Matt Damon on Sarajevo Siege Documentary ‘Kiss the Future’: ‘We Can Defeat Anything, Even the Darkest of Threats, as Long as We’re Together’

Rexa Vella

Matt Damon on Sarajevo Siege Documentary ‘Kiss the Future’: ‘We Can Defeat Anything, Even the Darkest of Threats, as Long as We’re Together’

Following the release of “Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour” and “Renaissance: A Film by Beyoncé,” AMC Theatres, the world’s biggest cinema chain, is releasing Nenad Cicin-Sain’s documentary “Kiss the Future” on Feb. 23.

The exclusive run of the 102-minute docu, which premiered in February 2023 at the Berlin Film Festival, is a major feat for the film, which chronicles the 1990s siege of Sarajevo during the Bosnian War. Although the film features an awe inspiring U2 performance during a 1997 post-war concert celebrating the city’s hard-fought triumph over ethnic nationalism, “Kiss the Future” is not a shiny, shimmering, bombastic pop doc. Instead it’s a docu that chronicles the breakup of Yugoslavia and the onset of war in Bosnia. In the film citizens struggle to survive the siege of Sarajevo and ultimately turn to rock and punk music for inspiration and distraction from the daily nightmare of Serbian shells and snipers.

Cicin-Sain, who has a Serbian mother and a Croatian father, spent his early childhood in Yugoslavia and lived with his father in Croatia, which neighbours Bosnia, during the war.

“It was like if the southern United States went to war with the north — today, not 200 years ago,” he says. “Something that just seemed impossible.”

In 2020, Cicin-Sain, while writing a screenplay for Matt Damon and Ben Affleck’s Pearl Street Films, pitched the idea of “Kiss the Future” to the production company. Damon, Affleck and Drew Vinton at Pearl Street immediately came onboard as producers, with Fifth Season financing the doc. Cicin-Sain, with some help from Damon and Affleck, interviewed not only Bosnians who lived through the war, but also members of U2, Bill Clinton, who was the U.S. President at the time of the war, and Christiane Amanpour, who covered the conflict. The director also managed to obtain and use video from the 1997 U2 Sarajevo concert that had been recorded by the band but never released.

Variety spoke to Damon ahead of the docu’s AMC theatrical release.

You started filming this doc right at the time Russia invaded Ukraine. What was that like?

The similarities between what happened in former Yugoslavia and what is going on with Ukraine now are striking and kind of chilling. Both have political bullies as instigators. Both have innocent, civilian populations as victims. And Russia invading Ukraine had a big impact on the people we interviewed in Sarajevo. It gave them PTSD. So, not only were we asking them to give us their memories of what was probably the most horrific moment of their lives, we were asking them to do so at the moment when the same thing was occurring a few hundred miles away. It was kind of a “past is prologue” of the worst sort. I’m so thankful to them that they let us in, opening up to tell their stories.

Did you help get U2 on board with this project?

Yes. To do this properly, we not only needed their sign off, but also their footage from the concerts where they did the satellite interviews with Bill Carter (an aid worker during the siege who connected U2 to Sarajevo) as well as footage form the concert they performed in Sarajevo — this had never been seen before, by anyone. Without that, we simply couldn’t tell the story. I have been fortunate to know Bono, Edge, Adam and Larry for some time and we’ve become friends. So, there was a degree of trust, I think, that helped us get them on board.

Did the band have any concerns about being part of this docu?

Yes, they didn’t want it to be yet another U2 concert film. They didn’t want to be the primary focus. This actually suited Nenad perfectly, as his whole goal was to focus on Bill Carter and the local Sarajevans. He wanted to present their stories of what happened as a sort of collective memory of the time. Once the band heard that, they came on board as quickly as we did.

What made you want to include Bill Clinton and Christiane Amanpour in the doc?

The fact that they lent their voices to this really gives a measure of gravitas to it. Christiane was actually there during the siege. It’s where she really came into her own as a reporter. And Bill Clinton was president at the time, he was the one who sent in the jets to oust the Serbs from the hills surrounding Sarajevo that ended the war. These were great and knowledgeable perspectives to add to the mix.

Why do you think the world needs to see this film?

Beyond it reminding us all that this kind of thing, meaningless stupid war, can happen anywhere, it also shows the strength of the human spirit in a really uplifting way. These incredible people lived under siege for four long years. Yet they somehow managed to survive, even thrive, because they focused their energies on things that bind us rather than divide us. Music, art, and other elements of creativity are things that can and do bring us together. And if we are together, nothing can really defeat us. So, I guess I want people to see it for that — to remind them that we can defeat anything, even the darkest of threats, as long as we’re together.

When it comes to producing documentaries, what are looking for?

I think the best documentaries are entertaining and also challenging, informative and inspiring all at the same time. The docs I want to be part of have these layers to them so they appeal to a wider audience, while also delivering something urgent and personal. This is the ethos I’m going into the doc business with and it’s something Ben and I are both excited to do more of in the doc division of our new company, Artists Equity.

“Kiss the Future” will stream on Paramount+ later this year.

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