Berlin Winner Jean-Gabriel Périot Preps ‘Facing Darkness,’ Exploring the Siege of Sarajevo 30 Years On

One highlight at Switzerland’s doc film festival Visions du Réel (VdR) is the Pitching section on its Industry platform. 29 projects have been invited to participate. One of them, an exciting new documentary project on the Siege of Sarajevo by award-winning French filmmaker Jean-Gabriel Périot (“A German Youth”), promises to attract many potential collaborators.

The new project, “Facing Darkness,” brings innovative storytelling techniques to the documentary format by fusing personal archive footage with present-day interviews.

Périot’s ambition is to divide the film into two parts. The first will consist of a montage of film extracts made during the four-year-long Siege of Sarajevo, mainly by local amateur filmmakers who signed up to become soldiers to protect their city and country. Périot spent the last four years researching these archive films, regularly traveling to Bosnia-Herzegovina. After looking through hundreds of them, he expects to choose around 45 films, using around a minute’s extract per film.

The second part of the film will comprise of five or six interviews with the youngest of these directors, in which Périot aims to ask them about their short films taken at the time, examining why they chose to fight and film simultaneously, and questioning the role cinema can play in documenting destruction.

“We will listen to them, twenty-five years later, about this unique experience they had to go through: Taking up a camera as one takes up arms,” Pérot said.

Jean-Gabriel Periot

The French filmmaker – whose “Our Defeats” won the CICAE Art Cinema Award at the 2019 Berlinale and who is also working on another documentary montage film narrated by Adèle Haenel (“Portrait of a Lady on Fire”) – first got interested in this project when he visited Sarajevo four years ago. He remembered being 18 when the siege began, thinking it could have been him taking up arms and a camera.

The siege of Sarajevo was the longest siege of a capital city in the history of modern warfare, lasting 1,325 days from April 1992 to 1996. Pérot hopes to release the film in April 2022, for the 30-year anniversary of the Siege. His goal is to show the film to large crowds in Bosnia, where, he said, “people haven’t moved on. This war is still there.”

“A film that finds its place in the local filmography is a film that worked,” Pérot said.

The project enters VdR-Pitching with the objective of finding co-producers, international sale agents, funders, distributors and broadcasters. Produced by Cécile Lestrade of French company Alter Ego production, the film is to be shot in Autumn 2021 for two weeks. Currently around 30% of its financing is in place.

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