"Some of us had covered many wars before - Yugoslavia was my 14th ... Going to war, with death as the matter-of-fact reason for being there, had been my occupation for twenty five years ... Yet, despite all my experience of war, nothing prepared me for Yugoslavia's."
journalist Michael Nicholson, "Natasha' s Story."

Based on true stories, WELCOME TO SARAJEVO invites audiences to enter the world of the international press corps - a group of war correspondents, some jaded, some still innocent, covering the news in one of the most dangerous places on earth. The unsinkable spirit of this City under siege will leave none of them untouched, and will lead one journalist to shed his objectivity and get involved.

News correspondent Michael Henderson has made a career of covering the world's hot Spots, but nothing in his past could have prepared him for what he will experience in Sarajevo. The year is 1992, the beginning of the siege of Sarajevo. The cosmopolitan city that once hosted the Winter Olympics and served as a popular European vacation Spot has come under attack from groups of Bosnian Serbs fighting to overturn Bosnian independence. Where cafes and boutiques once stood there is now a danger zone of snipers and mortar attacks. Where people once shopped and ate in restaurants now there is no water and little food. In this City where many different cultures once lived together in peace, neighbors are now killing neighbors.

No one is safe from harm in this City, least of all the journalists covering the front lines. Michael Henderson and his team - cameraman Greg, producer Jane Carson, and new Sarajevan driver Risto - speed daily through the City in armored cars and flak jackets hunting for powerful footage, for the day's headlines. It is a quest to get the biggest story, the most remarkable footage. Yet it is also an attempt to keep the world watching the unprecedented and inhumane events unfolding in Sarajevo.

At night, they all gather in the bar of the generator-lit hotel where they live under the same harsh conditions, with the same heart-stopping interruptions of bombs and shells, as the rest of Sarajevo. Here, they share stories of what they have witnessed with their comrades in discomfort and engage in a bit of competitive rivalry. Star American journalist Flynn's daring, flashy style of reportage - risking his own life to help a felled civilian shot by a sniper - is often the subject of great debate and controversy, raising suspicions about his true motives. Annie McGee, a freelance journalist in Sarajevo covering her first war, comes down especially hard on Flynn, saying his bravery draws attention only to himself and not Sarajevo. Yet no one can deny that Flynn gets headline stories. As he observes: "Back home no one's heard of Sarajevo, but they've all heard of me."

The decision of what footage will make the news is often hard to swallow. After a mortar explodes on civilians waiting in line for bread, Risto, Annie and Michael are shocked to hear from Jane that their coverage has been beaten out for the top story by the separation of Andrew and Fergie, the Duke and Duchess of York.

Meanwhile, life in Sarajevo goes on, little moment by little moment. When Flynn gives three eggs, meant to cure his hangover, to Risto, they become cause for celebration at his friend Ajsha's local pub. In Sarajevo, omelettes have become as rare as diamonds. Still, in the wake of the bread line massacre, even the smell of cooking eggs cannot cheer Risto.

One day a typical news-hunt brings Henderson to the Ljubica Ivezic orphanage, run by the devoted Mrs. Savic, situated on the front lines. Here, orphans from before the war have been joined by children who have lost their families in the fighting - and all are subjected to daily bombardment from artillery fire.

Despite the dire situation; the political deadlock has prevented any evacuation of the children from the frontline. It's a great news story, with all the essentials: "big guns, litte children, evil men." But for Henderson, it accidentally becomes something greater - at first an obsession and then a promise to help.

Henderson's campaign to publicize the plight of these children and get them moved off of the front-lines is taken especially seriously by one young orphan, Emira. She has become a favorite of Mrs. Savic, helping to comfort the orphanages babies during the relentless bombing. But she can no longer take the daily violence and fear. She longs to leave the war

behind - and sees Michael Henderson as her only chance. Unwittingly, he makes a promise that he will get her
out of Sarajevo.
Henderson tries to keep the orphanage in the news every night, at the risk of missing even more dramatic stories. Flynn and Annie arrive back at the Holiday Inn one night with footage that horrifies even the most hardened among them -they have discovered the concentration camps at Omarska and Trnopolje run by the Bosnian Serbs. Henderson accompanies Flynn as he takes a photograph of one of the inmates to the captive boy's father, a local baker. The daunted parents struggle to understand Flynn's halting Bosnian as he explains the fate of their son. The scene breaks Henderson's heart, and reveals a very different side of Flynn to him a Flynn who cares so much about this place that he is learning Bosnian, a Flynn who is taking personal responsibility for the people whose lives he has touched while covering the war.

With his own tour of duty coming to an end, Henderson announces that he is going home. At the same time, Nina (Marisa Tomei), a young, inexperienced but tenacious American aid worker has arrived in Sarajevo hoping to take orphans out of the besieged City. Nina asks Henderson if he would be interested in leaving Sarajevo with her convoy, providing her organization with some much-needed publicity while getting an exclusive news story, his last from Sarajevo.

Seeing a chance to help the children of Emira's orphanage, Henderson takes Nina to meet Mrs. Savic. Nina explains that she can only bring out children who have been sponsored abroad or infants with no parents but Mrs. Savic is grateful for any relief. Emira will not be among the group and by now, Henderson has forgotten his earlier promise to her. But she has not. She takes him utterly by surprise by holding firmly to her expectation that he will take her away from the war. Now Henderson is an the spot. It is impossible to take Emira out of the country, unless he risks smuggling her out himself, using the convoy as cover, and taking her home to his family in England until the war's end.

