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Los Angeles Times Interview : Haris Pasovic : Ensuring Culture Survives Amid the Horrors of Sarajevo

April 17, 1994|Danica Kirka | Danica Kirka, a journalist now based in Zagreb, is a former articles editor on the Opinion section.

A: It was a very strong and active presence . . . . (But) you need normal life for the flourishing of art. I don't want to mystify the situation. I don't want people to have a hidden desire to be in a war in order to be creative in their arts. It's better to walk on the beach on the Pacific, (watch) a sunset and make poetry. It's a better inspiration than listening to grenades and being afraid to be killed or injured. But the point is, that even in such an extreme situation, the artist remains the artist; and for me, the major feature which defines the artist is his or her vision for freedom.

Q: Do you think, then, that people are seizing upon culture to remind them of what their lives were once like?

A: Culture is a part of basic human nature, of deep humanity. It is normal that people are responding, in a cultural way, to crisis. Life is not just food, it's something spiritual. People live also with feelings, not just with their stomachs. People have to have food for their souls.

It's hard to generalize. It's something to do with the rhythm of life. (Without art), it just makes us forget something that is more subtle, and more needed for our dreams.

Q: How do people respond to art in troubled times?

A: I think the response is great. It's proved by 20,000 people who line up in Sarajevo for a film festival. We had packed houses for every production. People responded to the very fact we were working under those circumstances . . . . Q: But are you able to function under these circumstances?

A: These circumstances are wonderful, compared with the circumstances before the ultimatum . . . . For example, today, when we talk, there's not such a chance to die on the spot. In all other days before this ultimatum, it was. It wasn't a fictional point. It was a real chance to die at any place, at any time in the city. And it created a special kind of behavior, a special way of moving through the city.

I remember the days when we prepared our latest productions. It was in December of last year, and it was one of the most difficult periods in the war. They was shelling every single day. Every single day, five or six people were massacred in the center of the city. And dozens were injured. But nobody was late for rehearsal. It was very exciting for me to work with people who decided to live, and to work. And from that feeling came a special strength which overcame the situation.

But honestly speaking, everything is pure luck. To survive in this city means before all, that you are the lucky one. So far.

Q: Tell me about your last production, "Silk Drums."

A: The latest one was based on Japanese classical theater . . . . We've already played 18 productions in different places in the city, mostly in hospitals, refugee centers. Because this time we wanted to approach people who are not able to come to the theater--the theater building. It was a very exciting, very special experience for all of us.

Q: What was the audience reaction?

A: It was incredible, because the first part, "Birdcatcher in Hell" is comic, so it's expected to be well-received. But the second part is a very sophisticated and a very difficult play of "Agoron." It's about the angel who fell from Earth, it's a kind of fairy tale, but in a Japanese Buddhist way, with a lot of dance. Almost every time, the entire audience was completely silent during the second part. We went to some places like the refugee centers where there were people . . . whom I'm not sure had ever seen the theater before . . . .

(At Kosevo hospital), most of (the audience) were without legs, without arms and (the lead actor) was dancing all the time. And they were shelling at the same time. So, it's impossible to transfer an experience like this one.

Q: To what do you attribute your reception? Was it the message of the play?

A: We are not talking about war, death and love in the production. We are talking about life, and dreams and freedom. Surely, it is the most difficult audience you can imagine. Because the audience has such experience, life experience. You hardly can match that experience. You have to do something at least at the same level of their experience. And we have the same experience as them. So, before we go before them, we try to translate our experience.

During the film festival, we had more than 20,000 people in 10 days. It was a major film festival. We had three theaters, 10 screenings per day. And the main hall was at the corner of . . . "Sniper Alley." They were shooting all the time. And people were coming to the screening with good perfumes--the clothes were just wonderful. They would run across the street to avoid the snipers. Then, they would come to the theater . . . .

Q: What do you think that says about cinema, about theater?

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