Observations On Film: The Balkans Observations On Film: The Balkans

Observations On Film: The Balkans

Meandering through the Balkan region for her second time, armed with a film camera, Sarah Pannell captures tender observations of its people.

August 2022.
This is my second time in the Balkans, having previously visited in 2014 on a solo trip. Meeting my partner Ivan years later (born in Bosnia well before the war divided up the six republics), we established our shared vision to return together, on a month-long road trip to explore more of the expansive and magical landscapes that stretch right across southeastern Europe. We meander through the mountains to remote villages and often forgotten towns, visiting who is left of his maternal and paternal relatives throughout former-Yugoslavia.
Departing from the old capital, Belgrade, we head north through the lush mountains of Fruska Gora national park and find an old quarry that has become an emerald lake. Getting around Serbia is relatively easy with an extensive highway network traversing the landlocked country, unlike much of its neighbour to the west; Bosnia & Herzegovina where the narrow roads zig zag through towering mountain ranges and gorges.
“I feel suspended between a sense of modernity and tradition”

Sarah Pannell

Heading south through Serbia, we pass through beautiful rural towns with roadside stalls selling fruit and honey, past fertile plains traversed by rivers. We approach Pčinja, a district in southern Serbia close to the border of Kosovo and North Macedonia where Ivan’s uncle lives on a large rural property with dozens of fruit trees. The climate here is pleasant, and we enjoy warm summer nights and fresh country air. It feels a long way from the bustling and hot concrete streets of Belgrade.
After a few days in the south, we head towards Bosnia, through magnificent mountainous scenery of the Zlatibor mountains and spend time in a mountain top village of Mokra Gora. From here, it’s a short yet winding descent into eastern Bosnia to Visegrad, nestled on the famous river Drina. There is a dark history which has marked much of these lands but Visegrad feels particularly suspended between the past and the present.
Now in Republic Srpska, we pass through the town where Ivan was born, Foca and his first home in the town of Gorazde before his parents emigrated to Australia. Cajnice, a small city on the eastern edge of the country is where we meet Ivan’s uncle, his father’s youngest brother who lives in a small village nearby where he was born. This is Ivan’s ancestral village; called Trpinje, and once here, life really slows down. Four days in the mountains, a stone's throw from the Montenegrin border, meeting the neighbours who are shepherds and live completely off the land. Very little has changed here over the decades, especially since the war in the 1990’s. The spring had been dry with less rainfall than usual, so there is no running water, instead a fresh water spring at the bottom of the hill. On our final day in Trpinje, a whole lamb is slaughtered and we share a feast with some of Ivan’s family from Cajnice and the neighbours. Rakija (plum brandy), beer, lamb and sopska salata (Shepards salad) for lunch. Wolves and bears roam the forest near the house.
Onwards towards Sutjeska National Park, we drive a slow and winding road through the dense mountain ranges that adds to the mystique of the land. Over 50 per cent of the country is forested, with powerful rivers surging through the landscape, punctuated by deep canyons and ancient primaeval forest. We hike in Sutjeska, the temperature much cooler with patches of drizzle despite being August, and drive past the towering snowy peak of Maglic, the highest mountain peak in Bosnia bordering Montenegro.
As mountains hang over us, from a clouded height, I feel suspended between a sense of modernity and tradition, amongst the green masses of water, peace, and remoteness.
Read Part Two here