Sarajevo Roses-A Cinematic Essay

"What happened in can happen in the middle of Paris. In Rome. It's possible."
-Vedran Smailovic, The Cellist of Sarajevo

What happens when a modern society implodes?

Imagine waking up to find society collapsed: stores shuttered, electricity and water shut off, no food or medicine, neighbors become enemies and fighting in the streets.

This was the city of Sarajevo, eight years after hosting the 1984 Winter Olympic games.

These are stories of Sarajevo: a surgeon turned psychiatrist to understand and heal his PTSD; a tuxedo-clad cellist playing for the dead at massacre sites; a young woman immortalized in a photograph as she flees a sniper's bullet; and children struggling to survive in an orphanage near the frontline.

When Josip Broz, aka Tito, the benevolent dictator of the federation of Yugoslavia, died on May 4, 1980, nobody had an inkling of the bloodshed and ruin to come. In early 1992, a referendum on independence took Bosnia down the path to war.

Produced over a span of twenty-four years, from the Bosnian war's first shots to the twentieth anniversary of the signing of the Dayton agreement that ended the fighting, Sarajevo Roses is a cinematic essay told through 5 citizens who survived death and unimaginable horror and have struggled since to rebuild their city and their lives.

They’re bound through the lens of photojournalist and filmmaker Roger M. Richards, who was in Sarajevo at the height of the conflict and has witnessed its restoration on numerous returns–and who is thus uniquely positioned to share the tragedy’s impact on a great people and a very special place.

Surviving hell is just the first step. At its heart, Sarajevo Roses is about a search for inner peace and recovery after experiencing the horrors of war; how the ordinary neighbor next door is capable of committing the most inhuman acts; and personal testimonies that love, and living fully in the present, are the best we can hope for as human beings. Lessons for a troubled world.

During the four-year siege of the Bosnian capital of Sarajevo, hundreds of thousands of artillery, mortar and tank shells were fired into the city from the surrounding hills. As each exploded, it left a crater in concrete resembling a flower. Citizens stoically painted these “pavement petals” red and called them ‘Sarajevo roses’.

Some remain today, fading reminders of innocent blood that was spilled on the streets of this once all-embracing city. The Sarajevo ‘rose’ represents the impact of the war on the lives of these individuals and all citizens of Sarajevo.

  • Roger M. Richards
  • Roger M. Richards
  • Mitty Griffis Mirrer
  • Roger M. Richards
  • Dr. Asim Haracic
    Key Cast
  • Vedran Smailovic
    Key Cast
  • Sanda Skrabic
    Key Cast
  • Sanela Tasic
    Key Cast
  • Amin Oprasic
    Key Cast
  • Oggi Tomic
    Executive Producer
    Finding Family
  • Peggy J. Meder
    Executive Producer
    Dear President Obama
  • Neil McCartney
    Executive Producer
    Rudolf Nureyev. Island of His Dreams, One Humanity
  • Robert F. Wright
    Associate Producer
  • Harry J. Brown
    Associate Producer
  • Emir Kapetanovic
    Associate Producer
  • Harun Mehmedinovic
    Associate Producer
  • Roger M. Richards
    Dear President Obama, Gold Star Children, Glen Campbell: I'll Be Me, Mississippi Drug War Blues: The case of Cory Maye
  • Roger M. Richards
    Gold Star Children, Mississippi Drug War Blues: The case of Cory Maye
  • Asim Haracic
  • Alexander Shesha
  • Milica Davies
  • Roger M. Richards
  • Project Type:
    Documentary, Feature
  • Genres:
    War, Drama, History, Yugoslavia, Genocide, Siege, War crimes, Cinematic essay, Sarajevo
  • Runtime:
    1 hour 38 minutes
  • Completion Date:
    December 1, 2016
  • Production Budget:
    75,000 USD
  • Country of Origin:
    United States
  • Country of Filming:
    Bosnia and Herzegovina, United States
  • Language:
    Croatian, English
  • Shooting Format:
    Digital Super 35mm, Super 16mm,
  • Aspect Ratio:
  • Film Color:
  • First-time Filmmaker:
  • Student Project:
  • Sarajevo Film Festival
    Bosnia and Herzegovina
    August 14, 2016
    Two screenings of the film's fine cut edit.
  • European Parliament
    December 7, 2016
    Special screening of the director's cut for members of the European Parliament.
  • College of William & Mary
    Williamsburg, Virginia
    United States
    March 21, 2017
    Academic screening of the director's cut for students and faculty.
  • Governor's School for the Arts @ Roper Theater
    Norfolk, Virginia
    United States
    March 22, 2017
    Academic screening of the director's cut for students and faculty.
  • Texas Christian University
    Fort Worth, Texas
    United States
    April 12, 2017
    Academic screening of the director's cut for students and faculty, part of TCU's KinoMonda film program.
  • Naro Expanded Cinema
    Norfolk, Virginia
    United States
    June 14, 2017
    World Theatrical Premiere
Director Biography - Roger M. Richards

The work of filmmaker and photographer Roger M. 'Luke' Richards has ranged from coverage of the White House in Washington, DC to conflict zones around the world, including the disintegration of Yugoslavia (particularly the wars in Croatia and Bosnia and the 44 month siege of Sarajevo), the civil wars in Nicaragua, El Salvador, the US invasion of Panama, the guerrilla and narco-conflict in Colombia, political and social issues in Haiti and Peru, and the search for peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

Richards was a founding Senior Producer and Director of Photography with The Drew Carey Project at ReasonTV from December 2007 to November 2009. Prior to that he was Multimedia Editor/Producer, photo editor and staff photographer for The Virginian-Pilot newspaper in Norfolk, Virginia from 2001 to 2007. At the Pilot he helped pioneer, the first newspaper video portal in the world. He is a former Associated Press photo bureau chief in Bogotá, Colombia, and was a staff photographer at the Washington Times in Washington, DC, from 1997-2000.

