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SARAJEVO 2022 Documentary Competition

Review: Lights of Sarajevo

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- In his documentary, Srđan Perkić tells the story of one of the most beloved Sarajevo bands, Zabranjeno pušenje, and the city itself

Review: Lights of Sarajevo

In the times of socialist Yugoslavia, Sarajevo had the informal status of, figuratively speaking, the scale model for the whole country, representing its diversities the most faithfully. This was the reason why pop-cultural products from Sarajevo, like movies filmed there and musical acts, could find their audiences all over Yugoslavia more easily than movies and bands from other cities and towns in the country. One of those legendary bands from Sarajevo is No Smoking (“Zabranjeno pušenje” in the original language), whose complicated history stretching over a 40 year period is the subject of Srđan Perkić’s documentary Lights of Sarajevo which just premiered in the documentary competition of the Sarajevo Film Festival.

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Zabranjeno pušenje was formed by a group of Sarajevo teenagers as a punkish, subversive band in the late '70s and achieved first local and then nationwide fame in the '80s, releasing four albums and playing big gigs all over Yugoslavia. However, in 1990, the band's founding members and leaders Nele Karajlić and Sejo Sexon decided to split up over creative differences. After the war in Yugoslavia, two separate bands were formed under the same name, one based in Belgrade, the other in Sarajevo, both claiming rights to the original band’s heritage, while developing their careers in separate directions. Karajlić’s branch later became the No Smoking Orchestra, known for performing music in numerous Emir Kusturica films. Sexon’s branch of the band and Sexon himself (actually, the person behind the nickname, Davor Sučić) are in the centre of Perkić’s documentary, serving as its co-screenwriter and narrator, therefore providing the singular point of view that is still respectful to the other branch of the former band.

But Lights of Sarajevo is not just a story about the band, but also about the city, its unique way of life through different times (there is a sense of relief that the war is rarely mentioned and does not serve as the topic of the film), and especially one of its cult places, the Skenderija sports hall. The band’s last concert in it in 2019 serves as the film's framework, both narrative and musical, since the numbers played at the concert are abundantly re-used for the documentary’s soundscape. However, the juicier parts of the films consist of Sexon’s anecdotes both from the past and the present and his musings about the music, the touring, the status of the band that is cult on one level, but also down to earth and folksy on another.

Aware that he is making a music documentary, Perkić combines the archival and the newly filmed material, playing the band members and the things they contribute to their strengths. Sexon is a talkative and interesting narrator, providing intriguing information in a casual way. The band’s guitarist Toni Lović serves also as the film’s sound designer. Perkić infuses the film with some music video aesthetics as well, using short takes from multiple cinematographers and Tomislav Josipović’s sharp, rapid editing, even multiple projections, for seemingly no reason other than to show off.

Eventually, Lights of Sarajevo would serve as a very decent anthology of the band’s work and working conditions for existing fans, and as an introduction to it for new ones. Its sheer topic would be sufficient to get an audience in the region and among the Yugoslav diaspora and to secure bookings in regional festivals specialised in music documentaries, while its 68-minute format can make it suitable for television distribution.

Lights of Sarajevo was produced by Amra Hadžihafizbegović-Deović

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