Now the most important festival in the Balkans, the Sarajevo Film Festival was launched in 1995 during the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina. It began by screening a selection of films from the Edinburgh and Locarno festivals in Sarajevo's Obala Arts Centre which, perhaps surprisingly given the circumstances, proved very popular.
"It was an ideal place to hide from war and to dream someone else's dream," says Elma Tataragic, who was 18 when she started working at the centre.
Tataragic went on to become one of the key figures in the development of the event (along with festival director Mirsad Purivatra) which owes its survival at least in part to the backing of Edinburgh and Locarno as well as the European Union and the United Nations, which were keen to support the most multicultural city in the former Yugoslavia. Importantly the festival had proved its commitment to culture by launching the event during the war.
Since 2000, Tataragic has been programmer for the feature and shorts competition line-ups, which have become an essential reference point for international producers and sales agents looking for new films and emerging film-makers from the region.
"The quality of the films is definitely going up," says Tataragic. "The last two years show there is a new, strong generation of film-makers which has had a much better start than previous generations."
Among the highlights of this year's event are Goran Rusinovic's Buick Riviera from Croatia (with co-producers in the US and UK) and Dejan Zecevic's political thriller The Fourth Man from Serbia. These stand a good chance of following in the footsteps of films such as Pjer Zalica's Fuse and Teona Mitevska's I Am From Titov Veles which both premiered at Sarajevo and went on to win awards at major international festivals including Locarno, Valencia and Marrakech.
The festival, which is supported by the City of Sarajevo and the Federal Ministry of Culture and Sports, also hosts the vibrant co-production market CineLink. Conceived in co-operation with Rotterdam's CineMart, CineLink gives regional producers the chance to meet international partners and access foreign funds. This year the festival will also see the first works-in-progress programme, with four projects presented directly to the most active world sales agents at the event.
Now Tataragic herself has stepped into the spotlight as the producer and co-writer of Aida Begic's Snow, which won the Critics' Week grand prix at Cannes and opens Sarajevo on August 15 in an out-of-competition screening. The film was picked up at Cannes by Pyramide International.
"In a way, we knew we would get to a big festival. We saw the first rough cut and it was clear Snow wasn't an ordinary first feature," says Tataragic. "When we heard we got into Critics' Week, the film wasn't finished and we were shocked. It's one thing when you expect something and completely different when it actually happens."
CULTURAL LIFE OF ELMA TATARAGIC
Favourite recent films: Three Monkeys by Nuri Bilge Ceylan, 2007 Sarajevo film festival winner I Am From Titov Veles by Teona Mitevska, Breath by Kim Ki-duk
Favourite recent books: 1001 Nights
Favourite websites: Tripadvisor.com, Script-o-rama.com
Favourite magazines: Time.