A tapestry of peoples

Eric Burton on Bono, Nenad Cicin-Sain, Sarajevo and editing Kiss The Future

by Anne-Katrin Titze

New York City Mayor Eric Adams with Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro on the opening night of the 22nd edition of the Tribeca Film Festival before the screening of Nenad Cicin-Sain’s Kiss the Future, edited by Eric Burton
New York City Mayor Eric Adams with Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro on the opening night of the 22nd edition of the Tribeca Film Festival before the screening of Nenad Cicin-Sain’s Kiss the Future, edited by Eric Burton Photo: Arturo Holmes, Getty Images

Tribeca co-founders Robert De Niro and Jane Rosenthal attended with Brendan Fraser (Oscar-winner for Darren Aronofsky’s The Whale), Shirin Neshat, West Duchovny, Elvira Lind, Alfredo Jaar, Patty Jenkins, Mark Ruffalo, and Peter Coyote the Opening Night Gala of the 22nd edition of the Tribeca Film Festival screening of Nenad Cicin-Sain’s terrific documentary Kiss The Future (produced by Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, Sarah Anthony, written by Bill Carter, shot by Bradley Stonesifer, edited by Eric Burton with Adobe Premiere Pro, scored by Howard Simon Bernstein, sound design by Samir Foco), which includes on-camera interviews with U2 members Bono, The Edge, and Adam Clayton, plus Bill Clinton, Christiane Amanpour, Enes Zlatar (Sikter), Srdan Gino Jevdević (Kulture Shock), Vesna Andree Zaimović (journalist), and Senad Zaimović (editor-in-chief of Rat Art).

Eric Burton with Anne-Katrin Titze on the multicultural diversity in Sarajevo: “Being there noticing how close the synagogues, the churches were. What Bono had said in his interview towards the end was ‘a tapestry of peoples’.”
Eric Burton with Anne-Katrin Titze on the multicultural diversity in Sarajevo: “Being there noticing how close the synagogues, the churches were. What Bono had said in his interview towards the end was ‘a tapestry of peoples’.”

Robert De Niro was honoured with a key to New York City by Mayor Eric Adams and a speech from Martin Scorsese in front of guests that included Julian Schnabel, Billy Porter, Debra Messing, Piper Perabo, Dianna Agron, Coyote, and Ruffalo in a reception earlier.

From Tribeca, the morning after the opening night, Eric Burton joined me on Zoom for an in-depth conversation on editing Kiss The Future.

Anne-Katrin Titze: Good morning! How are you?

Eric Burton: Good morning! I’m a little groggy, the premiere was last night. I got home just a couple of hours ago.

AKT: That’s what I thought when we arranged for 9AM. How was it last night?

EB: It was spectacular and a lot of fun. The crowd reaction and crowd engagement - there was a bit more laughing, a bit more emotion than we experienced in Berlin. It is, I guess, a testament to different audiences and demographics who showed up.

AKT: Congratulations for the amazing job you did with the editing. It’s a challenging film to edit, isn’t it?

EB: Yeah, I mean going back to the source material. What was fantastic about the process was that I was brought in very early. So we started talking about story arcs and things we could cover long before anything was shot. Because Bill Carter had had such a significant amount of archival footage he shot when he was there, he gave us just a box of VHS tapes and mini DV tapes. We had hours and hours digitised and I was able to sift through that to get a feel for the material we had in the can.

Sarajevo in Nenad Cicin-Sain’s Kiss The Future
Sarajevo in Nenad Cicin-Sain’s Kiss The Future

They brought me on set so I was there for all the interviews during production, making story notes, during breaks sitting with the director and the producer going over specific things. So we were always actively building the story. And when it came down, I didn’t have to go through everything; we sort of knew the trajectory where we were going. So, yes, it was hard. I think 31 people were interviewed and as you see in the film a fraction only made it in.

AKT: It shows how organic it is and that you were a part of the whole process, because it is so much of one piece. For the beginning, it feels as though you had to give some background, maybe particularly for younger audiences who don’t have a concept of the Wall coming down in 1989 and the consequences. Tell me about the ideas that went into the start to get us into the film!

