Chasing A Dream: it is not just the physical places that permanently tie us to familiar spaces but the people with whom these spaces are shared
If I was asked to extract a philosophy that I will carry into my life from the film Chasing a Dream, it would be: “We cannot pretend that we can go through war and then somehow, emerge from it untainted; as innocent and naïve as we were.”
Let me start from the beginning.
Chasing a Dream, a Serbian documentary film premiered during the 25th European Film Festival at the Nairobi’s Alliance Francaise on the evening of May 16, 2016 coming just four days after it premiered in Serbia, its country of origin.
The film tells the story of eleven friends who were scattered across the world as refugees following a civil war that broke out in Yugoslavia that was caused by conflict between Muslims, the Eastern Orthodox and Catholics which are predominated by Bosnians, Serbians and Croatians respectively. The result was a childhood cut short and marred by deaths, loss of loved ones, displacement to strange lands and a general disconnection from their realities; from the familiar. The war broke out in 1992 and went on until 1995, spanning more than three years.
The story is made up of numerous journeys as the narrator of the story tries to move around the 12 countries where the eleven friends now live and work. These journeys will remind you that indeed, there is movement in everyone’s life and the only difference is in perhaps, the direction and what we seek to accomplish with the journeys that we make either consciously or unconsciously. The narrator in the story is chasing a dream to relive his glorious past with his friends for even one day and try to heal from the effects that the war had on them. As former child actors who spend an intense childhood in the same school and shared playing grounds and had taken for granted the fact that they would see each other each time the sun rose, they have now become adults who have to grapple with the fact that they have new homes, new responsibilities and different dynamics in life so that meeting up becomes a rigorous procedure that could take up to years to finally materialize. Indeed, this 2015 documentary was shot within a period of five years representing both the distance the filmmakers had to go, the finances that needed to be put together as well as working around time and the availability thereof.
Though the story has one main narrator, the other stars take turns to tell their own stories from their perspective and this greatly contributes to the believability of the story because one, the fact that different characters have a similar memory takes away the doubts that perhaps the story was imposed on the narrators if we did not get to hear their voices. Secondly, the story is told in various locations as the people go about their daily lives such as while in the kitchen cooking, on the road driving to work ,out in the field looking after sheep and sometimes just on the road while starring at curvy women. The realness of the documentary is also enhanced by the archival footage that is appropriately used in the film including photos and videos.
Among the styles of delivery there is use of song, flashbacks and symbolism.
The director was bent on communicating nostalgia in the way the songs were strategically put in the film. For example, a sad scene would be followed by a song that would get straight to your heart in the calm and sorrowful way in which it was delivered. The English subtitles made the songs more interesting and brought the message to my complete understanding but the truth is that, even without the subtitles I would have understood the messages in the songs.
Speaking of subtitles, I have to commend whoever worked on them because it is very clear that they understood that subtitling is an art and not just mere translation! Without naming names, there is a country which subtitles movies in English and if you understand the original language, you will understand that the subtitles are misleading. But I digress. When you watch this movie, you will actually feel the energy that went into the scripting – every line just feels quotable. The past and the present are compared in a way that makes you want to pause the movie and note down. Then again, the new day is described in a breathtaking way and before long, you realise that if you were to note down every nice sentence from the mouth of the narrator, you might as well just ask that the script be emailed to you. So yes, if you love words and strong sentences, get this movie! This is one of those movies that contribute to my growing impatience with film scripts that lack creativity and beautiful use of language.
One last thing (and this is purely a space issue), this movie has all the things I like: journeys (I already mentioned this), melancholy, friendships (this is perhaps the only reason this movie was made in the first place) and a longing that is torn between going forward or going backwards you know like both directions have what you want and evoke very deep emotions which again make you aware of the important part that one’s past plays in anchoring the person’s future. There is something the narrator says towards the end of the reunion which brought all the 11 friends back to Serbia that speaks volumes about the distance that will once again, descend on them after they go back to their daily lives; it will be much harder to leave this time because they are now aware that they are parting ways. During the war, they simply took off to wherever they could and were not even aware that they were leaving behind their childhood friends and familiar grounds. This time however, they are aware that they are actually parting ways.
Is there a chance that they would, if there had been no war, still be permanent residents of Serbia who might not have ended up in the careers that they are in (largely occasioned by circumstances), some completely different from what they dreamt of being in during their early, non-turbulent lives? Absolutely and this is one of the greatest contributors to the nostalgia and melancholy in the film. War had the power to completely alter an individual’s destiny.
I will fail as a reviewer if I do not mention just how powerfully the river has been used as a symbol in the film and how it seems to permeate everything that happens. I have to admit that I had never looked at a river so seriously in my life. As a source of life, as a metaphor of love that goes on quietly but without which life cannot go on, as the continuous movement towards that greatness that we all seek and so on.
Here is why this film is specifically relevant for Kenya:
- The refugee story
The government is currently spearheading a campaign to send refugees back to their home countries and for the most part, the only voice that we get to hear is that of the government, “refugees contribute to the growing insecurity in the country,” they say. With this film, however, you will get the perspective of the refugees and just how much they lost and you will wonder what their stores will reveal if the wrote or filmed them.
- A good script
I mentioned this before but just to add on what I said, the script in this film will make you think thoroughly before writing anything down.
- You will make new friends
The documentary is told in a very personal way and by the end of the film, you feel as if you know these guys personally because they are so humorous in the way they tell their stories and at the end of the close to two hours of the film, you will have joined this gang of buddies.
- You will be entertained.
Isn’t this the reason why we all watch films? To be entertained as we learn? I think it helps a great deal if the entertainment is good. This film is worthy entertainment.
However, at the length of 145 minutes, Chasing a Dream feels a bit too long and stretched out too much for example, they linger too much on things that are not part of the main story such as the people passing on the road or while hanging out at a restaurant. I think that if it was shorter, without the unnecessary scenes, it would be a lot more compact.
Chasing a Dream is the winner of the 2015 Audience Award at the Sarajevo Film Festival for Best Documentary. It was directed by Mladen Mitrovic and stars Adi Cebo, Petar Djurisic, Dzenan Golos and Frane Rak.
You can catch the second and last screening of the film at the European Film Festival on May 20, 2016 at 7.30pm at the Alliance Francaise. Tickets go for 100bob or 50 bob if you have a valid student ID.