COLUMBIA — As Armin Karabegovic played "Pretty Woman" on his guitar, the joyous feeling in the Missouri Theatre was palpable. Karabegovic and all of the audience members at Saturday night's premiere of the film "Neither Here Nor There" were ready to celebrate Bosnian refugees' survival and success in Columbia.
Karabegovic, a native of Bosnia-Herzegovina, performed before the film began. He also played several folk songs about the war in the former Yugoslavia, which took place from spring 1992 to late 1995, and he described one song as a song about "pride, willing to live, willing to win."
"Neither Here Nor There" captures some of the hardest times for the Selimovic family, who came to America in 2002 after living through the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina, including the massacre at Srebrenica. The family is part of Columbia's Bosnian community, which has about 300 to 500 people.
Saturday night was not about the past, however, but rather about the future. The film's production team, including Kerri Yost, Beth Pike, Stephen Hudnell and Elizabeth Federici, captured the transition of the Selimovic family into American life and how the family is now doing well and is happy in their new home.
From babies to grandparents, a wide range of Columbians came out to support both the film and a cause -— a portion of the proceeds from ticket sales went to the Refugee & Immigration Services office in Columbia.
The premiere itself was a party. Baklava, a pastry dish, and hot coffee greeted audience members in the lobby. As patrons walked into the theater, they could hear Karabegovic's songs of survival. Music by Karabegovic also is on the film's soundtrack.
When the film began, the audience sat enraptured with the lives of the Selimovic family. "Life was good; then came war," the film's opening line proclaims.
As the movie explained all of the tragedies that the Bosnian people have seen in a little more than 10 years, the audience grew reverent. There also was time for less serious moments. In an excerpt of a promotional film about Columbia, the city is called "stress-free," a proclamation that drew laughter from the audience.
Even before the credits appeared, the audience began to applaud. Immediately after the film, members of the Selimovic family and the filmmakers went on stage to answer questions from the audience.
"It takes a village to make a film like this," said Yost, the film's director.
When asked about constantly being filmed, the youngest member of the Selimovic family, Adnan, said that it was nice to always have someone to talk to but that it was annoying at the same time.
Audience members repeatedly offered congratulations to the filmmakers.
Yost said that the film's difficult subject matter renders it "not just a film where you go to the theater"; the film deals with the struggles of finding a place in a new country while it tries to reconcile painful memories of war and loss.
After the question-and-answer session, audience members were invited to the upstairs patio to listen to music from the 180 BoYz and the South Side Bosnians from St. Louis, who also are on the film's soundtrack.
The family and crew seemed pleased with how well the event turned out.
"We always had this night in mind," Yost said.