Kiss the Future in Theatres
Original Story by Brad Hood (2024-03-02)
Kiss the Future, a documentary film principally about U2’s relationship with war-torn Sarajevo in the 90’s, premiered at the 2023 Berlin International Film Festival and is now playing at AMC theaters in the United States. Since the events in the film took place more than 25 years ago and are well-recorded history, I will talk about them freely in this review, but if you would like to remain completely spoiler-free, you should probably stop reading at the end of this paragraph. I will just say that the film is excellently written and directed, that there was actually more U2 content than I expected, and that it made me cry twice; but you have to read on to find out which moments really got to me.
The film opens with the intro to “Zoo Station” and a large bank of tube TVs showing various footage from the late 20th century, immediately evocative of Zoo TV. The documentary then sets the scene by describing how the end of the Cold War in Europe lead to the rise of Serbian nationalism and the siege of Sarajevo. The story is largely told through a series of interviews, including with Christiane Amanpour, who was CNN’s chief correspondent in the Bosnian War, and with then US president Bill Clinton. The next sequence focuses on the underground music scene in Sarajevo during the war, and how discos and clubs gave the besieged citizens a sense of both defiance and normalcy. Local musicians from the era are interviewed, as well as members of U2. There is some discussion of the parallels between the atrocities in Sarajevo and Belfast, and of U2’s political activism in the 80’s. This includes footage of “Sunday Bloody Sunday” from Red Rocks.
The next sequence details how Bill Carter, the film’s writer and essentially principal character came to be in Sarajevo with the humanitarian organization The Serious Road Trip. After bonding with the locals in Sarajevo and gaining an understanding how important music is to them, he convinces a Sarajevan TV station to credential him to interview Bono at a Zoo TV show in Verona. The interview is eventually aired multiple times in the war-torn city and gives hope to its citizens that the outside world empathizes with their plight. That TV interview is one of my favorite moments in the movie. Bono initially seems to have difficulty dropping “The Fly,” persona, but ends up being very thoughtful and personal. He recognizes that while Bill Carter is a bit crazy, the two of them are kindred spirits.
Following the TV interview, Carter invites the band to play a “guerrilla gig” in Sarajevo, but ultimately decides that it is too dangerous. Instead, it is decided that he will appear on the Zoo TV screens during concerts, interviewing citizens of Sarajevo live by satellite. The first of these satellite link-ups was the first moment of the movie that brought tears to my eyes, as the interviewee pours out his heart to his wife, who is a refugee in Bologna, and we get to see Bono’s very genuine heartfelt reaction. These interviews are eventually dropped from the shows over concerns that Sarajevan’s suffering was being exploited for entertainment. However, U2 go on to include a song about the Miss Sarajevo beauty pageant on the “Passengers” album, and Bono describes in the film how the pageant was the ultimate act of defiance.
The film then shifts back to the history of the war, including how a couple of particularly brutal and tragic episodes of genocide focused the world’s attention on the evil of Slobodan Milošević‘s regime. From there, the UN and NATO bring a fairly swift end to the war. Once peace and stability are restored in Sarajevo, Bono and U2 begin to make plans to fulfill their promise to play a show in the city.
The last segment of the documentary is, of course, the run-up to the PopMart show in Sarajevo and the concert itself. Members of U2’s extensive production crew are told that the Sarajevo show is optional, but not a single person opts out. People are shown lining the streets and cheering the arrival of the trucks bringing the PopMart stage to the stadium. Another of my favorite moments of the film is that a member of one of the opening bands, Bosnian punk rockers Sikter, was also one of the people interviewed live during Zoo TV. There are of course some emotionally moving parts to U2’s performance including Bono’s voice failing him during “New Year’s Day” and his advice that the movie’s title is taken from during “Mysterious Ways.” The final concert scene, and the scene that got me really choked up, is a split screen of the live performance of “One” and present day footage of the Sarajevans who were interviewed during the film, and who attended the concert, listening to and reacting to the performance. You can see on their faces how moved they were by that moment and how much is still means to them to this day. The final shot in the film is a bank of modern TVs showing recent news footage, and a warning that nationalism is on the rise again in Europe and around the world.
In summary, Kiss the Future is a must see for U2 fans. The relationship between U2 and Bill Carter, and how it developed during a war, is as unlikely as it is emotionally compelling. There is lots of interview footage with the band (sorry, no Larry), and concert footage from Red Rocks, Zoo TV, and PopMart. But really, this is a film for everyone, with important messages about the resilience of people in a war zone and the importance of joy, about how music can be both an act of defiance and an escape, about how nationalism can lead to genocide, and perhaps most importantly, about how history can repeat itself if we aren’t paying attention.