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Why a nine-year-old boy believed that he unleashed the Siege of Sarajevo

In the early 1990s, ethnic tensions in the former Yugoslavia erupted into a series of wars across the Balkans. The 1,500-day Siege of Sarajevo was one of the conflicts’ most brutal episodes, as Serbian forces, supported by groups of ethnic Bosnian Serbs, attempted an ethnic cleansing of the region’s Muslims. While countless events and historical forces built up to the Bosnian War, nine-year-old Igor Drljača, who was a third-grader at Sarajevo’s Simón Bolívar Elementary School when the violence broke out, became convinced it was his fault. After all, feeling nervous about a poor grade in art, he had prayed he’d never have to go back to his school – a wish that came fatefully true.

In his short documentary The Fuse: or How I Burned Simón Bolívar (2011), Drljača, now a filmmaker in Canada and an assistant professor at the University of British Columbia, revisits family VHS tapes to recount how his childhood collided with forces he couldn’t possibly comprehend. In doing so, he transforms this deeply personal story of trauma into a much more universal reflection on lost innocence, and how being a child can be accompanied by simultaneous, paradoxical feelings of both boundless power and crushing powerlessness.

Director: Igor Drljača

7 October 2019

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