EB: Act One everyone knew from the beginning probably would be the most difficult one to approach and to attack. So that was the last thing that was made. We had a rough first act with some background. The second act was easily built. My method is to go and build each individual person’s story in their own timeline and then see how those intercut. Then the third act with the concert we always knew we were going to end with it. Going back to the beginning, the hardest thing was how to make it feel that we’re not lecturing the audience so that it’s not two films: One history lesson and a story about art.

Tribeca co-founders Robert De Niro and Jane Rosenthal with Kiss the Future producer Matt Damon
Tribeca co-founders Robert De Niro and Jane Rosenthal with Kiss the Future producer Matt Damon Photo: Dimitrios Kambouris

It came down to the music and building this back and forth. We found this amazing archival footage of people watching these specific rallies and speeches by Milošević and that felt very poignant and relevant. Having just enough information to catapult us from the fall of the Berlin Wall to where we are now was very effective I think.

AKT: There is the third act, as you call it, the concert, but this is not a concert film. I was thinking of Coco Chanel and her saying that "the best thing about a party is getting dressed for the party." Although the party here doesn’t disappoint one bit, but the buildup is even more interesting.

EB: In editing a first cut can be six hours long. You know, time passed from the Dayton Peace Agreement to when they actually performed. Bono mentioned it briefly in the archival footage, saying “We’re going to Sarajevo, we planted that seed in 1993 with the satellites when they started.” There are several different styles of film that can be made, but how does it all fit together naturally and organically?

AKT: You say you were on set, were you there for Bill Clinton?

EB: Yes.

AKT: How was that?

EB: It was fantastic, he was very accommodating and humbling. What was nice was that he had done his research, his homework. We didn’t include a lot of the things of him talking about U2 because he hadn’t attended the concert, but it was nice to hear his anecdote about the music metaphor. It was nice to see him accepting some responsibility.

AKT: Last month I spoke with Bernard-Henri Lévy and attended the premiere of Slava Ukraini at the United Nations. It is shocking how similar the footage from Ukraine now looks to what is shown in your film about Sarajevo in the Nineties.

Brendan Fraser, Oscar-winning actor for Darren Aronofsky’s The Whale on the Kiss The Future red carpet
Brendan Fraser, Oscar-winning actor for Darren Aronofsky’s The Whale on the Kiss The Future red carpet Photo: Dimitrios Kambouris

EB: Yeah, there was a story that had emerged several months ago about people doing essentially the same thing - holding concerts underground in bombed-out buildings. It’s sort of bittersweet. It’s nice to see that the theme of the film, 30 years later people are using the same things to heal. The unfortunate part is why do we have to keep getting into situations where that happens? Ideally you’d learn from the past and learn not to repeat those same mistakes. The unfortunate thing is that we don’t.

AKT: We don’t. Some of the sandbag barricades, the broken city, World War II images come to mind. Of course you have the Northern Ireland connection with Bono. The desire for art in these moments, as you say, is positive, but why do these moments exist in the first place?

Another film in Tribeca is called Rule Of Two Walls, also about Ukraine, and when I spoke with the director [David Gutnik] I brought up that how during these times people suddenly discover traditions that never were embraced by them before. You have a great moment early on with the help of split screen pointing to the diversity of Sarajevo and how it cannot be divided because it would have to go through living rooms.

Robert De Niro with his key to New York City presented by Mayor Eric Adams
Robert De Niro with his key to New York City presented by Mayor Eric Adams Photo: Arturo Holmes, Getty Images

EB: We always knew we had to cover the multicultural diversity in Sarajevo; that was brought to our attention by our partners in Bosnia. Being there noticing how close the synagogues, the churches were. What Bono had said in his interview towards the end was “a tapestry of peoples.” He understood the cultural diversity there and that it all coexists harmoniously. That was one of the last scenes we had put together, to give us a moment to breathe.

Up until this point in the film everything is marching along like a military machine. The score is also very subtle; Howie Bernstein who is our composer and Samir Foco who is our sound designer. Samir actually went to Sarajevo with her device to record all those chants, all those sounds. So it goes outside just the split-screen side-by-side and is built into the sound design as well.

AKT: There are interesting juxtapositions. “The protector becomes the monster” we hear, there are many subtle shifts and what is accomplished in the film is very elegant.

