“The role of a journalist is to tell the truth, and the truth is not taking all sides and creating a false equivalence, either morally or factually. The truth is to understand and tell what is happening.”
These words were pronounced by veteran CNN reporter Christiane Amanpour at the 29th Sarajevo Film Festival, during a rather intimate Coffee and Meet event by the city’s main square that I had the pleasure to attend. The context in which they were uttered is particularly crucial to understanding their resonance: the Coffee and Meet event took place on the morning after Nenad Cicin-Sain’s documentary film Kiss the Future was screened at the festival’s opening ceremony.
First shown at the Berlin Film Festival in February 2023, Kiss the Future delves into the resilience of the citizens of Sarajevo during the siege of the city between 1992 and 1995. It presents several testimonies of people who spent at least a considerable amount of time in Sarajevo during the war. The interviews are accompanied by previously unreleased footage of the everyday life of the city’s inhabitants during those years, all while explaining the circumstances that led world-renowned Irish band U2 first to support the city during the siege through an unprecedented use of a musician’s platforms and then to accept to come to Sarajevo for a huge concert in 1998. The U2 concert, which the documentary ends on, was the first big cultural event the city hosted following the signing of the Dayton Peace Treaties in 1995, and it is thus considered a symbol of the city’s retrieved normalcy.
Mrs Amanpour, who is among the film’s interviewees, spent most of the war in Sarajevo in her first major war correspondent assignment, and she fearlessly and rigorously reported on the evolution of the war managing to never let herself fall into the trap of drawing hazardous geopolitical conclusions from everyday stories of individual suffering and resilience, a trap that so many of her colleagues who like her were stationed in Sarajevo from various networks around the world did not manage to evade. For that reason, she is widely respected and revered in the city, as the somewhat watery but firm eyes of an old Sarajevo couple sitting in the first row at the Coffee and Meet were a touching reminder of. “So many people come to me and tell me ‘Thank you for saying that it wasn’t just a civil war, thank you for saying clearly who was the aggressor’ – says Mrs Amanpour –. In Sarajevo, I learned to be truthful and not neutral.”
Truthful, not neutral.
Being truthful and not neutral does not mean disregarding points of view that are different from our own or our preferred ones, it does not mean silencing or ignoring experiences that do not resemble or that even contradict our own, nor does it imply letting personal ideology cloud judgement. On the contrary, diverse experience may prove decisive in helping us construct a more complete and hence more useful truth. All it means is letting facts control narratives and not the other way around, and if that comes at the cost of having to take a stance that in conventional terms would not be regarded as neutral, so be it.
Mrs. Amanpour’s words seem an appropriate synthesis of the spirit with which Tra i Leoni’s team intends to approach the semester that is just underway: do not expect us to be neutral but be sure that we will always strive to be on the side of truth.
“I am proud of it, not just of the city but that we got it, we figured out how to tell the story,” says Mrs. Amanpour about her reporting from Sarajevo. The objective of our team is to figure it out as well, always and at all costs. We hope that such an approach constitutes and will keep constituting standard journalistic practice.