Prize Winner 2019: Nihad Kresevljakovic

Nihad Kresevljakovic is programme director of the MESS International Theatre Festival in the Bosnian capital Sarajevo. Founded in 1960, the MESS Festival is now widely regarded as one of the most well-established and highly respected festivals in south-east Europe. It was forced to suspend its activities during the four-year siege of the city by Bosnian Serb troops, a siege that caused a major loss of life. But the directors of the theatre at that time organized the first film festival in the besieged city as an act of cultural resistance. This was the precursor of the Sarajevo Film Festival that is now a familiar feature of the cinematic scene.

With the end of the war, the MESS Festival was taken over by a group of young theatre makers whose enthusiasm and high artistic standards won over a whole new generation of visitors, without in the process alienating the Festival’s traditional audiences. The Festival’s history shows that art is able to provide comfort, encouragement and meaning in even the most adverse circumstances and that it can become a place of refuge both culturally and in real life.

Nihad Kresevljakovic studied history in the Faculty of Philosophy at the University of Sarajevo. During the Bosnian War he filmed the events surrounding the siege of his home town and documented its inhabitants’ daily lives. These recordings resulted in a video library that contains more than 1,000 hours of material and ultimately led to the creation of the local NGO Video Archive.

Nihad Kresevljakovic is a multi-talented cultural enabler, a diplomatic networker and an inspiration and a mentor for many of his colleagues. He has responded to the bleak political and economic conditions in his native Bosnia with a mixture of idealism, persistence and pragmatism. The committee that awards the KAIROS Prize has chosen him to represent the vital but desperately underfunded cultural scene in a devastated region whose leading figures are rarely noticed in western Europe and even less frequently honoured.

On 28 April Nihad Kresevljakovic was awarded with the KAIROS Prize 2019 at the theatre “Deutsches Schauspielhaus” in Hamburg.