Bill Carter, writer, award-winning documentary filmmaker, photographer and journalist
[wzslider]By Medina Malagić
Bill Carter’s deeply personal book ‘Fools Rush In’ chronicles his experiences during the siege of Sarajevo. Bill realized that the reporting of the events in the BiH during the conflict, which adhered to objectivity, de-humanized the situation and the reality that thousands of citizens of this country faced on a daily basis. What he saw and experienced during the siege of Sarajevo and then eventually wrote about taps into the very essence of the human spirit and connections that manifested at that time among individuals. It is a story about how in the most daunting, seemingly hopeless circumstances, people will always find a way to construct their own reality as a way of not only coping with the brutal reality that they have no control over, but also as a form of protest. This is how the people of Sarajevo used creativity to prove that the suffering and uncertainty they faced every day of unimaginable proportions would not overshadow their desire to infuse their lives with meaning and a sense of purpose. Bill continues to see Sarajevo as one of the most magical places in the world, a feeling that originates from the people and the very essence of the city.
Can you tell us what compelled you to write a deeply personal book about the siege of Sarajevo and your experiences in this city during the war?Did you feel that there was a different side or aspect, maybe a more personal and humane perspective, that you wanted to tell the world, one that was in stark contrast to how mainstream media reported on the events in BiH during the conflict, especially the siege of Sarajevo?
Like most writers will explain, I wrote this personal book because I felt I had to. In many ways I felt I couldn’t move on in my own life until I committed my experiences to the page. My view of the situation in Sarajevo and Bosnia was very personal and I thought that differed from the mainstream press, only because their “objective” view tends to de-humanize situations. There is no way in 1993 to come to Sarajevo and remain “objective.” If one did that they were simply not human.
Have you been back to Sarajevo since the end of the war? If so, in what ways has the city changed? Can you form a connection between the spirit of the people that existed during the war and what is left today? How is this message conveyed in your documentary “Miss Sarajevo”? What were the challenges in making this documentary to provide a much-needed voice to people who had no other way to show the world the power of human perseverance, survival and a surge of creativity during a period of intense adversity?
I have been back several times since the end of the war. As for the sprit during the war…it is hard to recreate up the bonds that were created by people that lived through the siege. Those are bonds that for many will last their entire lives. That closeness and openness that people felt for each other taps into the essential spirit of human beings in the best of ways. That can be hard to recreate on any given day when not faced with daunting external situations.
As for the documentary “Miss Sarajevo” there were many challenges in making this film. Finding people to speak with was difficult at first, but got easier the longer I stayed. Finding reliable sources of electricity to power my batteries was very difficult. And believing that there was an actual purpose in making this film was something I grappled with. Remember I lived in the UNIS towers and was filming because I was moved to by the people I was meeting. It was not an assignment or something. I had no idea if any of this footage would ever see the light of day. In the end it did and I am moved by audiences who see this film and are inspired by the people of Sarajevo. It gives me great hope when that sort of connection can be made.
Do you think that any lessons have been learned from the way in which the conflict in BiH was reported by mainstream international media? We see a similarsituation taking place in Syria now, where we receive little more than sound bites and false promises, as well as inaction, from politicians and the international community and little attention is being afforded in finding ways to stop the carnage. How can you draw similarities with the conflict in BiH and what is taking place in Syria now, especially in the level of response, or lack of response?
Syria has many parallels to the Bosnian war. Large, powerful allies on both sides of the conflict create an atmosphere of paralysis in the international community. It is easy to argue that the lack of information is even more restricted in the Syrian conflict than during the Bosnia war. Foreign journalists almost don’t exist in Syria today. There is no UN presence. It is not an easy conflict to grasp and yet when I saw people being shot by snipers in Alepo last year it reminded me of Sarajevo during the siege. I am not sure what will happen in the long run, although if history is any indicator Assad and his regime will not survive. In the long run the masses will win. What Syria will look like in the future is difficult to guess.
In my encounters with both foreigners who have visited or live in Sarajevo and locals, I have often heard them describe this city as a place that has a transcendent, almost indescribable quality? Do you agree with this? And in what ways would you describe the ‘spirit’ of Sarajevo?
Yes, the spirit of Sarajevo is why I find it one of the most magical cities in the world. I am endlessly enchanted with the city. The spirit of hospitality is always present in Sarajevo. I find this characteristic of Sarajevo to be a code, almost a virtue and you cannot manufacture that feeling. It comes from the soul of the city and its people.
You are known for your strenuous efforts to engage U2 to hold a concert that would bring greater world attention to the suffering inflicted on the people of BiH and in Sarajevo during the conflict. During your time in Sarajevo during the conflict, how important do you see attempts to organize these types of cultural and entertainment events as a way for people to experience a sense of normalcy and spiritual revival during a time of inescapable, protracted suffering?
The attempts by Sarajevians to organize cultural and entertainment events was absolutely crucial for any sense of normalcy. One of the things that absolutely inspired me to be relentless in my pursuit of engaging U2 and many others to focus on Bosnia was this striving of the artists and locals to be creative. There are too many names to name in this question/answer format, but so many people in this city were responsible for refusing to let the suffering to overcome their spirit to live. To express. To laugh. To steal a phrase from Milan Kundera, it was the essence of “The Unbearable Lightness of Being”.
It is apparent from your book “Fools Rush In” that it is a deeply personal book about your experiences in a conflict area. You are a journalist by profession. So, at the time you felt that you needed to digress from the trajectory of traditional war reporting and infuse the profession of journalism with a more humanistic approach to war reporting. Did you think this type of storytelling would make people connect on a deeper level to what was taking place, especially through the perspective of a foreigner?
Although I have a journalistic side to my work, I don’t regard myself as a journalist. At least not a modern one. There are plenty of examples of great writers from the past that personalized their work in books. That is what I strive for. I always try and personalize my work. I do not know another way to do it. I find great reporting in newspapers very useful and I read it everyday and appreciate it, but it is not what draws me to write. I am moved by the story of humans and to tell those stories I must be drawn into their stories. The human side of the story is what moves me through this life. Our stories eventually create the running fabric of our existence. I am only trying to add a voice to that larger story of humanity. And the exciting part is that there is never a shortage of amazing stories being created everyday.