Facing Darkness


Jean-Gabriel Périot explores the siege of Sarajevo through the eyes of those carefree youngsters who used cameras as weapons and as a means to survive.

French documentary-maker Jean-Gabriel Périot made his name among audiences and critics alike through powerful and aesthetically original films such as A German Youth, which opened the 2015 Berlinale’s Panorama section and was nominated for the Best Documentary César in 2016, Our Defeats, presented in the Berlinale Forum in 2019, Returning to Reims selected for the Directors’ Fortnight in 2021 and, in the fiction field, Summer Lights, presented within San Sebastian’s New Directors line-up in 2016. His latest documentary, Facing Darkness, which speaks accurately and poetically of the siege of Sarajevo, is world premiering at the 57th Karlovy Vary International Film Festival.

Produced by France, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Switzerland, Facing Darkness plunges into the murky depths of the siege of Sarajevo, which lasted from April 1992 to February 1996. As is his custom, Jean-Gabriel Périot uses archive footage to reflect upon history differently, those 1,425 days of darkness which some light nevertheless managed to penetrate, a painful and cruel period in which people lost themselves before eventually re-connecting. By way of archive footage and films shot by those who decided to capture their daily lives during the war on camera - a great many moments of anxiety but also tiny sparks of hope which helped these individuals to carry on believing in a future which otherwise felt like a wild dream, at best - the past seems to come back to life as if by miracle. For these youngsters, the camera was a way to talk about the violence around them, the brutal nature of a day-to-day existence where time no longer felt important.

The first half of the documentary is composed of extracts from footage shot during the siege by some (very) young filmakers (Nedim Alikadić, Smail Kapetanović, Dino Mustafić, Nebojsa Šerić-Shoba and Srđan Vuletić) who used their cameras as a means to survive - a comrade in the struggle and a mechanical eye through which the cruelty of war could be observed. Almost thirty years on, how do these filmmakers view their testimonies and this war which deprived them of their youth? How do they feel about this past which is dangerously close to becoming a modern-day reality right now? In order to answer these questions, and to try to solve the mystery behind this fascinating but also devastating archive footage, the second half of the film offers up interviews with these self-same filmmakers, who dive back into a past which still haunts them today.

What do they think of these early attempts to capture reality through the eye of a camera? Why have they continued to make films? Do they still believe in the revolutionary power of film? One of the directors maintains that these testimonials allow people to relive the brutality of the war and thereby draw life lessons. Like a mirror through which history can be reconsidered from the viewpoint of those who experienced the horrors of war firsthand, this archive footage urges us to think about the present day without forgetting the past, and to understand that peace is never a given or eternal. By way of Facing Darkness, Jean Gabriel Périot lends a voice to artists who have never stopped believing in film as a vital force and a way in which to survive - even the horrors of war.


Muriel Del Don
July, 3rd, 2023