"[M]usic has lost the personality of human beings and musicians. It's got so shiny that it's as if there's a surface of Formica over it. And it's something that doesn't let you in."
-- Edge, 2003
On the Road to Sarajevo, Part II
January 15, 2003
Bill Carter beamed a warzone into the Zoo TV Tour and produced The Road To Sarajevo, a classic cut on the Best Of 1990 - 2000M DVD.
Carter, who shot the documentary in the Bosnian capital in the run up to U2's historic 1997 concert, is an accomplished film-maker and writer. It was in 1997, working with an eccentric cabal of artists and activists -- The Serious Road Trip -- that he decided maybe U2 could help spotlight what was happening in the Balkans to their European tour audiences.
To cut a long story short -- documented in our three-part interview with Bill -- during the Zoo TV concerts U2 hosted live video hookups with the beleaguered citizens of Sarajevo and later Bono co-produced the award-winning documentary.
Check out more about Bill's work here www.billcarter.cc
And check back as he regularly posts new extracts from his forthcoming book Where Water Comes Together www.billcarter.cc
And here's Part II.
How did the idea of the satellite broadcasts from ZOO TV come about ?
After the show in Verona I went with U2 back to their villa with Jason Aplon, a friend and humanitarian worker from the International Rescue Committee. Bono and Edge and Jason and I began talking. Bono wanted to come to Sarajevo. I agreed it was a good idea, but told him he couldn't bring all these people and this show. It would have to be just a few people and he would have to play in the underground disco. The music scene in there during the war has to be the very definition of rock 'n' roll. It was a bunker shored up by sandbags, and safe from shelling. Anyhow, that gave everyone a pause. Edge wasn't sure about all that, but said, "It's time to do something radical." And before I left Bono told me to think of something in the next week and they would do it.
The next day, on our drive back to Croatia, Jason and I were sitting on a park bench outside Venice when we decided they couldn't come to Sarajevo because people would gather and the Serbs would fire a shell and kill everyone. So, it was there we remembered the concert the night before. BIG televisions. That was it. Beam Sarajevo into the U2 world as they traveled Europe. It was much more radical than them coming to Sarajevo, which would really only benefit Sarajevians. Bringing Sarajevo to Europe, to the place that was ignoring them politically, was poetic. Well, it was Slam poetry. When I faxed Bono about the idea he responded with an overwhelming yes. In fact he wanted to start right away, which for me, just one guy running around with $200 in my boot, was going to be difficult.
When the broadcasts first began, how did the daily organization work ?
All the satellite equipment in Sarajevo was run by EBU, European Broadcast Union, a rental house based in Geneva. It's one of those secrets of war. This outfit is let into the war in order to broadcast it to our homes every night. At first they laughed me out of the room, telling me they were news, not entertainment. They were sure I worked for U2, which I didn't. I had just met them. Anyhow after a lot of wrangling and phone calls it was set up. They provided the link, a live feed you rent for X amount of dollars per minute. It was all done from the hallways of the television station. The hallway was used in order to keep the lights from attracting sniper fire. Ironically, in the end, and especially with historical hindsight and with today's events unraveling at nanosecond speeds, it is entirely possible that it is the news that has become entertainment and what we did was something completely different. It was strange, perhaps uncomfortable but surely not entertainment. I have yet to see a live link up on the news or anywhere else where people from inside a conflict are allowed to speak unedited to a large audience. It doesn't happen. It's always a military, political or religious expert. The locals are usually walking around with sticks on their backs with soundbite snippets saying, "it's so difficult here." Or "We have lost everything." You see that only plays to the lowest common denominator in our societies: pity. Strike the pity chord and you have allowed the viewer off the hook. They feel bad. What the satellites did was to circumvent pity and go straight to uncomfortableness. It provoked anger and thought. I'll take anger any day over pity.
What happened the first night ?
I'm not sure. But the first night it worked well was in Bologna, Italy. The whole idea rested on finding the right people to speak to 50,000 rock 'n' roll fans. I ran around Sarajevo trying to find the right person each night. They couldn't be angry on the screen. That would only alienate the people at the show. I told the Sarajevians that the people at the show aren't your enemy. They are your only hope. The youth. That first night was Darko and Vlado. They were sitting on the floor in their apartment, in the heat. Hungry, tired and fucked up from the shelling the day before, they thought I was crazy. What satellite? What U2 concert? The whole idea was like some sort of fantasy. In fact the whole time I did these satellites no one except the person doing the link-up actually believed they were happening. It was just too far out there.
Anyhow that night Darko and Vlado talked wonderfully. Vlado had a wife he thought may have escaped to Bologna and there was a chance she would be there. So he addressed her. It was such a private moment on such a public PA system. There we sat staring into a camera in Sarajevo and they never flinched. We couldn't see the concert on our end. There was only one earpiece available and through that earpiece we could hear the show. I will never forget the moment I put that earpiece in their ears. It was like a jolt of lightning. As if until that moment they didn't believe there were really were 50,000 people on the other end of this transmission that were listening. I'm not sure the effect the satellites had in those venues around Europe or even in Sarajevo. All I know is the effect it had on the actual people that did them. It was like a breathe of fresh air in the middle of a morgue.
What was the most memorable experience of the whole episode ?
Many. But perhaps it was the Glasgow link-up. I was given a woman's name by U2 that day. They had a young man coming to the show in Scotland and the name on the fax I received was his mother in Sarajevo. He didn't know if she was alive but they asked if I could find out and bring her to do the satellite that evening.
I found her on a back street in one of the most dangerous sections of the city. Her apartment had two holes in the ceiling. Inside was a modern apartment. CD players, a microwave, television, and the rest of it. But none of it worked and hadn't worked for almost two years. The holes in her ceiling were from two shells that landed on her roof, but didn't explode.
So it was the moment. I had to tell her her son was alive. That he had escaped the city that day almost a year ago without injury. At this point I remembered that I didn't know U2 that well. What if they were wrong? I would be committing a grave wrong if this information was wrong. But, what choice did I have. I told her. She broke down but laughed at the same time. It was glorious.
That night I took her to the television station. She talked to her son by satellite phone and then later she spoke on the satellite to Glasgow. Only at the end did she mention her son and that he shouldn't worry, she was alive.
As we left the building she was smiling and talking a mile a minute. It was as if she had just gained ten years of her life back. In the dark, she held onto my arm as we walked down the stairs. She kept saying something in her language. I asked the interpreter what she had said. "She said, thank you very much. She said, now that she knows her son is alive she can die in peace here."
In what ways did broadcasting live from a war zone to a concert audience enhance understanding of what was happening ?
I'm not sure. I believe you would have to ask those in the audience. Or U2. Or anyone but me. I was on the inside. I was like the worm in the machine. I had no intention of trying to explain the war, that was impossible and a daunting task, even for those in it. No, in general I find people over reach when trying to explain wars. In truth we are lucky to get someone's attention for the briefest of moments. A flinch. I was hoping to make people pause, look up, and feel. It is was the provocation of feeling, the caring about what's going on that I was most interested in. The information is out there if one cares enough to find it.
Did you wonder at the risk of trivialising the situation ?
No, never. It never crossed my mind. I thought it was perfect. That whole concept of trivialising came later. From the press. Quite honestly it caught me off guard. People thought I worked for U2. That they had sent me in here to do this job. No one ever took the time to find out the story, how it all came about. How it affected those Sarajevians in the city. They still haven't. All I see is how it looked for U2 and rock 'n' roll. No one has ever talked to the Bosnians about it. Especially those involved.
More from our extended interview with Bill Carter shortly.
© U2.com, 2003.