Welcome to Sarajevo

Welcome to Sarajevo is a British war film released in 1997. It is directed by Michael Winterbottom. The screenplay is by Frank Cottrell Boyce and is based on the book Natasha's Story by Michael Nicholson.

Welcome to Sarajevo
Directed byMichael Winterbottom
Produced byDamian Jones
Ismet Arnautalic
Graham Broadbent
Paul Sarony
Ivo Sunjic
David Ball
Written byFrank Cottrell Boyce
Music byAdrian Johnston
CinematographyDaf Hobson
Edited byTrevor Waite
Channel Four Films
Dragon Pictures
Distributed byWarner Bros. Pictures
Release date
  • 6 November 1997 (1997-11-06)
Running time
103 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom
LanguageEnglish, Bosnian, Croatian, Serbian
Budget$9 million
Box office$334,319


In 1992, ITN reporter Michael Henderson (Stephen Dillane) travels to Sarajevo, the besieged capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina. He meets American star journalist Jimmy Flynn (Woody Harrelson) on the chase for the most exciting stories and pictures. Henderson and Flynn have friendly arguments and differences in the intervals between reporting. They stay at the Holiday Inn, which was the primary hotel for the press in Sarajevo during the siege. After a previous translator proves corrupt and inept, ITN hires Risto (Goran Višnjić) to be Henderson's translator. Their work permits them harrowing and unobstructed views of the suffering of the people of Sarajevo. The situation changes when Henderson makes a report from an orphanage (Ljubica Ivezic Orphanage) located on the front lines, in which two hundred children live in desperate conditions. After increasingly indiscriminate attacks fail to make the lead story in the UK, Henderson makes the orphanage his lead story to try to bring full attention to the war and encourage the evacuation of the children to safety.

When American aid worker Nina (Marisa Tomei) organises a UN-sanctioned bus-borne evacuation of Sarajevan children to Italy, Henderson convinces her to include a Bosniak girl from the orphanage, Emira (Emira Nušević), to whom Henderson had made a promise to evacuate. Nina knows this is an illegal act – only transfers to relatives abroad have been authorised – but the orphanage director allows it because of the desperate circumstances. Henderson and his cameraman accompany the evacuation under the pretense of covering it as a news story.

Bosnian Serbs hinder the evacuation at several points along its route. In the final harassment, armed Chetniks halt the bus, select and forcibly disembark the Bosniak Muslim children, and take them away on their lorry, presumably to kill them.

After Henderson makes it to London with Emira, she quickly becomes a member of his family. After several months, Henderson receives word from his former producer in Sarajevo that Emira's mother wants her back. Henderson, who didn't know that Emira's mother was living, returns to Sarajevo, now riven not only by the siege but also by organised crime, and seeks out Risto, who has become a Bosnian-Herzegovinian soldier. Henderson asks him to help find Emira's mother. They discover from a relative that Emira was put into the orphanage as an infant by her mother under familial pressure. When Risto is killed in his home by a sniper, Henderson asks for help from Zeljko (Drazen Sivak), a concierge at the Holiday Inn, who Henderson had helped in the past. Zeljko negotiates the streets and road-blocks that lead to Emira's mother. She says she is lonely and now wants Emira to live with her. However, she is persuaded that Emira is happy in England and so signs the adoption papers.

A running joke in the movie is the designation by a UN official that Sarajevo was only the 14th worst crisis in the world. In the middle of the movie, Harun, a cellist friend of Risto, says that he would play a concert on the streets of Sarajevo once it is designated the worst place on Earth. Though he acknowledges the danger, he claims that "the people will die happily listening to my music." The movie ends with Harun holding a "concert of peace" on a hill overlooking Sarajevo, playing his cello to hundreds of Sarajevans. Among the attendees are Henderson, Flynn and several children from the orphanage. Henderson gives Harun a sad smile; the concert is beautiful, but it also means that Sarajevo had, indeed, become the worst place on Earth.

The closing credits say that Emira still lives in England.



Michael Winterbottom portrays the events with brutality. In the opening sequence, there is a sniper attack on a wedding procession. Other shocking sequences include Henderson stumbling upon a massacre at a farm-house, a Bosnian-Serb officer nonchalantly executing groups of Bosniaks and Henderson's arrival in the immediate aftermath of the first of the Markale Massacres.

Shot just a few months after the war on locations in Sarajevo and Croatia, the film uses real ruins and war debris to give the film a feeling of authenticity. Many scenes of the characters witnessing and reporting on street carnage were intercut with video footage of the historic events.


Two widely known pieces of music were among those used in the film. "Don't Worry Be Happy" by Bobby McFerrin is played against scenes of the siege of Sarajevo, with people being wounded by bombs, blood everywhere on the streets, etc. The second piece is "Adagio in G minor" by Remo Giazotto, based on a fragment from Sonata in G minor by Tomaso Giovanni Albinoni. House of Love's "Shine On" (Creation, 1987) and Stone Roses' "I Wanna Be Adored" (Silvertone, 1989) are among the English independent rock classics featured in contrast to the dark barbarism affecting the people of Sarajevo. Rock anthems from the 1960s were used as part of the soundtracks in such Vietnam War-era movies as Apocalypse Now and Platoon. The anthems used in Welcome to Sarajevo were popular closer to the era of the film.

Award nominations

The film made its world premiere on May 9th at the 1997 Cannes Film Festival.[1] It was nominated for the Golden Palm and for the Golden Hugo at the Chicago International Film Festival. It was awarded a "Special Recognition for Excellence in Filmmaking" by the National Board of Review (USA) during the 69th National Board of Review Awards (1997).


  1. "Festival de Cannes: Welcome to Sarajevo". festival-cannes.com. Retrieved 24 September 2009.
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