Nina explains that such a move is patently illegal and could backfire. She agrees to help Henderson but wams him that if he decides to do this he must journey in total secrecy, telling no one, not even Jane or Greg, about his plans to take Emira. There is no time for vacillation.

Confronted with a sudden opportunity to make a difference in the life of one Sarajevan, Henderson cannot turn away. He and Emira join the convoy which makes a harrowing journey over mountain roads and across the ethnically-cleansed battle-grounds of Bosnia, culminating in the bus being stopped by a group of feared Serbian Chetniks (para-military forces roaming the countryside). Confusion reigns as the Chetniks come an board searching for children with Serbian last names, and cheering that they are returning the children to Greater Serbia.

Back in the peace of England, Emira settles with the Henderson family, but word soon comes out of Sarajevo that Emira's mother is alive and wants her daughter back. So begins another journey to Sarajevo for Michael Henderson, this time not as a reporter but as a man who must face the difficult conflict between a mother who longs to be reunited with her daughter and his own conviction that Emira should never again have to live in danger and fear.

It would seem impossible, but Henderson arrives to a Sarajevo where the war has descended even further into madness. Though the city's spirit remains unbroken - Michael returns just in time for the Miss Besieged Sarajevo beauty pageant - the violence escalates daily. Henderson is surprised to find Flynn still there, still committed to covering this war even though more glamourous assignments have no doubt come his way. He also finds that Risto has joined the fighting - like so many people in Sarajevo, Risto no longer sees any difference between his life and the siege.

But Henderson, also like many others, refuses to give up. He embarks an a risky trip to find Emira's mother and when he finally does, he asks her to make a heart-breaking choice. Every one in Sarajevo has lost so much, he is told, and Emira's mother just wants this one thing back. However, when Henderson shows her that the daughter she gave up nine years before has been set free from the horrors of Sarajevo, she makes the painful and difficult decision to let Henderson adopt her daughter.

As he prepares to leave the city, Henderson joins with a large group of Saraj evans as they climb a local hill top to hear a free concert given by a brave, lone cellist. There atop the exposed hill, they all stand together in defiance of the snipers and in hope for peace.

Director's Statement


Sarajevo, host of the winter Olympics in 1984, is two hours flying time from London. A cosmopolitan city, its population is made up of a mixture of Bosnians, Croatians, Muslims and Serbs.
But in April, 1992 as Yugoslavia broke into independent nations, the City feil under attack from Bosnian Serb military groups who were against Bosnian independence. Surrounded by the Romanija mountains, the city was effectively "trapped" by Bosnian Serb artillery sequested in the hills high above. Serbs repeatedly bombarded civilian neighbourhoods and snipers shot residents as they walked in the streets. Seldom in modern times has a war been waged so fiercely against innocent, noncombatant civilians. Ambulances, supply trucks and other humanitarian vehicles also came under fire. Food and medical supplies dwindled. Water, fuel and electricity were cut off. Sarajevo was effectively isolated from the outside world for nearly four years.
Yet somehow Sarajevo kept up its resistance, buoyed on the hopes of peace. As reporter Charles Lane, who reported from the besieged city, put it: "(Sarajevo) is the closest thing to a model of civic tolerance to emerge from the wreckage of the state Tito built. I didn't meet a single citizen of Sarajevo who didn't think it was worth holding out for".

Director's Biography

Michael Winterbottom took an English degree at Oxford and then trained in film in Bristol and London, breaking into television via the cutting room at Thames Television. He made his directorial debut with two documentaries on Ingmar Bergman and first worked with writer Frank Cottrell Boyce on the young adult television dramas THE STRANGERS and FORGET ABOUT ME. His production of LOVE LIES BLEEDING starring Mark Rylance won the Silver Award at the 1993 New York Television Festival and the four-part serial FAMILY, written by Roddy Doyle, has collected numerous awards at film and television festivals around the world. He also directed the opening story in the first series of Granada's multi-award winning CRACKER.

He made his feature film debut in 1995 with the love story BUTTERFLY KISS, written by Frank Cottrell Boyce and starring Amanda Plummer and Saskia Reeves as serial killers littering the motorways of the North of England with bodies.

He subsequently directed the Jimmy McGovern scripted GO NOW, which starred Robert Carlyle as a man coming to terms with Multiple Sclerosis, which was awarded the Prix Europa and was nominated for a BAFTA for Best Single Drama.
JUDE, his critically acclaimed adaptation of Thomas Hardy's novel "Jude the Obscure," starred Christopher Eccleston and Kate Winslet.
He has his own production company, Revolution Films with the producer Andrew Eaton.

Cast & Crew

Directed by: Michael Winterbottom

Written by: Michael Nicholson, Frank Cottrell Boyce

Produced by: Graham Broadbent, Damian Jones

Cinematography: Daf Hobson

Editing: Trevor Waite

Production Design: Mark Geraghty

Costume Design: Janty Yates

Original Score: Adrian Johnston

Cast: Stephen Dillane (Henderson), Woody Harrelson (Flynn), Marisa Tomei (Emira)

Nominations and Awards

  • Feature Film Selection 1997