EB: We had done Zoom edit sessions for a while, and then for five weeks I flew up to sit with the director in a house in Fairfax, California and we just sat together from dawn till dusk every day working. With the split screen we were trying to figure out mostly after the punk rock section after the firefighter sequence, saying what if you had five minutes to live, what would you do? So how do we show there’s a whole other world existing below the surface? And then it came to us - let’s just split screen all of these things. The motion, the flow all started to match up. It worked extremely well going back to the beginning.

U2 in Sarajevo - Kiss The Future
U2 in Sarajevo - Kiss The Future

AKT: To see Joe Biden’s impassioned speech was wonderful! Were you aware of this archival footage before?

EB: Bill Carter had mentioned that Biden had made this speech on the floor of the Senate. It was on C-Span, so they had the full two-hour take and I watched it. That’s a very small snippet of the speech; it goes on for 15 minutes or so, extremely impassioned.

We didn’t want to focus on the horrors of the war and a lot of his speech went into very gruesome detail so we consciously cut that out to focus more on the power and importance of him touching back to what were our interests coming out of World War II and the fact that everything constantly cycles back. Even to the 1940s, then the 90s and now again we see this in 2023. What was enough to push the foreign powers, the allies to finally intervene?

AKT: It’s very short and pointedly presented. The genocide, Srebrenica 1995, 8,000 Muslim boys and men killed. Then comes the Biden speech. We ask is this what it takes? On another note, Verona, July 1993, Bill Carter’s first interview with Bono for Sarajevo TV takes place. “Great editing!” I had put in my notes and how funny that moment is.

EB: That was an easier thing to cut. You notice Bono’s body language. At first he’s pretty much facing away from Bill, his arms and legs are sort of curled up in a ball. Then there’s a moment where he realised - about the point where Bono mentions “I’d be happy to appear on Bosnian television.”

Tribeca Film Festival at AMC 19th Street
Tribeca Film Festival at AMC 19th Street Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

And Bill said “I’ll play it when I get back but they don’t have electricity but I’ll make sure to put it on.” That’s when Bono started to open up and to realise there’s an earnestness to this. A genuine sense coming from this guy. It’s not a fan, not someone trying to exploit this, he’s genuinely trying to do something for these people. We cut this with no music, it’s very subtle, just a muffled sound of the stage and the crowd waiting. It was a really powerful moment.

AKT: The puzzle pieces are coming together. Christiane Amanpour and Bill Clinton meet in the archival footage and we see them being interviewed now.

EB: From the editorial standpoint it was really fun. At one point we realised that it didn’t feel like everyone was together and felt like chapters. Then what we started doing in the edit, the director and I, was let’s just take this bit, pause, move it here and we just started moving things around, puzzle pieces. That’s when everyone started to talk to one another and everything fell into place. And you start finding some of this archival B-roll that matches these stories perfectly.

AKT: It’s daring but we don’t Iive in this compartmentalised world, which is precisely the theme. So form and content are one. How about the air quality last night? Was this one of the big topics as well?

Kiss The Future producer Matt Damon with Robert De Niro
Kiss The Future producer Matt Damon with Robert De Niro Photo: Dimitrios Kambouris

EB: It was! I had mentioned to someone who is in the film that this is wild. I’m a runner and she’s a runner as well. I said I was going to run today but couldn’t with this air. And she said “Oh I ran in Central Park this morning. I’m from Bosnia, we’re used to this by now.” Even 30 years later, this joke about the air quality here compared to what it was like there.

AKT: I recently had a conversation with Sophie Fiennes about her T. S. Eliot’s Four Quartets film she made with her brother, Ralph Fiennes. This is what Eliot wrote exactly 80 years ago: Dust in the air suspended/Marks the place where a story ended./Dust inbreathed was a house-/ The walls, the wainscot and the mouse,/ The death of hope and despair,/This is the death of air.

EB: Geez! That’s powerful.

AKT: Talk about the past and the present mixing! Thank you for this! Great talking to you!

EB: Yes, you too as well! Thank you!

The remaining screening of Kiss The Future at The Tribeca Film Festival is on Thursday, June 15 at 2:30pm - Village East by Angelika.

The 22nd edition of the Tribeca Film Festival runs through June 18.

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