Sarajevo Film Festival Says Serbian Company “Breached Trust” by Screening Footage of Controversial WWII Drama ‘Heroes of Halyard’

Sarajevo Film Festival Says Serbian Company “Breached Trust” by Screening Footage of Controversial WWII Drama ‘Heroes of Halyard’

The Sarajevo Film Festival says a Serbian company “breached its trust” by showing footage of a controversial film that critics claim glorifies Serbian nationalist groups.

The film, Heroes of Halyard, from Serbian director and actor Rados Bajic, was not screened as part of the festival. Producers Telekom Srbija showed three excerpts of the movie, which is currently in postproduction, to a small group of attendees on Tuesday as part of a presentation of its upcoming titles at the festival’s industry forum, CineLink.

Heroes of Halyard is set in a small Serbian village in the final days of World War II and tells the story of a family with two brothers on opposite sides: one fighting on behalf of left-wing partisans, the other backing the right-wing Yugoslav Army in the Homeland, the Chetniks, who were aligned with Nazi Germany and responsible for massacres and other war crimes.

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The clips triggered outrage among Bosnians in the audience, who took to social media to condemn the film for portraying the Chetniks in a too-positive light. The atrocities committed by Serbian forces in the Bosnian War in the 1990s, including during the siege of Sarajevo, are still fresh in the memory of many in Bosnia. Sarajevo mayor Benjamina Karić called for the resignation of those responsible at the festival, telling local news outlet Sarajevo Times that the Heroes of Halyard screening caused “immeasurable damage to the festival and to the city of Sarajevo.”

In a statement posted on its website on Wednesday, the Sarajevo festival said it accepted responsibility for the ” inappropriate content” of the film ” and (we) understand the negative comments from the public.” But the festival put the blame for the incident on Telekom Srbija which, it said, had “sole responsibility” for the CineLink presentation and the contents of the clips shown.

“The disputed film was not screened at the Sarajevo Film Festival (but rather) as part of a business presentation by Telekom Srbija at the festival’s industry forum,” said the festival in its statement. “Among their other new projects, an upcoming film still in postproduction — Heroes of Halyard — was announced.”

But, the festival said, the content of the film “was never mentioned.” Because the movie was not part of the festival’s official selection, organizers did not screen the clips before they were shown at the CineLink event.

“Up until now, we have communicated with all partners in professional trust regarding the material they would present,” they said. “It is evident that this supposititious revisionist content has breached that trust.”

Going forward, the festival said it will screen all presentations, including for its industry events, with programmers selecting the material that can be shown.

“The Sarajevo Film Festival will not allow itself to be used for the promotion of historical revisionism of any kind,” the statement read.

The firestorm of controversy came amid a nationwide day of mourning in Bosnia and Herzegovina, following a shocking triple murder/suicide in the northeastern town of Gradačac last week.

The festival canceled all its screenings and social events for the day and held a public discussion on the topic of “Femicide in Film, Television, and New Media” at the festival square in downtown Sarajevo.