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Bos/Hrv/Srp 10 Dec 12

Sarajevo Festivals Opt for Quality Over Quantity

While Sarajevo audiences would clearly like more quality cultural festivals, organisers say staging any more would stretch tight funds available.

Amina Hamzic
BIRN Sarajevo

Four major festivals that Sarajevo hosted this year brought famous names to the city with high quality programmes.

The Sarajevo Film Festival in August, the Ballet Festival in September, MESS theatre festival in October and the Jazz Festival in November all sold out, filling venues to the last seat.

While the success of these events showed the extent of interest in culture in Sarajevo, the state and local budgets show no sign of stretching to cover more such events.

And while audience and artists clearly want more, organizers say heightened competition for static or falling funds could end up damaging the quality of existing festivals.

Stars in the city:

From actors Jeremy Irons and Angelina Jolie to Edward Clug, a well-known European choreographer, and Husnu Selendirici, a famous clarinettist from Turkey, festivals in Sarajevo surpassed themselves in 2012.

Statistically, festivals in recent years have continually enriched their programmes and performances, creating more and more new programs.

It is seen as a major achievement, especially when compared with the budget for culture festivals, which has decreased year by year.

In 2010, the MESS festival, for Small and Experimental Scenes, had a budget of about 450,000 euro, for example.

In 2011 this fell to 375,000 euro and in 2012 it fell again to 350,000 euro.

But in the past three years, the festival increased the number of performances from 30 to 35 and the number of guests from 500 to 600 from 20 countries.

This year the Future Mess was also established, as a “Festival in the Festival,” to include innovative performances by young people.

Other festivals are also matching the tendency to improve the quality of programs, the number of guests and performances, and to develop new events.

This year alone, the Sarajevo Film Festival, SFF, introduced 210 films from 57 countries, by far the greatest number of performances at this festival.

At the same time the budget of 1,250,000 euro has remained constant over the past three years.

A rise in sale of tickets has followed the increase in the number of programmes and venues, which confirms the increasing interest from audiences.

No room for newcomers:

But while festival organizers agree that there is more than enough audience interest in more cultural events in Sarajevo, the money available for them in the various budgets of Bosnia and Herzegovina is not rising.

As a result, some organizers fear a further increase in the number of events will only mean a cut in the number and quality of existing programmes.

Keeping in mind Bosnia’s fragile political and economic situation, a larger number of festivals is not needed right now, some say.

Edina Papo, artistic director of the Ballet Festival, says Sarajevo needs more festivals, but the time for them is not ripe.

“Sarajevo has too few festivals, but when I think about… our fully unsuitable budget, it’s clear that the atmosphere is disturbing not only for existing festivals, but also for future new events,” she said.

Jovan Marjanovic | Photo by Pauline Tillman

Jovan Marjanovic, program coordinator of SFF and chief executive of CineLink - a co-production market formed to support the promotion of regional films selected in the competition programme of the Sarajevo Film Festival - said the economic crisis means that the budget for existing events is not big enough for everybody.

“Sarajevo needs more festivals, but… there are only a few funds for culture, which is why all the festivals in Sarajevo are suffering,” he said.

“There has been a serious strategic cut to the culture budget in our country, so, for now, one more festival would disrupt the existing situation,” he added.

Organizers say the existing festivals already compete fiercely with each other when it comes to attracting sponsors.

Selma Spahic, artistic director of MESS | Photo by Pauline Tillman

Selma Spahic, artistic director of MESS, said that all festivals rely on almost the same financial sources, which were recently subjected to cuts.

“All festivals are financed from the same main sources,” she said.

“It's competitive, so we also have financial problems with MESS festival. It's something that's been going on for years and the budget cuts are huge everywhere,” she added.

“We are lucky that we have partners who recognize the importance of the festival… and they are essential to us,” she continued.

“These include the American Embassy, British Council and the Goethe Institute. Of course they also include government levels who finance us, and some local sponsors who help us.”

“When you have problems with existing festivals concerning less funds for culture and less media attention, new ones would damage themselves, and other festivals, in terms of their quality and content,” Marjanovic concluded.

Audiences want more:

Artists and audiences on the other hand long for more cultural content in the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Mia Cotic, a performing arts student, said Sarajevo should be able to compare itself to other great European cities, which organize various festivals, major or minor, almost weekly.

"The great European cities constantly offer new facilities to visitors. When you go to Paris, it is never the same, because something new is always happening and in this way the audience always has a choice," she said.

“Sarajevo has equal potential and un-discharged creative energy, but here we are limited to only four events per year,” Cotic added.

She emphasized that, for her education, and for the work she plans to do, she needs to become familiar with the work of well-known actors, and Sarajevo offers that only rarely.

But, for now, it seems that Sarajevo will have to keep to its current festival offerings - hoping that the glamour of these events will make up for their lack of number.

This article is funded under the BICCED project, supported by the Swiss Cultural Programme.

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