Watching Scream For Me Sarajevo was the first time in a long time I sat still and watched a film / documentary all the way through. Normally I get up, grab a beverage, usually an adult one, listen to music, check social media, but for the viewing of Scream For Me Sarajevo, I sat still and focused on this documentary and nothing else. To say this film is compelling is probably the biggest understatement of a lifetime. It puts you in the middle of a war zone. It connects you with real human beings. And the music of the almighty Bruce Dickinson, an idol of mine since my teenage years, actually becomes more background than foreground. Sure, Bruce is the focus but the real heroes and the real action is Sarajevo and the citizens that lived through this tumultuous time, to tell this story now.
The documentary takes place in Sarajevo, 1994. The city is in the grip of all-out war, and that’s not a bullshit exaggeration; that’s pretty damn real. And everyone in the city is a target, and everyone is getting shot at, and no one, and I mean no one, is exempt from a sniper’s bullet or a bomb being dropped. The footage used in this doc is graphic, unflinching, and often hard to look at. It’s a reminder that war is real, and it can happen anytime or anyplace, no country is off limits. And that point, in and of itself, is what’s scary, especially in this dangerous day and age we live in now. And when Sarajevo went under siege, the sheer amount of destruction and killing was off the charts in a very, very shocking way.
The story is told from the survivors who lived it. It’s their story. Back in ’94 though, these adult survivors were just kids and not just any kind of kid, kids in bands, kids who were and still are deeply entrenched in the world of heavy metal. Living in Sarajevo back then, their source of music news and bands that were hot was basically the local radio station in town and MTV’s Headbanger’s Ball (for better or worse, right?). But they all had one thing in common. They worshipped Maiden. Iron Maiden. And when word got out that Bruce Dickinson, now a solo artist, was booked to play a show in Sarajevo, that event was met with both excitement, disbelief, and a certain amount of fear for the safety of Dickinson and his band. This was an active warzone, who’d be crazy enough to do this? Well, you meet the promoters. And why did Dickinson accept this near suicidal offer to play? Well, he explains that to you.
As I said before, the voice of this film comes from the survivors who lived through that terrible time, which oddly enough, many look back on proudly, because they survived it, they didn’t let the war hold them down. Instead they embraced that period of time as one of strength that came from a powerful, human spirit that was emboldened to live and thrive, not allow the enemy to control their lives with fear or otherwise. Among the survivors that tell this tale are Dickinson and his band, fans that attended the gig, bands that opened for Bruce, the promoters, security, etc . And the story they tell, from their perspective of entering the country and trying to make it into Sarajevo to play the gig, is a nail biter, it’s something that’s so fantastic it seems straight out of a movie.
As the story goes, the band was promised air transport into and out of the city but due to enemy activity the band was stashed in the back of a large van and secretly smuggled into the city. Along the way they encounter gunfire, mortar fire, and a hitchhiker who pulls a machine gun on the van driver to grab a ride. But they make it to Sarajevo safely, play the gig to a crazed, sold out crowd, and defy all odds by getting out alive when it’s all over.
The backstory of how this gig was set up is intriguing – promoters had to keep the concert a secret so the Serbs wouldn’t find out and attack the music hall. Fans had to acquire their tickets (free, by the way) secretly and spread word of this show to each other, and only each other. No gig flyers, no announcements, nothing. Think about this for a moment. You’re in a warzone. Bruce Dickinson, the god of all that is metal, is coming to your town to play a show except you can’t tell anyone about it except for your closest friends, and they have to be able to keep that secret from getting back to the enemy who’s surrounded the city and waiting to strike at any moment, for any reason. How do you keep a gig like that under wraps, and, how do you keep the actual live show, as it’s happening, out of sight and, well, out of hearing range, too? That’s the fantastic part – it was pulled off successfully!
The doc is told in three acts. The first part is the survivors telling us their story, both before and during the war. The second part delves into the actual booking of Dickinson and the arrangement of the security involved in not only keeping him and his band safe, but keeping everyone at the gig (several hundred kids) safe from ANY kind of attack. The third and final part of this documentary is Dickinson and his band revisiting Sarajevo “now” and meeting some of the survivors he interacted with back then, as well as audience members and band support from that legendary gig, all supported by archival film footage from that show.
I can’t speak highly enough of Scream For Me Sarajevo which is touching, compelling, at times humorous and overall required viewing if you’re a metal fan, especially an Iron Maiden / Bruce Dickinson fan. The strength of the human spirit and the depth of good, decent humanity is the real star of this film. I really came to appreciate the struggle and the compassion that EVERYONE in this movie had, from Dickinson and his band, to the survivors themselves and the bullshit they saw and endured. Without a doubt, this documentary is a must see. Hell, it’s a must buy for anyone, metal fan or not, that’s into good, solid filmmaking. Get it. Get it now.