Sampietro

During the Sarajevo Film Festival, the city changes to be a calm place to be an overcrowded city. The locals get ready during the entire year for this event.

One tourist brochure published by the Sarajevo Canton recommends that visitors to the city adopt the traditional maxim of Sarajevo life- sabur- a Turkish word meaning “calmly, slowly and with patience”.

And in fact Sarajevo seems to be a city on perpetual coffee break. Even its hustle and bustle still somehow gives the impression of an endless, lazy afternoon.

But all that changes for nine days every summer when the Sarajevo Film Festival wakes the city from its afternoon slumber and electrifies the air, transforming the coffee break into a party almost no one can escape- not that anyone would want to. Many locals even take part of their summer holidays during the week of the festival, not to flee the city like the residents of so many other tourist destinations, but rather to fully enjoy the transformation of their city alongside the visitors.

Sarajevo Film Festival LogoAnd in fact, for Sarajlije, the lively mood of the festival can be felt weeks -even months- in advance. There is a buzz in the air and all talk of summer eventually leads to talk of the festival. Movie enthusiasts reminisce about films from years past and eagerly anticipate the publication of the festival schedule while for those of a less cinephilic persuasion the focus point of the festival are the numerous parties and concerts taking place every night throughout the city. The excitement is contagious and those new to Sarajevo, after hearing about the festival from everyone they meet, will soon find themselves anxiously awaiting the unrolling of the red carpet.

They will not be disappointed. With roughly a hundred thousand visitors (according to the Sarajevo Canton) flooding the city, hundreds of regional and international films –both feature length and short-, even two special programs for children and teenagers, dozens of concerts and parties, and numerous other events like Family Day and the Sarajevo Talent Campus, there is truly something for everyone. And that is really something in a city where residents are normally hard pressed to find something new to do.

Walking down Branilaca Sarajeva Street at any given time during the festival, one finds herself caught up in a crowd. And it’s no wonder the street is packed; on this street the National Theater –which hosts the main competition program and the red carpet events-, the Festival Square and the Festival Center/Box Office can all be found within a few meters of each other. But one may be surprised to realize that the crowdedness is not unpleasant or overwhelming. The feeling is one of celebration and joy so it never feels like a traffic jam.

The change in the city’s demeanor has been made even more noticeable the past several years due to the fact that the festival has been immediately followed by the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which is observed by fasting and prayer. Ramadan is fixed by the lunar calendar and therefore moves forward ten days each year, meaning that the festival, which originally took place during the last week of August, has been being held earlier and earlier over the last summers, though in the coming years it should be moved back to its original time.

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