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The Siege of Sarajevo ran from April 1992 to February 1996 and was the longest siege of a city in the history of modern warfare. Three times longer than the Battle of Stalingrad and a year longer than the Leningrad blockade which took place in World War 2.
13,952 people died from shootings, bombing and starvation. Somewhere around 18,000 people are apparently still missing and hundreds of thousands of people sustained significant injuries from the snipers who surrounded the city.
Over 400,000 people were trapped in Sarajevo.
They were ordinary people just like you or I.
The (true) story
In the middle of all of this chaos Martin Morris, a Major in the British forces, and Trevor Gibson, a negotiator for the United Nations Fire Department hatched a plan to put on a concert for the locals featuring none other than Iron Maiden’s Bruce Dickinson and his band Skunkworks. A fucking ridiculous and seemingly impossible idea.
Scream for Me Sarajevo tells the story of how this unlikely event came to be—as told by director Tarik Hodzic, Jasenko Pasic, the band and the people who lived through the siege.
This is an extraordinary story. Confronting, incredibly sad, yet also heart-warming and inspiring. You hear from Morris, Gibson, band members Chris Dale and Allesandro Elena and Bruce himself about what they went through in order to reach the city and set up a rock concert in the middle of a war zone. How all this came to be is hard to believe until you see it for yourself.
Here in Australia we only had limited exposure of the conflict through dumbed down stories on the nightly news buried somewhere in the bulletin just before the sport. I think it may have been similar perspective and naivety that saw Dickinson agree to Morris and Gibson’s idea. Helicopter in, play the show, helicopter out. No worries. Until the helicopter in ends up being a truck and they have to move through the front lines to reach the centre of the besieged city.
Iron Maiden has always been a band that has transcended religion, politics, race and international boundaries. They connect so many people worldwide through a common love for their music, and while this event is about Bruce’s solo work, he has always been the driving force behind their spirit of adventure and taking the music to the people. Scream for Me Sarajevo depicts one of the bigger adventures I dare say he’s had.
Courage under fire
It is definitely a brave and potentially foolhardy undertaking for a rock and roll band to risk their lives and play a show like this, but the real heroes of this documentary are the people of Sarajevo. Musicians, filmmakers, photographers, soldiers and people who were teenagers at the time all lend their perspective on the conflict. They describe what life was like in Sarajevo during the seige and what the concert meant to them. This is interspersed with footage from the time set to the soundtrack of Dickinson’s solo work.
There’s stories of children being caught by sniper fire, families of mixed race and religion being threatened and kicked out of homes, civilians having the city burned out from underneath them, and people recounting what it was like to be a teenager and live through the conflict. There are amazing stories of kids being without electricity for weeks at a time waiting for the power to come back on. When it did, they would make the most of every second by rehearsing with their bands and listening to music as if to force some joy and normality back into their lives.
There is a heart breaking story of how one of the local bands lost their guitarist, not in the traditional “creative differences” way, instead he was shot in the head by a sniper.
It is a chilling perspective. Imagine one day you head out of your home to get the mail. Suddenly your city is under siege and for the next three years, you’re etching out your existence dodging sniper fire and scavenging for basic supplies.
It is bleak subject matter but not all doom and gloom, the resolve of the people coupled by this improbable story is actually fascinating and very uplifting.
In one of the more profound moments, Bruce speaks about asking one of the local musicians how they rehearse in a war zone with no electricity, to which he replies “with our spirit”.
And the true spirit of this documentary lies in the stories of the locals.