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Docs: In Chronicling U2’s Connection to Besieged Sarajevo, Affecting “Kiss the Future” Highlights Human Need for Art

The most optimistic hope attached to social media and, before its existence, the antecedent of pervasive cable news coverage, was that a smaller world might breed more empathetic connections. Seeing and communicating more directly with other people all across the globe could create peace. Of course, if there’s anything that the last years have taught us is that humankind seems ill-equipped to deal with the pressures, moral contradictions and unpleasantness that a clear-eyed connection to global realities often entails.

A glimpse of this fact (in its more nascent stages of discomfort, more than activated agitation) was famously glimpsed in 1993, when the biggest rock ’n’ roll band in the world at the time, U2, chose to effectively splash cold water in the faces of hundreds of thousands of European concertgoers.


As part of the groundbreaking Zoo TV Tour, an elaborately staged multimedia spectacle in support of their album Achtung Baby, the band featured live nightly satellite link-ups to citizens trapped in Sarajevo during the bloody Bosnian War. It was heartrending and eye-opening.

The story of how this risky emotional high-wire gambit came to be — plus all that flowed from it, and so much more — is movingly unpacked in the documentary Kiss the Future, which enjoyed its world premiere at the 2023 Berlin Film Festival, where Fifth Season and WME are handling worldwide sales.


Using American-born aid worker Bill Carter’s personal relationships as the foundation of the film, and building out from there, director Nenad Cicin-Sain’s movie begins as an economically sketched mini-history lesson. It details Slobodan Milošević’s autocratic power grab, in which heated rhetoric and stoked fears over ethnic differences were wielded as a blunt-force tool in an attempt to hold onto political control as Yugoslavia came apart.

From there, the film chronicles the day-to-day struggles of besieged civilians of Sarajevo, a bustling cosmopolitan city in which interfaith relationships and blended communities were exceedingly common. Interviewees such as Enes Zlatar, a frontman for punk rock band Sikter who found himself pressed into service as a firefighter, reminisce about the surreality suddenly foisted upon them, as regular people avoided sniper fire by day and gathered in underground discotheques at night.

During this time, Carter arrived in Bosnia as a wayward traveler in his mid-20s. He hooked up with the Serious Road Trip, a humanitarian aid organization that delivered supplies but also aimed to create generational “fire breaks,” instilling hope for the future by focusing a lot of their attention and energy on children. As others left, Carter stayed, moved by both the devastation but also the incredible resilience he saw all around him.

Pressed by associates as to what exactly he was doing, Carter threw himself into a quixotic mission: to connect with U2, a band well known for their political activism. After he successfully fibbed his way into an interview with U2’s lead singer, Bono, in Verona, Italy, Carter would find himself at the center of a most unusual humanitarian art experiment.

In Carter’s unique story, Cicin-Sain (a filmmaker born in the former Yugoslavia to a Serbian mother and a Croatian father) found the perfect frame for a story he’d long had an interest in telling.

“We both agreed that we didn’t want to make a political documentary,” said Cicin-Sain in a recent phone interview. “But we wanted to use what we had been through in our experiences as a way to share with the world where this can go, in both a positive and negative way, right? Because the nationalism and the war is the catalyst for, in the darkest of times, the greatest of the human spirit to come out.”

“My inspiration for the film has always been (Roberto) Benigni’s Life is Beautiful,” he continued, “because we didn’t want to make a preachy political documentary and we didn’t want to do just a history lesson. So, we said: let’s do a collective memory (piece), where it’s not just my point-of-view, it’s not Bill’s point-of-view — it’s a lot of different people’s points-of-view, from the president (of the United States) to a 12-year-old girl. By doing that, it would (provide) a way to understand a time and history.”

The work on this tapestry began by tracking down Carter’s friends from his time in the country, for an informal series of so-called pre-interviews. “Basically, we did something like 35 or 40 Zooms just to kind of let them and Nenad dance a little bit, and see if it was going to work,” said Carter.

“I think there was a number of things we learned because of Covid,” added Cicin-Sain. “The handicap was that we had to interview these people over Zoom, but there was something very powerful that happened. It’s you in a room and that person in a room. Through the camera, you’re looking at each other directly in the eyes. I would talk to these people and I would ask them questions – being from there, there was instantly a kind of bond and a commonality. Even though I wasn’t in Sarajevo for their experience, people started sharing some of the most intimate and personal details of their lives that, in some instances, they’d not shared with their loved ones.”

When it came time to actually go into production, and attempt to replicate in person the power and intimacy of those first conversations, Cicin-Sain deployed a unique strategy. He filmed all of Kiss the Future’s interviews with Sarajevan subjects in an abandoned movie theater that had been converted into a Red Cross facility during the war. He then tapped a production designer friend to take elements from each subject’s archives and put them on the wall, to create texture as well as memory cues.

In addition to these emotional first-person accounts, other substantive interviews include Bill Clinton, reporter Christiane Amanpour, of course Carter himself, and U2’s Bono, The Edge, and Adam Clayton.

The film makes superlative use of a tremendous reservoir of archival material. This is contributed from many sources, including the personal repositories of both Carter and longtime U2 video producer Ned O’Hanlan. The largest amount of archive footage, though, comes from Swedish director Erik Gandini and Italian director Giancarlo Bocchi, both of whom worked as filmmakers in Sarajevo during the war.

Kiss the Future emotionally culminates in a lengthy segment that finds U2 making good on a promise to play a concert in Sarajevo, which they did during a PopMart show on September 23, 1997.

The result is a nonfiction film of uncommonly balanced insight and uplift — something which showcases both the ever-present, pulsing human need for creative expression, as well as art’s invaluable role in combatting the horrors of weaponized hate and ethnic nationalism.