Sarajevo 2023 review: Kiss the Future (Nenad Čičin-Šain)

“Complex and invigorating, and driven by a perpetual search for meaning through a steadfast exploration of the human spirit, Kiss the Future is truly a labour of love, and all the proof we need to know the importance of art as not only a form of self-expression, but a vital social and political tool that can bring about genuine, long-lasting change.”

Saying that music is a weapon is not an entirely original thought as far as allegories tend to go. However, when people like Enes Zlatar and Gino Jevdjevic express such a sentiment based on their own reflections on the past, we take it as a serious and objective statement, since they were among the countless people who used music not only as a means of escapism during the Bosnian War, but as a tool of resistance and defiance. They are two of the subjects of Kiss the Future, the astonishing documentary by Nenad Čičin-Šain titled after a quote made by Bono in 1997, at the culmination of a years-long journey that U2 took to visit Bosnia and Herzegovina. The band played a vital role in helping bring attention to the Siege of Sarajevo by their activism, in the hopes of shedding light on a crisis that the rest of the world seemed intent on ignoring or at least shifting out of their focus in the belief that it should be resolved internally without intervention from other nations. This belief is often considered a major failure in international relations, especially since (as many have remarked) once other forces became involved the war essentially ended. These are just some of the details embedded in this film, an incredible portrait of a city resisting the external forces that use violence to establish a specific agenda, only further amplifying the discord between the perpetrators and those whom they believed would be easy victims, but who demonstrated nothing but tenacity and commitment to fighting for the cause in their own small but meaningful way.

Kiss the Future is certainly not the first film to explore the events in Sarajevo in the 1990s, but it is possibly the most revealing. In looking at a film like this – which may seem quite conventional at a cursory glance – the delivery is just as important as the message, and Čičin-Šain works laboriously to make sure that this story is paid sufficient tribute rather than being restricted to the conventions of a traditional documentary. Existing at the perfect intersection between a film about war and one about music, Kiss the Future focuses less on an academic approach to exploring this period and places the emphasis on the actual experts, namely those people who experienced the events firsthand, blending together natives of Sarajevo with outsiders that took an active interest in playing their part during the war. Right in the centre of the two extremes is Bill Carter, who is not the entire focus (since the film takes a more communal approach, placing equal weight on a number of people and their reflections on the period), but who was arguably the catalyst for a small but important moment in publicizing the war, which was liaising with U2. The band in turn used their concurrent concert tour as a way of igniting global attention to what was very clearly a humanitarian crisis. The film examines these events through the perspective of the subjects, who offer reflections and anecdotes that the director then pieces together to form an astonishing and deeply powerful documentary that works its way through some very challenging concepts with incredible humanity and an earnest attention to detail, immediately separating it from several other films on the topic.

There are several different themes embedded in Kiss the Future – political discord, social structure, international relations and economic strife. Yet every one of these ideas weaves back into the theme of art, which is shown to be not merely a means of distraction or self-expression but rather a way for oppressed people to channel their emotions into something tangible. In times of war, being an artist is an act of defiance, and we see this sentiment through the testimonies of all of these people who occupied Sarajevo’s art world, primarily the music scene. If there was ever a film that proved how music can change the world, it would be this incredibly moving ode to the punk and rock musicians that defied all expectations by refusing to mute themselves in the face of adversity – if anything, their insistence on only amplifying themselves (both musically and politically) was as powerful as any other aspect of the war effort. Music has the power to heal, and in structuring this film Čičin-Šain and Carter continuously return to this concept, focusing on how music played an active role in not only boosting the morale of the people of Sarajevo who knew that their lives were under constant risk, but also in drawing external attention to the reality of life in the city. Words can only do so much, but music is a universal language, and this film is a beautiful and poetic ode to how it can bridge the cultural divide and bring about authentic, meaningful change, even when it seems like all hope has been lost. For the people depicted in Kiss the Future resilience was not an optional characteristic but a necessary tool that they used to aid in their survival. They all fought for their cause in their own way, and this film makes it very clear that it isn’t a definitive examination of the political and military machinations that occurred around this time, but rather looks at a few distinctive strands of the period as told by the people who experienced these events. A fascinating account of the period, and a film that carries itself with such dignity but without ever losing that spark of rebellion that clearly inspired its creation – it manages to be just as subversive and daring as the interviewees themselves, and it is always an incredible experience to find a documentary filmmaker who is able to establish a meaningful connection with his subjects. Kiss the Future is a film that dares to tackle some harsh material, delivering it with incredible honesty and a steadfast commitment to telling the stories of these people. The people interviewed in this film range widely in age, profession and nationality, and while their individual backgrounds may divide them on a demographic level, the qualities that unite them are far more fascinating – the realization that music breaks down barriers that seemed impenetrable is one of the many aspects that fuel this film and make it such an astonishing achievement of not only documentary filmmaking, but human storytelling as a whole. Complex and invigorating, and driven by a perpetual search for meaning through a steadfast exploration of the human spirit, Kiss the Future is truly a labour of love, and all the proof we need to know the importance of art as not only a form of self-expression, but a vital social and political tool that can bring about genuine, long-lasting change.