Based on the book written by Michael Nicholson under the name of Natasha’s Story, Welcome to Sarajevo was a British film released in 1997, written by Frank Cottrell Boyce and directed by Michael Winterbottom. The film narrates the story of an ITN British reporter, Michael Henderson who traveled to Sarajevo in 1992 when it was under siege. He stays at Holiday Inn where he meets with the American Journalist Jimmy Flynn. The difference between both was that Henderson felt the suffering of Bosnian people in Sarajevo and tried to help them while Flynn was only seeking exciting news in order to be famous. Afterwards, when Henderson then needed a translator, the ITN hired a Bosnian man called Risto. The turning point of the film was when Henderson visited an orphanage on the borders where 200 children lived under very critical circumstances. Henderson then focuses all his attention on the orphanage to let people be aware of the war and attacks against Sarajevo.
In the orphanage, a child called Emira asked Henderson to be evacuated. Knowing that it is illegal, Henderson asked Nina, a UN employee from the USA to include Emira in the bus, which was planned to evacuate many orphaned children from Sarajevo to Italy. The act was considered illegal because Emira’s mother was still alive. They managed to include Emira after the orphanage director approved Emira’s evacuation because of the critical conditions she was living under.
The most difficult scene was when a group of Chetniks –a World War II movement in Yugoslavia- stopped the bus and took some children on their armed lorry.
After passing through Split (Croatia) and Italy, Henderson arrived with Emira to London. The child was welcomed by Henderson’s family and she lived happily with them until one of his colleagues in Sarajevo tells him that Emira’s mother wants her back.
Back to Sarajevo, Henderson searches for Risto, who was by the time a Bosnian and Herzegovinian, soldier to reach Emira’s mother. They were about to succeed until Risto was killed. A doorman in Holiday Inn called Zeljko replaced Risto. Thanks to Zeljko, Henderson managed to find Emira’s mother who then changed her mind and signed the papers approving Emira’s adoption.
The film ended by Harun, a musician friend of Risto, playing cello on a hill that views Sarajevo. It was a significant scene because Harun promised to hold this concert when Sarajevo drops from the 14th worst crisis in the world to the worst one on earth. Henderson, Flynn and many orphaned children attended this concert. It ended by Henderson giving Harun a sad smile.
What makes this film special is its cosmopolitan cast. The cast included English actors such as the protagonist Stephen Dillane (Michael Henderson), Emily Lloyd (Annie McGee) and Juliet Aubrey (Helen Henderson). Also Americans actors, Woody Harrelson (Jimmy Flynn) and Marisa Tomei (Nina) joined. The New Zealand actress Kerry Fox (Jane Carson) and Northern Irish actor James Nesbitt (Gregg( were among the cast. From Yugoslavia, the actors who participated were the Croatian American actor Goran Višnjić (Risto Bavić), the Macedonian actor Igor Džambazov (Jacket), the Croatian actor Drazen Šivak (Željko), and the Bosnian actor Senad Bašić (Svercer).
Although this movie focused on the crimes committed by Serbs in Sarajevo, the Serbian actor Davor Janjić (Dragan) and the Serbian actress Gordana Gadžić (Mrs. Savić) interpreted in this movie. The good part about the cast, which added credibility to the movie, was its Bosnian actors who lived in Sarajevo throughout the entire war and who survived the Siege such as the Bosnian actress Ines Fančović.
The movie’s language is English with its several accents, even though throughout the movie Serbo-Croatian with its varieties of Serbian, Bosnian and Croatian is heard in many occasions.
The film was shot in Sarajevo (Bosnia and Herzegovina), Trogir (Croatia) and Bitola, located in Skopje (Macedonia).
The movie won the Special Recognition for Excellence in Filmmaking by the National Board of Review (USA) in 1997. In the same year it was nominated for the Gold Hugo at Chicago International Film Festival and Palme d’Or at Cannes Film Festival.
(Written by: Maydaa Abo El-Nadar )