Behind The Scenes With Miss Sarajevo

27 Nov 2002
Bill Carter beamed a warzone into the Zoo TV Tour and produced 'The Road To Sarajevo', a classic cut on the forthcoming 'Best Of 1990 - 2000' DVD.

Carter, who shot the documentary in the Bosnian capital in the run up to U2's historic 1997 concert, is an accomplished film-maker and writer. It was in 1997, working with an eccentric cabal of artists and activists - The Serious Road Trip - that he decided maybe U2 could help spotlight what was happening in the Balkans to their European tour audiences.

To cut a long story short ­ all detailed in our interview with Bill below - during the Zoo TV concerts U2 hosted live video hookups with the beleaguered citizens of Sarajevo and later Bono co-produced the award-winning documentary.

Check out more about Bill's work here

And check back too as he regularly posts new extracts from his forthcoming book Where Water Comes Together

Meantime, here's the first part of an in-depth interview with Bill, special to U2.Com.

How did you first come across U2 ?

-It was during the height of the siege of Sarajevo and the war was in full stride. By that time I had been in Sarajevo for a few months, living in an abandoned building near the center of town. The idea to hook up to U2, which seemed like a logistical impossibility, came from a brief moment of me catching an interview with them on MTV. The bombing was heavy in those months and I had walked down to the television station to see a friend. The television station was one of the only places where electricity was constant and had satellite television. I was watching a program on MTV and Edge and Bono were speaking of how this tour they were on, the Auchtung Baby-Zooropa tour, was in some ways addressing the idea of a United Europe. Well, to be quite honest, from where I was sitting Europe, that very notion - a united Europe - seemed insane. Southern Europe was on fire. There were millions of Bosnian refugees on the move, hundreds of thousands dead throughout the Balkans and the city of Sarajevo was being strangled alive. And the worst part was that it was being beamed live via satellite all over Europe. This is where the idea to get in touch with them began. It was as simple as me suddenly thinking, "Where are all the artists in this time of insanity?" As for reaching out to U2 that would take some time to actually pull together.

What were you doing in Sarajevo at the time ?

I was delivering food for the Serious Road Trip. While they went back and forth to the coast to get more humanitarian food, Graeme Bint, one of it's leaders, and I stayed behind. We were busy filming friends we had made in the city. Mostly artists, musicians and people one doesn't normally see in times of war. This footage would later become the bulk of Miss Sarajevo...strangely enough, a few weeks before I thought of getting a hold of U2, the city was attacked quite heavily. Our building was hit dozens of times. That attack is the beginning of Miss Sarajevo. It is also the time I was sure I had to leave that place, because no matter how much food we delivered it was never going to be enough. At that time, more than any other time I was there, I had completely forgotten about the outside world. As if that world, that life, out there was some sort of dream.

- What was The Serious Road Trip all about ?

The Serious Road Trip was a group best described as being the Merry Pranksters of War. They were a gang of rogue humanitarian workers who were not sanctioned by the UN at the time, which means they did what they did without military escorts, without radios for help and without much money. Mostly they took the food no one else would take, either because it was too dangerous or they didn't have the trucks to drive through the interior of Bosnia, which is very mountainous.

I met up with the Serious Road Trip in Split, Croatia, which at the time was the epicenter of humanitarian efforts for Bosnia. It was well past midnight and it was freezing and I was standing on the side of the road trying to hitchhike into Sarajevo. They drove by with trucks painted in cartoon characters. The first was the Roadrunner running across the desert, the next the Coyote giving chase. Then the Tasmanian Devil and finally a truck painted entirely of blue headed smurfs. They were playing trip hop music and some were dressed as clowns. It was surreal.

We ate off the back of the trucks, slept in the trucks, showered when we could and at the Serb checkpoints they would start juggling. I think the Serbs thought we were a joke, but in the end, over two years, they delivered over 1200 tons of food and medicine to Sarajevo.

My book, Where Water Comes Together, which is features on my website, begins with the time I first met the Serious Road Trip -on the side of the road, in the freezing rain, watching a convoy of cartooned painted trucks go driving by.

- Why did you think this band U2 might be useful to you ?

Honestly I didn't know if they would. Graeme thought I was crazy. He thought they would never help. And from where we were standing at the time it was a reasonable thought. Still, I had a great faith or an intuition that something had to happen that involved the outside world in a different capacity than politicians and military voices. And, growing up with U2 music, I always thought they were a thinking band, or perhaps more accurately a soulful band. Not sappy, sentimental, soulful, but willing to take a hit for what they believed in. As if they were grounded in a deeper sense of what music can do for people. They seem to write and deliver music that, with little effort, crosses borders, whether they be political, personal, racial, linguistic or spiritual.

That said, it was coincidental, if you actually believe in coincidence. I don't. That's just a word made up for those that have a hard time believing in the magic of life.

Of course reaching out to them was a difficult task. I knew I could never reach them as Bill Carter, the guy running around Sarajevo wondering why no one is paying attention. That is ridiculous. So I got a piece of stationary from the Sarajevo television station and essentially wrote a bogus letter. I wrote it as if I was the managing editor for the Sarajevo television station. After asking for an interview I then stated that because of the danger of crossing Serbian checkpoints we would be sending our foreign associate, Bill Carter, to do the interview.

And then it took almost a week to get a fax number, a fax and then a phone. Remember there was no electricity and satellite phones were $25 a minute. And I had about $200 to my name. But in the end the fax got through to Principle Management in Dublin.

- Were you surprised when the band agreed to let you interview them for Bosnian TV ?

When I found out I was sitting at the airport in Split, Croatia trying to get a UN press pass. My first one was obtained by forging documents. I had lost it on the military flight out of Sarajevo that morning. I hadn't heard from U2 and decided to leave Sarajevo, at least for a break. There I was, depressed that I hadn't heard from them, and trying like mad to get another pass, when the phone rang, in that office. It was my friend, Ivana, who was my contact in Split. She said she just got a fax that Bono would like to do an interview in Verona.

Was I surprised? Truthfully it was beyond my comprehension that someone could refuse an interview from Sarajevo television. But still there was a matter of timing and availability. So I was surprised it all worked out. That said, I really did have a deep faith it would. Why? Because I wanted nothing from them. No money, no extra food, no signed photographs. What I wanted was an interview that had a popular icon reaching out to a city that was once the very center of culture for Yugoslavia. I just wanted the connection. I never thought beyond the very moment I was standing in. And by the way that interview between Bono and myself, the one that started the ball rolling, has never been seen by anyone. It's quite interesting.

More from our extended interview with Bill Carter later in the week.

More about Bill and his work as a writer, film-maker and activist here

More on the upcoming Best of DVD here


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