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BELGRADE: ONE YEAR AFTER (CBC’S THE NATIONAL)

Here’s the story behind a TV documentary I made for CBC’s prestigious current affairs program The National Magazine.

Spring 2000. A year after NATO bombed Belgrade, Alexandre Trudeau and I travel to the Serbian capitol to make a doc for CBC’s prestigious current affairs show The National Magazine. But there’s a story behind the story…

Years earlier, high ranking members of Milosevic’s war machine got hold of Alexandre and my LIBERIA: THE SECRET WAR documentary, and were so apparently so impressed by the raw portrayal of war, they offered us interviews with indicted war criminals Mladic, Karadzic and Arkan, leader of the notorious Tiger paramilitary unit.

After weeks of negotiations with shady interior ministry officials, we thought it impossible to make the doc without either turning it into propaganda or putting their lives at risk, so shelved the project…

…until shortly after Arkan’s assassination in 2000, when Alexandre and I met Arkan’s official videographer, who was sitting on a goldmine of unseen war footage. The cameraman also believed he could track down Mladic and Karadzic – who, until 9/11, were the most wanted men in the world.

It was this too-good-to-be-true story that persuaded the CBC to allow two young upstarts airtime on their prestigious show. And too-good-to-be-true it was, with the Tiger’s mother dying the day before their flight, leaving Alexandre and I to fend for themselves in Belgrade.

Tired of trading brandy for false leads on Mladic and Karadzic, we turn to a more uplifting story – about the youth movement that would help topple Milosevic in the October 5th revolution months later.

Instead of yesterday’s villains, we found tomorrow’s heroes, including young “Otpor” activists and opposition leader Vojislav Kostunica, conducting one of the first Western interviews with the man whose defeat of Milosevic at the polls triggered the October 5th revolution. My thorough research was so ahead of the curve that the CBC, unaware who Kostunica was, cut him out of the doc – only to scramble to get footage of him for their October 5th coverage.

Not only was the October 5th revolution one of the biggest news events of the decade, but it saved the entire Serb population from being painted with the same brush as Milosevic, Karadzic and their followers. For in the end it wasn’t NATO bombs but enlightened Serbs that defeated “the Butcher of the Balkans.” And so, a lesson here: not all Serbs are butchers, not all Americans warmongers, not all Muslims terrorists. I co-wrote, produced and directed the piece.

Click HERE for a private screening link.

Booker Sim
Booker Sim

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