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Gay Bosnian film
a hit at Sarajevo festival

Gay Bosnian film
a hit at Sarajevo festival

"The worst thing in the Balkans is to be a gay," says Kenan Dizdar, a character in Bosnian war film Go West, which has sparked angry debate about one of the great taboos of Bosnian society. Hatred of gays will persist even after Serbs, Muslims, and Croats stop fighting, he says: "They will lay down their weapons, but they will continue to hate homosexuals."

Go West was controversial long before it was even made. The film follows two gay men, a Muslim and a Serb, who flee the besieged Bosnian capital at the start of the war and try to preserve their love. Conservative and religious groups attacked director Ahmed Imamovic and cowriter Enver Puska, saying they were exploiting the sufferings of Muslims during the 1992-1995 war in order to find a wider audience for their movie in the West. "You are identifying the Bosnian tragedy and 250,000 dead with the story about two gays," Muslim publicist Fatmir Alispahic said on television last year when the film was still being edited. "If we are talking about some so-called gay love during the war, then we give a totally wrong image of what happened here."

On Saturday, Go West was shown in public for the first time at the Sarajevo Film Festival, although it is not in the main competition lineup. It gets its international premiere in Montreal later this month. An audience of around 2,500 gave the film a long standing ovation in the central open-air cinema. "These people were attacking a film they had not seen, and there was no chance of dialogue then," Puska told Reuters in an interview. "But now we can talk." The 11th Sarajevo Film Festival, which began as an act of defiance while the city was being shelled by Serbs from the surrounding hills, has become the most important gathering of film professionals and fans in the Balkans.

Puska said the story about two gay men of different ethnicities was chosen to highlight a wider theme of intolerance. "Homosexuality is a taboo here. People are scared, they don't talk about that," Puska said. "But I was touched by the silence during the screening. I could see the understanding in the eyes of people. I think that we have slightly opened the door to tolerance with this film about love and humanity." In the film, Muslim cellist Kenan and Serb sportsman Milan flee Sarajevo at the beginning of the war in the hope of finding safety in Milan's native village. In order to survive, each decides to change his identity--the Muslim with a skirt and the Serb with a machine gun. Milan disguises Kenan as his girlfriend and joins the Serb military to try to save them.

Some spectators said they had not expected to enjoy the film because of detrimental media reports. "I had negative preconceptions, but I liked the movie. It is clear the two gay characters were chosen simply to show what happens to two friends in war," said Mujo Djapo, an engineer. The war is portrayed as madness where common sense is lost. Scenes of ethnic violence are interspersed with surrealistic shots of pagan ritual and spiced with typical Balkan humor. But humanity wins in the end. Milan's father and a friend, both Serbs, save Kenan after his lover dies and help him escape. "This film is a brilliant analysis of the situation here in the Balkans," said Ivica Pinjuh, a theater and film critic. (Daria Sito-Sucic, via Reuters)

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