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Bosnian Filmmakers Showcase Their Work in New York

A young film festival in New York City is showcasing Bosnian filmmakers to a growing U.S. audience. From VOA's New York bureau, Victoria Cavaliere reports that the Bosnian-Herzegovinian Film Festival is also earning critical praise.

For the past four years, the Bosnian community in New York has staged the festival to showcase some of the best feature films, documentaries and shorts the country has to offer.

This year, the festival moved into a larger space. With the new location came an expanding submission list and fan base.

Leila Rachidi is a member of the Bosnian-Herzegovinian Film Selection Committee. She says there were 20 submissions for the 2007 festival that took place in May. Twelve films made the final line-up. She says the audience was an even split between Bosnians and New York film enthusiasts.

"Film is Bosnia's best export these days," she said. "The Bosnian film industry has grown tremendously, especially since that Oscar win for "No Man's Land" several years ago. We want to show how good the film is especially for a small country like that."

According to unofficial estimates, there are between 150,000 and 200,000 Bosnians emigrants in the United States, 20,000 of whom settled in New York. Most arrived during the civil war and "ethnic cleansing" campaign of the 1990s that followed the breakup of Yugoslavia.

Rachidi explains that Bosnian films draw on the history of the people. But she says they also convey a shared human condition, and she thinks this helps explain their wider appeal.

"I know there's something in Bosnian films that always shows people resilience in the face of adversity," she said. "This is a country going through simultaneous change, it went through the fall of communism, major economic changes, the wars and so the films always show this resilience in the face of adversity but always, always with a dose of humor."

Rachidi says many of the Bosnian films of the past decade have been about the war, but more and more, they concentrate on the realities of daily life.

This year, the audience award for best short or feature film went to Grbavica. The movie is based on the lives of a mother and daughter living in Sarajevo. The film was also nominated for the grand jury prize at the prestigious Sundance Film Festival.

The prize for best documentary went to Carnival. The film explores the fate of Bosnian refugees who were picked up in Montenegro in 1992 and sent to a Serb-run prison.

Many of the films were first shown at the Sarajevo film festival in August. But Rachidi says more films are now having their debut in New York.

"Definitely we're getting more professional, we're attracting bigger audiences, moving to larger theaters, definitely there's a vision," she said.

The film festival is organized by the local non-profit groups The Academy of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Voice of Bosnia and Herzegovina.