Tarik Hodžić captures one of those rare moments when human spirit shines through in a time of unimaginable horror. Scream for me Sarajevo documents how rock superstar Bruce Dickinson – frontman of Iron Maiden – was convinced to play a gig in the middle of Bosnia-Herzegovina’s capital. In 1994, during the Bosnian War, Dickinson made the trip to perform in a city under attack.
The film is not about Dickinson though, and it’s not really about the war. No political context is given. You are instead faced with brutal images of burning skyscrapers and the ear-ringing cacophony of bullets, played to the soundtrack of Maiden. The focus is on speaking to those who lived through the siege and attended Dickinson’s concert. Many fulfill the rock-and-roll youth stereotype: rebellious young men with long hair, motorbikes and leather jackets. Except they were scarred by war.
They all become delirious upon learning that Dickinson is coming to Sarajevo to perform in the middle of hell on earth, an excitement that still shows on screen even two decades later. It was a respite from a savage conflict and a chance to be the rockers they grew up listening to in their childhood and idolised. A return to everyday life for them meant returning to the strong possibility that they could die tomorrow. Their testimonies are so powerful and passionate that you come to realise how significant this was for them.
A graphic image of a young boy killed with a sniper bullet to the head has the same power as a man shedding tears as he watches footage of Dickinson’s concert twenty years later. Both scenes render you an emotional wreck. The intimacy that Hodžić captures is what makes these moments so profound, foregrounding the aspirations and lives of those he spoke to.
This is not an upsetting documentary, however. Its greatest strength is how it finds brimming optimism and even humour. The interviewees explain how Sarajevo’s underground music scene actually thrived during the siege. Dickinson’s concert was the realisation of an ecstatic fantasy, and this – not the pain – is what goes under the spotlight.
Dickinson’s journey across the country is a light-hearted rock band road trip interspersed with dark wartime realities. For example, you couldn’t go to the bathroom at the side of the road: not unless you want to come a cropper against a landmine at your most vulnerable. Moments like this make you smile before they make you grimace.
Hodžić has created a true rarity. A documentary that is equally uplifting and upsetting. Everyone will be moved by the depth and emotional detail of this incredible story. It’s one of the best testaments to music’s capacity to unite and endear.
Image: samuelviani via Wikimedia Commons