Croatian director Juraj Lerotic’s debut “Safe Place” wins in Sarajevo

Croatian writer-director Juraj Lerotić’s “Safe Place,” an emotional tale of a family reeling after attempting suicide, won the top prize at the Sarajevo Film Festival, which closed a record-breaking 2022 edition in the Bosnian capital on Friday night.

The Heart of Sarajevo Award for Best Feature Film was presented by a jury chaired by Austrian filmmaker Sebastian Meise (“The Great Freedom”), French filmmaker Lucile Hadžihalilović (“catchy tune”), Croatian author and director Antoneta Alamat Kusijanović (“Murina”), Serbian actor Milan Marić (“Dovlatov”) and Israeli producer and consultant Katriel Schory.

Safe Place alludes to Lerotić’s own painful family history, with the Croatian multihyphenate taking the lead in his deeply personal story – a feat that also earned him the Best Actor award in Sarajevo.

Fresh from a triumphant world premiere in Locarno, where the film won three awards including Best First Feature, ‘Safe Place’ was described by diversity‘s Guy Lodge as “a highly balanced and moving first feature film” and a “staggering” debut, “with a long line of further festival bookings certainly ahead of us”.

Ukrainian director Maryina Er Gorbach won Best Director for Klondike, which portrays the brutal realities of war in Ukraine’s Donbass region through the lens of a pregnant farm owner whose life and home are falling apart. The film was described by Lodge as an “uncompromising, formally remarkable” feature after he awarded Er Gorbach Best Director at the World Cinema Dramatic Competition at Sundance.

Luxembourg native Vicky Krieps has been awarded Best Actress to continue her triumphant streak as the star of Marie Kreutzer’s “Corsage,” in which her portrayal of Empress Elisabeth of Austria, who is touring Europe to escape life at court, gave her the The Un Certain Regard section of the Cannes Film Festival won the Best Performance of the Year award.

The ceremony at Sarajevo’s National Theater took place under overcast skies that threatened to turn the festival’s closing night and world premiere of Pjer Žalica’s “Labour Day” into a flop at open-air cinemas across the city. But unlike a rain marred opening night that forced audiences in Ruben Ostlund’s Triangle of Audience to seek cover and festival organizers to switch to an indoor venue, the storm clouds lingered.

It was a fitting farewell to the 28th edition of Sarajevo, which has returned to form after two slimmed-down pandemic events this year and averted major crises, although winner of the Honorary Heart of Sajarevo award, Paul Schrader, made a last-minute deal with the USA was dropped from the program Author and director are leaving due to illness.

The audience returned to the existing cinemas, according to festival director Jovan Marjanović diversity ahead of the Closing Ceremony, that attendance surpassed the record event set in 2019. “There was a sense that people wanted to go back to the movies and get together,” he said. “That was the idea of ​​this edition: to have everyone back, to meet people in person who have started traveling again, to have our audience back. The cinemas were packed.” After two years of lockdown and travel restrictions, he added: “There was a lot of new energy in the air.”

It was an emotional night for the winners, including the Klondike cast and crew, many of whom traveled from Ukraine to attend the festival. After expanding its geographic presence to the war-torn country this year, Sarajevo presented a strong selection of Ukrainian films in its various strands, as well as a retrospective dedicated to master documentarian Sergei Loznitsa. A panel of Ukrainian filmmakers gave a lecture on the short- and long-term consequences of the Russian war for the local film industry during the CineLink Industry Days sessions, while the festival launched a residency program in cooperation with the Ukrainian institute for two projects by Ukrainian filmmakers, which offer them the opportunity to live and work in Sarajevo under the guidance of Bosnian and international industry veterans.

Marjanović, who served as a former industry head and co-director before the resignation of the festival’s founder Mirsad Purivatra earlier this year, said such initiatives in a country plagued by devastating conflict three decades ago and where the Ukraine war “strikes”, obviously so close to home.”

“It was important to open the doors to Ukrainian filmmakers. It was important to give them an opportunity that we would have liked to have had in the 1990s when we were in a similar situation,” he said, adding that the Russian invasion “triggered memories” for many Bosnians. “I think we have that understanding to help on a human level and on a professional level.”

Among other awards presented Friday night, the Best Documentary Award went to Museum of the Revolution, the debut feature film by US-based Serbian director Srđan Keča. The film, set in 1960s Belgrade, had its world premiere in the Luminous Strand of the Amsterdam International Documentary Film Festival amid plans to build a large museum in homage to socialist Yugoslavia.

The Best Documentary Award went to Kosovo’s Visar Jusufi’s “We,…Composition”, while the Human Rights Award went to Croatian director Vedrana Pribačić’s “Bigger Than Trauma”. A Special Jury Prize went to “Fragile Memory” by Ukrainian Igor Ivanko, and a Special Jury Mention went to Croatian Ante Zlatko Stolica for “Babajanja”.

The Heart of Sarajevo Award for Best Short Film went to Hungarian director Balázs Turai’s Amok, and a Jury Special Mention went to Austria’s Valentin Stejskal for 5PM Seaside. The award for the best student short film went to the Croatian director duo Josip Lukić and Klara Šovagović for It’s Not Cold for Mosquitoes.

Finally, the Special Prize for Promoting Gender Equality went to ‘Aftersun’, Scottish filmmaker Charlotte Wells’ lively directorial debut, which had its world premiere as part of the Critics’ Week section in Cannes.

On Thursday evening, the industry arm of the Sarajevo Film Festival presented its awards, with Greek director Thanasis Neofotistos’ debut The Boy With Light Blue Eyes winning the €20,000 Eurimages Co-Development Award (US$20,100) and Marysia Nikitiuk with the Eurimages Special Co-Development Award for “Cherry Blossoms”.

Over in Work in Progress, Bulgarian filmmaker Stephan Komandarev won the €25,000 ($25,100) TRT Award for “Blaga’s Lessons” and the €40,000 ($40,200) Post Republic Award for She went to Selman Nacar’s ” Wound of Hesitation”. At the Docu Rough Cut Boutique Awards, Gergő Somogyvári won the €20,000 ($20,100) Avanpost Award for Fairy Garden.

The full list of CineLink Industry Days Award winners can be found here. Croatian director Juraj Lerotic’s debut “Safe Place” wins in Sarajevo

Charles Jones

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