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Film Both a Personal and a Global Journey

COM filmmaker’s thesis finalist for Student Academy Awards

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A frame from Snovi, featuring the main characters, the Dreamer and the Girl, played by Alban Ukaj and Zana Marjanovic. Photos courtesy of Reshad Kulenovic

Any graduate student is familiar with the challenges of completing a major thesis project, but those faced by Reshad Kulenovic were anything but typical. Aspiring filmmaker Kulenovic (COM’11) spent eight months flying back and forth from Boston to Bosnia to scout for and shoot his short film Snovi. Kulenovic’s debut effort has also earned him an extraordinary distinction. The film was recently selected by the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences as a finalist for a Student Academy Award.

The film, whose screenplay was cowritten by Jonathon Myers (GRS’07), is based on the short story “Dreams,” by John Bernstein, a College of Communication associate professor. It is the fictional tale of a Polish Holocaust survivor whose memories of war begin to interfere with his daily life and prevent him from connecting with other people. Kulenovic, who was born in Sarajevo, adapted the story, setting it in Bosnia in the aftermath of the 1990s Bosnian War. The film’s title—Snovi—is the Bosnian word for “dreams.”

The idea of adapting Bernstein’s story came to Kulenovic when he realized that its themes resonated not only with his own past, but in a larger way as well. “The themes behind the story and the movie are so universal,” he says. “I just wanted to expand on them using what I know.”

Kulenovic was adamant about filming in his native country, despite the fact that he knew nobody in the Bosnian film community. “I basically spent three months finding people to work with,” he says. He also insisted that the actors be Bosnian: “To deal with a really sensitive and difficult subject, the actors have to have that conflict inside of them. They are all burned by the memory of the war.”

To raise the money necessary to film overseas, he sought funding from several organizations. He received a grant from the Heinrich Böll Foundation and additional assistance from the French-run Centre Andre Malraux Sarajevo. Working with two producers, Claire Wasserman (CAS’09) in the United States and close friend Azra Mehic overseas, Kulenovic shot the film over five months.

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It was after arriving in the United States as a 12-year-old refugee that Kulenovic (above) became interested in filmmaking. He eventually attended the University of Rhode Island, studying international business and film media, before coming to BU for graduate work in filmmaking. He credits the COM program with helping him discover new influences and showing him the potential of narrative storytelling. “You see what film can do, all the possibilities that film has,” he says.

A screenwriting course taught by Bernstein was especially influential, he says, shaping his perception of how a script works. “He taught the basics of screenwriting, but was also open to experimental cinema. We combined classic storytelling with the kind that pushes the limits of what narrative can do,” Kulenovic says.

“Reshad is an extraordinary young artist blessed with a unique voice and vision,” Bernstein says. “Snovi is one of the most visually stunning films I have ever seen here at BU.”

Bernstein’s confidence in the film has been validated by a recent spate of industry prizes—the film was an official selection at the Talinn Film Festival, the Cinequest Film Festival, and the European Independent Film Festival. Most important, the film placed Kulenovic on the shortlist for a Student Academy Award in the best narrative category this spring. While he didn’t win, the filmmaker says just being a finalist has proved amazing.

“It opened doors,” he says. “I actually had agents getting in contact with me.” He hopes the recognition will make it easier for him to obtain funding for his next project—expanding Snovi into a feature-length film.

Kulenovic is now living in New York City and rewriting the screenplay, which he hopes to have finished by fall. He already has most of a team in place for the feature film, including the same cast as in the original short, a group he describes as “amazing, inspiring, some of the best actors in Europe, hands down.”

Snovi will be screened at the Rhode Island National Film Festival, August 9 through 14. A donation page for the project is here. More information on the cast, crew, and story is here.

Nicole Shelby can be reached at nicolelshelby@gmail.com.

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