“That entire period was great, except for the horrible things.” 

One of my favourite sights in life is plants growing through cracked concrete.

To me, concrete represents the futility of man trying to control nature, how man often tries to destroy life – including that of other humans – to suit his own purposes.

To see nature continue on despite that?

That’s true beauty. It’s hope. It’s a reminder that things can get better because, as Mahatma Gandhi once said: “Life persists.”

Life persists.

That’s the theme of the Demand Film documentary Scream For Me Sarajevo, which is the story of the time Bruce Dickinson performed in Sarajevo in 1994.

Perhaps that’s why there’s very little background given to the actual cause(s) of the siege itself – because that’s not what the film is about. For a little context, however: at roughly two months shy of four years long, the siege of Sarajevo remains the longest siege in the history of modern warfare – longer than the much more well-known siege of Stalingrad.

scream for me sarajevo
The reflection of Alen Ajanovic as he oversees his work. (Demand Film)

Early in the film, an untextured 3D model of Eddie (Iron Maiden’s mascot) appears on a computer screen. The 3D artist who modelled it is Alen Ajanovic, and in the film, he discusses his early teen years: “I was quiet and shy, I stayed home a lot. I was reading and watching SF movies, drawing – and that was my world.”

That’s very similar to my early teen years. I’m certain that many of our readers will feel the same way. The next thing he says, however, is where the similarity ends for most of us.

“Until the war came.”

scream for me sarajevo documentary
A lone Sarajevan man walks past a bus with improvised armour. The armour protects the passengers against snipers. (Demand Film)

I had a lot of trouble finding out the name of the actual band that played in Sarajevo. It couldn’t have been Iron Maiden because Dickinson wasn’t in Iron Maiden at that time. According to my research, the name of that band was supposed to be ‘Skunkworks‘, but the record label didn’t want to market them under that name, so they just went with ‘Bruce Dickinson’.

I was confused. Why was Iron Maiden credited as having played there, when they didn’t?

Alen Ajanovic provided the answer for me in the film: “Maiden was never Maiden to me. To me, Iron Maiden is Bruce Dickinson.”

If that’s good enough for someone who was at the concert itself, then it’s good enough for me.

Life Continues During The Siege

The first part of the film concentrates on how the siege affected the creative community of Sarajevo. How musicians, artists, and actors all continued their craft under the constant threat of a sniper’s bullet or a mortar shell. How life persisted despite the death surrounding them.

One particularly poignant story is told by musician and professor of philosophy, Meldin Hota. It’s about a friend of his who was in another local band: “Amer also founded his own band, they named it The Rain. A reference to the rain of shells we endured every day. It was the summer of 1995 when he was recruited. They got into a truck, he was the last one to go. He did not want to go. And he never came back.”

The rest of Scream For Me Sarajevo is dedicated to the organisation and enacting of the Iron Maiden performance.

What started originally as a drunken joke by Major Martin Morris (Staff Officer 2, UN Protection Force), quickly grew to become an unbelievable, thrilling reality.

scream for me sarajevo documentary
Iron Maiden and their support act travelling to Sarajevo in the back of a truck. A far cry from the helicopters they were promised. (Demand Film)

The Serious Road Trip

Without going into too much detail (because I think you should watch the film yourself), much of the documentary explains the process by which Iron Maiden travelled to Sarajevo. It’s an intriguing story. One part I would like to share is that Iron Maiden (unable to board the helicopters they were promised) caught a ride into Sarajevo with The Serious Road Trip, a humanitarian organisation that provides therapeutic entertainment to people in Eastern Europe.

I find that fascinating. When I think of Metal bands, I picture private jets and long hair – not catching a ride in a large yellow truck with WB’s Road Runner painted on the side.

scream for me sarajevo documentary
Major Martin Morris stands in front of the truck that would take the performers into the heart of Sarajevo. (Demand Film)

Ultimately, regardless of all the dark imagery and aggressive lyrics, watching the documentary you appreciate how Metal isn’t about death or even feeling defeated. In interviews, we watch as Sarajevans who attended the concert tear up, explaining how that one night of music empowered them to go on, to keep living. Metal is about survival. It’s about hope.

In other words: the message of Metal itself is “life persists”.

Or, as Bruce Dickinson himself says towards the end of the film:

“…what you have to do is, you have to make the option of choosing life much much more exciting.”

To watch Scream For Me Sarajevo, you can reserve your tickets here,  https://au.demand.film/scream-for-me-sarajevo/ one night only April 18. The screening includes a special Q&A after the film with Bruce Dickinson, recorded live the week before at a special screening in London. And if you don’t see a cinema near you with a screening you can also request one.

This article was written in content partnership with Demand Film.