The ongoing war in Ukraine adds timely resonance to Nenad Cicin-Sain’s documentary about the underground art and music movement that arose in Sarajevo during the Bosnian war of the 1990s. Not that he needed it, since embrace the future would have the same power at all times in a world perpetually marked by armed conflict. This moving and inspiring film premiered at Berlin Film Festival also boasts a commercial hook in the form of the band U2, which features prominently in the proceedings via both archival footage and contemporary interviews with the members. bono, The edge and Larry Clayton.
Based on the 2004 memoir Fools rush From Bill S. Carter, who also wrote the screenplay and provides frequent on-screen commentary, the film revolves around the nearly four-year-long siege of Sarajevo by the Bosnian Serbs. As a result, its inhabitants were essentially trapped, including many young people who were keen to reassert their spirit of independence despite the dangers involved.
embrace the future
A touching reminder of the power of music to change the world.
“The public literally risked their lives to attend performances,” recalls one of the many musicians who gave concerts in the underground clubs and discos that sprung up during the conflict. “It was real therapy for us,” commented another. We hear the story of a drummer whose hand was blown off on his way to a gig, and see a photo of him later playing happily with his drum stick stuck to his arm. Many musicians cite The Clash as a touchstone and inspiration for the politically and socially conscious music they wanted to create.
At the time, Carter was a young writer and photographer still grieving the recent death of his girlfriend. He traveled to Sarajevo and got involved with Sarajevo TV, and soon set his sights on getting an interview with one of his musical heroes, Bono, who was intensely concerned about what was going on there- down. He eventually got an on-camera interview, done at one of the band’s European shows, during which he tried to persuade Bono to play a show in Sarajevo.
We see several minutes of snippets from the interview, the most priceless moment of which comes when Bono literally shivers when Carter tells him that the young people there not only like rock and roll but also disco.
The ever socially conscious musician tried to get his bandmates to agree to play there, but they were understandably reluctant. “Uh, isn’t there a war over there?” The Edge remembers asking. Instead, they held live video connections with Sarajevo TV on their hugely successful Zoo TV tour, which featured giant video screens. The documentary includes footage from several such shows in which Bono addressed Carter and various guests directly in front of thousands of spectators.
“We gave them a serious dose of non-editorial reality in the middle of our show,” The Edge points out.
Unfortunately, the encounters weren’t always particularly enlightening, with several of Carter’s guests taking the opportunity to send personal messages to their wives and girlfriends. “It started to look a bit like reality TV, using people’s pain and angst to entertain itself,” says Bono, who eventually quit the practice.
Nonetheless, the group remained intensely involved in the cause, composing the classic song “Miss Sarajevo” with Brian Eno which was inspired by a Sarajevo guerrilla beauty pageant whose contestants displayed a large banner with the phrase “Don ‘t Let Them Kill Us”. When the siege was finally lifted following the Dayton Peace Accords, the band planned to perform in the bombed-out city.
Footage of the ensuing concert in 1997, played in front of around 45,000 fans, is the emotional climax of the documentary. Bono’s nerves were at such a fever pitch that his voice gave out, but the audience happily took over the vocals with exuberant chants.
“The war ended the moment Bono came on stage,” recalls a spectator. It was the largest gathering in the city since the start of the war, and we see many spectators overcome with emotion as they watch footage of the spectacle which took place more than 25 years ago.
The final moments of the film feature a montage of recent scenes of war, unrest and authoritarian rule across the world. It’s a grim reminder that a story like this is likely to repeat itself over and over again.