Director Nenad Cicin-Sain’s Kiss the Future isn’t a traditional concert documentary (it boasts Ben Affleck and Matt Damon as producers, for a start), but it does end with U2’s historic 1997 gig in Sarajevo. The title is a reference to something frontman Bono shouted out while on-stage (“Viva Sarajevo! Fuck the past, kiss the future!”), urging the war-torn people of Bosnia and Herzegovina to embrace a new beginning after the end of the Bosnian War. It was an emotional moment, demonstrating the power of music to bring people together – and remains so in this film.
We kick off with a series of newly shot interviews with the band. They express their love for The Clash and pay tribute to the punk DIY ethos, a culture that influenced them on their way to becoming global stars. Soon, American aid worker Bill Carter picks up the narrative. His memoir, Fools Rush In, formed the basis for Kiss the Future (Carter also gets a story credit) – and he gives a scary account of living in Sarajevo when the city was under siege by the Yugoslav People’s Army, and then Serbian forces, from 1992-96. Snipers take pot shots at residents from afar and buildings are destroyed by artillery fire, but somehow, an illicit, underground party scene keeps morale levels up.
Clips of these shows, alongside desolate images of war appear on-screen while Carter, musicians such as Enes Zlatar Bure from local band Sikter and CNN’s on-the-ground reporter Christine Amanpour explain how things really were. The testimony and footage is eye-opening – sometimes grimly depressing, sometimes cheering. The human spirit can’t be denied, even in the worst situations.
One evening, Carter sees Bono on MTV offering support to the people of Sarajevo. Cleverly, he notices the band are playing nearby Italy, travels there, and manages to secure an interview for the Bosnian resistance’s pirate TV channel. Bono is so moved by the situation that he starts dedicating the band’s 1991 hit ‘One’ to the city on their ‘Zooropa’ world tour. He even incorporates live TV interviews carried by Carter from Sarajevo to Italy into U2’s sets, until one fed up native questions the point of U2 screening their small updates without taking any real action. The powers-that-be pull the plug.
A happy ending sees some 45,000 attend the 1997 show, an electric, poignant event at which the band played a set including ‘With Or Without You’, ‘Where the Streets Have No Name’ and ‘Miss Sarajevo’, the 1995 song they made with Brian Eno about the brave women who staged a beauty pageant during the siege. Held at Koševo Stadium, it was the first time a major artist had visited since the conflict ended. Watching snippets from the gig, you can hear Bono’s voice crack and the crowd’s appreciation is almost tangible. It’s easy to question the motives of pop stars who get behind a cause, but the end-product here is a joyful night for people who’ve experienced unimaginable hardship. Cynicism can (and should) be put aside for now.
- Director: Nenad Cicin-Sain
- Featuring: Bono, The Edge, Adam Clayton
- Release date: February 19 (Berlin Film Festival screening), TBC (UK cinema release)