The world would be in a better position if (neighbouring) countries were more interested in each other’s culture, says Rada Sesic, founder and director of the Eastern Neighbors Film Festival. She knows what she is talking about, because Sesic fled to the Netherlands in the early thirties of the war in Sarajevo.
She has not been feeling well since the outbreak of the war in Ukraine, says Rada Sesic in a tired voice. “The memories of the war in Bosnia come back. While I only experienced it briefly in Sarajevo. A few months after its outbreak in 1992, I left the city by bus when it was just possible.”
She had lived there for seventeen years after she left her hometown in Croatia at the age of eighteen to start a life in Sarajevo. That worked well. “I made short documentaries, wrote in a film magazine and presented a film program on TV.”
The shock was great when she arrived in the Netherlands in her early thirties. “I lived in a small room in Utrecht, didn’t know anyone and had to start all over again” With a smile: “My normal life in Sarajevo had changed into a minimalist existence. A mechanical life of sleeping and watching TV. Day and night I watched the war on CNN and the BBC. I do that again now. I never watch TV in the morning, but since the war in Ukraine broke out, I immediately turn on the TV when I get up. I go to sleep with images in my head that some people don’t want to see, but I do, because I want to know what’s happening.”
If Sesic learned anything thirty years ago in that cramped room in Utrecht, it is that nothing will happen if you don’t take steps yourself. She started writing for movie magazines skrien and the film newspaper† She made the documentaries A Room Without a View (about her oppressive first time in the Netherlands) and soske, and a short dance film. She was a programmer for several festivals and taught about Indian cinema at the University of Amsterdam.
Because Sesic noticed that East and South-East European cinema was little known in the Netherlands, she founded the Eastern Neighbors Film Festival in 2008. She chose the word ‘neighbours’ for a reason, because Sesic is convinced that when neighboring countries get to know each other’s culture better, this leads to a better relationship. As it says in the festival’s mission statement: ‘Our goal is to bring cultures together to create more knowledge and tolerance.’
The war in Ukraine once again shows the importance of this, says Sesic. “We have to be curious about each other’s culture, learn from each other’s history. People are only now getting into the relationship between Ukraine and Russia, but we already had a program with Ukrainian films after the Russian occupation of Crimea in 2014.”
More than fifty films can be seen this month at the thirteenth edition of the festival, including two Ukrainian documentaries. In The Rain Will Never Stop Alina Gorlova follows a Kurdish boy who has fled from Syria, who provides aid during the war in Donbas as a Red Cross employee. Gorlova was supposed to visit the festival, but that has not happened, says Sesic. “She is in Kyiv and is recording what happens there.”
The second Ukrainian film in the program is The Earth Is Blue As an Orange by Irina Tsilyk. The documentary portrays a woman who wants to create a safe home for her children in the Donbas war zone. Sesic has founded the festival for such films from Eastern and South-Eastern Europe. “I don’t want films about these countries from directors who don’t live there, but from the point of view of directors who live there. Who tells the story, that’s what matters.”
These are not all sad stories, she emphasizes with a reference to Not So Friendly Neighborhood Affairthe opening film by Danis Tanovich, who starred twenty years ago with No Man’s Land won the Oscar for best international film. “It’s a comedy about who makes the best kebab in Sarajevo, with a funny supporting role from musician and composer Goran Bregović.”
At the last minute she clears up a possible misunderstanding. “The festival is not for the diaspora of people from Eastern and South-Eastern Europe. Well, of course also for them, but it is mainly for the Dutch public. That can smell, feel and discover different perspectives at the festival.”
Eastern Neighborhoods Film Festival, 20 to 24 April 2022, Filmhuis Den Haag.
More info: enff.nl