Elene Naveriani’s “Blackbird Blackbird Blackberry” won the top prize, the Heart of Sarajevo Award for best feature film, Friday at the Sarajevo Film Festival. The Georgian film, in which a stoically independent woman in her late 40s experiences a gentle existential awakening during an affair with a local deliveryman, also won the best actress prize for Ekaterine Chavleishvili’s performance.
The award for best director went to Ukraine’s Philip Sotnychenko for “La Palisiada,” and the best actor prize was picked up by Serbia’s Jovan Ginić – who won the Louis Roederer Foundation Rising Star Award at Cannes – for “Lost Country.” Serbian director Nemanja Vojinović’s “Bottlemen” took the documentary film award.
The awards were given by a jury headed by actor Mia Wasikowska (“Club Zero”), which included Danish-Croatian actor Zlatko Burić (“Triangle of Sadness”), Serbian-Danish actor Danica Ćurčić (“The Chestnut Man”), Museum of Modern Art Department of Film curator Josh Siegel and Croatian writer-director Juraj Lerotić, who won last year’s top prize in Sarajevo with “Safe Place.”
The ceremony at Sarajevo’s historic National Theater took place beneath stormy skies, as thunder rumbled over the green hills that ring this picturesque Balkan city and arrivals did their best to strike poses on a red carpet still water-logged from evening rain showers. Many wore orange ribbons pinned to their lapels that were handed out by the festival as a symbol of the fight against gender-based violence.
It was a fittingly sober close to a festival that, despite shattering last year’s record-breaking attendance figures, played out against the backdrop of a grisly crime that has left this small Balkan nation reeling.
Last Friday, in the small northeastern town of Gradačac, a man livestreamed the murder of his former wife on Instagram before killing another man and his son, injuring a further three people before committing suicide. Officials later said some 12,000 people watched the slaying live, and the video received 126 likes.
On Wednesday, the Bosnia and Herzegovina government declared a nationwide “Day of Mourning” following the gruesome crime. In response, the festival cancelled all screenings and public events that day, apart from a special panel that included several filmmakers discussing the representations of violence against women in a region where such crimes are still shockingly, appallingly common.
The emotional, standing-room-only event at Sarajevo’s red-carpeted Festival Square was broadcast live on Bosnian television. Festival topper Jovan Marjanović, expressing his dismay at a “terrible incident” that “shocked the country,” told Variety that the hastily assembled panel was a “humble but relevant contribution” to the ongoing conversation around domestic violence and femicide, noting that the festival program this year included over 15 titles dealing directly with the subject. “These are terrible circumstances, but I think we did what a film festival should do,” he said.
The sudden disruption mid-fest caused by the sweeping cancellations left organizers on their back foot as they scrambled to shuffle film premieres and other public events. “We had to reschedule the last three days entirely,” said Marjanović. “It was quite a big feat to move 100 different programming items — screenings and panels and masterclasses. It was a terrific effort from the team that did this overnight.” The effort paid off, with the festival registering a 50% box office increase and a 30% jump in total admissions from a record-breaking 2022, with more than 130,000 tickets sold at this year’s event.
It wasn’t the only disturbance at this year’s Sarajevo Film Festival, which faced a backlash on Wednesday over the inclusion of a controversial Serbian historical drama in an industry event. The World War II drama, “Heroes of Halyard,” which was part of a content showcase from Serbia’s state-backed Telekom Srbija, was criticized for glorifying a Serbian nationalist group accused of war crimes. Amid a firestorm on social media and in the Bosnian press, the mayor of Sarajevo called for resignations before if the city would continue to provide the festival with support.
Ultimately, said Marjanović, cooler heads prevailed, with the festival chief insisting that “misinformation” around the film’s inclusion was the main culprit and that the political firestorm has blown over. “I don’t think this will, in the end, have a big effect on the market and the way that CineLink happened this year,” he said. “It’s just a story that exploded, so people followed it. But overall, I think this is something that we will overcome, have the lessons learned and make sure it never happens again.”
AWARDS OF THE 29TH SARAJEVO FILM FESTIVAL
COMPETITION PROGRAM – FEATURE FILM
Mia Wasikowska (actor, director, Australia)
Zlatko Burić (actor, Croatia, Denmark)
Danica Čurčić (actor, Serbia, Denmark)
Juraj Lerotić (director, actor, Croatia)
Josh Siegel (curator of MOMA’s Department of Film, U.S.)
Heart of Sarajevo for best feature film
“Blackbird Blackbird Blackberry” (Georgia, Switzerland)
Director: Elene Naveriani
Producer: Britta Rindelaub, Thomas Reichlin, Ketie Danelia
Heart of Sarajevo for best director
Philip Sotnychenko, “La Palisiada” (Ukraine)
Heart of Sarajevo for best actress
Ekaterine Chavleishvili, “Blackbird Blackbird Blackberry” (Georgia, Switzerland)
Heart of Sarajevo for best actor
Jovan Ginić, “Lost Country” (Serbia, France, Croatia, Luxembourg, Qatar)
COMPETITION PROGRAM – DOCUMENTARY FILM
Iva Dimitrova (Program manager at Chicken and Egg Pictures, U.S.)
Niklas Engstrom (artistic director at CPH:DOX, Denmark)
Péter Kerekes (director, Producer, Slovakia)
Heart of Sarajevo for best documentary film
“Bottlemen” (Serbia, Slovenia)
Director: Nemanja Vojinović
Heart of Sarajevo for best short documentary film
Director: Sara Jurinčić
Human Rights Award
“Silence of Reason” (North Macedonia, Bosnia and Herzegovina)
Director: Kumjana Novakova
The Human Rights Award is presented for the best film from the competition program – documentary film that addresses human rights issues.
Special Jury Award
“Fairy Garden” (Hungary, Romania, Croatia)
Director: Gergő Somogyvári
COMPETITION PROGRAM – SHORT FILM
Turai Balazs (director, animation artist, Hungary)
Nina Rodriguez (head of programming at Guanajuato Film Festival, Mexico)
Wim Vanacker (programmer at Cannes short film competition, France)
Heart of Sarajevo for best short film (eligible for Oscar nomination)
“27” (Hungary, France)
Director: Flóra Anna Buda
COMPETITION PROGRAM – STUDENT FILM
Kumjana Novakova (programmer, professor, producer and filmmaker, North Macedonia)
Tomek Popakuł (director, animation artist, Poland)
Damir Šagolj (journalist, photographer, director of photography, professor at Academy of Performing Arts Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina)
Heart of Sarajevo for best student film
“Falling” (Hungary, Belgium, Portugal)
Director: Anna Gyimesi
Jury Special Mention
“Short Cut Grass” (Croatia)
Director: David Gašo
SPECIAL AWARD FOR PROMOTING GENDER EQUALITY
Jay Van Hoy (producer, U.S.)
Nashen Moodley (director of the Sydney Film Festival, Australia, South Africa)
Mila Schlingemann (Head of Programming at Eye Filmmuseum, Netherlands)
“De Facto” (Austria, Germany)
Director: Selma Doborac
HONORARY HEART OF SARAJEVO
Awarded in recognition of exceptional contribution to the art of film.
Mark Cousins, director and screenwriter
Lynne Ramsay, director, screenwriter and producer
Charlie Kaufman, screenwriter, director and producer