Film Scouts Interviews

Michael Winterbottom Press Conference on "Welcome to Sarajevo"

by Henri Béhar

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In his three previous features - "Butterfly Kiss", "Go Now" and "Jude" - director Michael Winterbottom displayed a remarkable savoir-faire and a wide range of preoccupations. In "Welcome to Sarajevo", he tackles a amazingly intricate war, so far yet made so near by extensive television coverage. The angle he chooses to tell of the conflict in Central Europe is that of foreign journalists covering it, mainly English and American. Opening his film on the taking of Vukovar by the Serbs, Winterbottom shows without flinching the torn corpses after the Market Place massacre - in such a way that many criticized him for "over-dramatizing" them. At the press conference, Winterbottom proved, well, politically cautious. --HB

QUESTION: Was there a political motive behind your film?

MICHAEL WINTERBOTTOM: It deals, on a personal and general level, with Western Europe's reaction to events that were happening in Europe. I don't think the film gives answers to political questions. But if it makes people ask questions then that's good. I hope that it makes people think, even if it's for half-an-hour.

QUESTION: What's the part of fact, what's the part of imagination?

MICHAEL WINTERBOTTOM: I was not trying to be objective. It is a record of the experience of the journalists that were there, so from that point of view it's one-sided. This is a Western point of view that does not attempt to reflect the Serbian side.

QUESTION: Is the film based on the true story of journalist Michael Nicholson?

MICHAEL WINTERBOTTOM: It is about many different stories, not just one. I didn't want to get involved in the personal details of Nicholson's own life. I don't know why he did what he did or what his relationship is today with the little girl.

QUESTION: What does your film try to say about the moral aspects of journalists covering a war, any war, for that matter?

MICHAEL WINTERBOTTOM: It becomes very complicated when you go into a war zone to report, or when you go to Sarajevo to film. Most of the journalists that went there were very committed, they wanted to make a difference. They got frustrated that they could not affect what was happening. At that point, do you just keep showing images or do you try to do something else?

QUESTION: What was it like filming in Sarajevo after the siege?

MICHAEL WINTERBOTTOM: There were a lot of difficulties because of all the logistics involved. But they were outweighed by the advantages of filming on the spot. We were put in touch with documentary film-makers who had stayed there during the war and that helped. We used real footage in the film hoping that when people who were familiar with it saw it again in the cinema, it would produce a different reaction. I always liked the idea that people would be conscious of the shift between real footage and fiction. We did not attempt to re-create real suffering.

QUESTION: What reaction do you expect the film to elicit from the people who will see it or hear about it?

MICHAEL WINTERBOTTOM: I hope it affects them. I can't help thinking that if more people had cared, it would have been different. But I don't expect a film to be able to achieve anything like that.

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