His television work has been broadcast on several networks, including ABC, NBC, FOX and the National Geographic Channel. His films have been shown at many film festivals, including winning a Best Short Documentary prize at the 2009 Oxford Film Festival for “Mississippi Drug War Blues: The case of Cory Maye”, which he co-directed with Paul Feine. Richards also works as a Director of Photography and film editor on projects by other directors and producers.

He is the recipient of numerous awards for photography, video, multimedia and picture editing from the National Press Photographers’ Association, the White House News Photographers’ Association, Pictures of the Year International, American Society of Magazine Editors, Society of Newspaper Design, Society of Professional Journalists and the Virginia News Photographers Association. He was twice nominated for the Pulitzer Prize, in 1990 and 2008. Richards was a picture editor on the staff of the Virginian-Pilot when the newspaper won the Society of Newspaper Design's international award for World's Best Designed Newspaper in 2001.

Richards is the author of ‘Remember Sarajevo’, photographs and writings from the siege of Sarajevo (2004, Zone Zero Editions). It was one of the first publications of war photography to be published in the eBook format.

Roger M. Richards is currently a member of the WARM Foundation, an international foundation working on the world’s contemporary conflicts. He is also on the International Expert Team of the Institute for the Research of Genocide Canada, focused on documenting and bringing to justice war criminals wanted for acts of genocide. He has been a member of the White House News Photographers Association since 1997.

2017-Tidewater (Feature Documentary-directed by Roger Sorkin) Additional Camera.
2016-Sarajevo Roses- A Cinematic Essay (Feature documentary) Director-Writer-Producer-Cinematographer.
2016-Dear President Obama: The Clean Energy Revolution is Now (Feature documentary-directed by Jon Bowermaster; executive producer and narrator Mark Ruffalo) Cinematographer/Field Producer.
2015-Dear Governor Brown (short film, 25 mins.-directed by Jon Bowermaster) Cinematographer.
2014-Glen Campbell..I'll Be Me (Feature documentary/directed by James Keach) Cinematographer, Washington D.C. Unit.
2013-Gold Star Children (Feature documentary-directed by Mitty Griffis Mirrer) Director of Photography and Editor.
2013-Finding Family (Winner of two 2014 BAFTA-British Academy of Film and Television Arts awards-feature documentary-directed by Oggi Tomic and Chris Leslie) Photography
2011-Building Peace on Desktops (12 minutes) Co-Director-Cinematographer-Editor with Chris Tyree.
2010-A Walk with Ghosts (9 min 54 sec) Director-Cinematographer and Editor.
2010-Reason Saves Cleveland (Feature documentary-narrated by Drew Carey) Cinematographer and Editor.
2008-The Wall: The Cost of Securing our Southern Border (10 min 44 sec) Co-Producer & Co-Director-Cinematographer-Editor (Narrated by Drew Carey).
2008-Mississippi Drug War Blues: The Case of Cory Maye (25 min.) Co-Producer & Co-Director-Cinematographer-Editor (Narrated by Drew Carey).
2007-My Favorite Child (14 minutes) Director-Cinematographer-Editor.
2007-Out of the Darkness of Suicide (A series of 4 short films on the trauma and stigma of suicide on surviving family members). Producer-Cinematographer-Editor.
2002-A Navy Family (6 minutes) Director-Cinematographer-Editor.
2000-Seven Lilies (9 minutes) Director-Cinematographer-Editor.

Add Director Biography
Director Statement

In 1993, standing amidst hundreds of fresh graves in Lion Cemetery, almost a year after arriving in besieged Sarajevo, I made a vow to the citizens of the city that I would tell their story. No matter what.

This film is the culmination of all I have learned as a storyteller and a human being. For the past 24 years I’ve been working to keep my word.

The images and words combine to create a lyrical tone poem. The film is shot with multiple film and digital cinema formats to delineate the different eras described in the narrative, including Super 35mm, Academy 35mm, Super 16mm, Super 8mm, and DV, along with archival news footage and my photographs created during the war. The different visual textures and color palettes are used to invoke mood, place and a sense of the passage of time.

The stories of the cast of ‘Sarajevo Roses-A Cinematic Essay’ are of ordinary people living in an extraordinary time. They survived a medieval siege, the longest of the 20th century at 1,395 days, an event that also set the tone for these wars of the early 21st century. The war in Bosnia triggered the worst mass killings and ethnic cleansing of civilians in Europe since the Holocaust in World War II.

The Siege of Sarajevo was not unlike the atrocities committed by Nazi Germany and the genocides in Cambodia and Rwanda, now being repeated as present day conflicts like Syria and the brutality of ISIS rages on.

As Dr. Asim Haraćić testifies in this film, the capacity to commit acts of extreme violence against our fellow humans is not limited to any ethnic group or nationality. It lies just beneath the surface in all of us, and only when we are aware of this dark side are we able to conquer these impulses. We can then choose to follow our ‘fundamental human goodness’.

This film is about the human capacity to heal and find meaning in life after experiencing great emotional trauma. It’s not another film replay of the terrible events and suffering of the Sarajevo siege that are already well documented by other powerful films.

My goal is to help bridge the gap between the war and its aftermath, and show how its impact has been felt even by generations that were as yet unborn.

What’s more, my hope is that the lessons of this film will also inspire emotional healing for those who have been hurt in other conflicts. That these lessons will perhaps contribute in some way to helping us find alternatives to war and instead seek paths to peace in our troubled world.

I kept my word.

Roger M. Richards
Norfolk, Virginia, USA
December 7th, 2016