During the siege of Sarajevo, world acclaimed director Haris Pasovic was asked what on earth he thought he was doing organizing a film festival in the middle of a siege, to which he replied, 'What on earth are you doing organizing a siege in the middle of my film festival?'
To me, there is no better person than Haris Pasovic to be premiering their new work 'The Conquest of Happiness', based on the writings of pacifist philosopher Bertrand Russell, on International Peace Day in Derry~Londonderry this weekend.
The Conquest of Happiness is set to be the most ambitious theatre production staged in Ireland this year, and the apex of the City of Culture's theatre programme. Of course, Pasovic is no stranger to ambitious and challenging work, being the main initiator of the Sarajevo Red Line project which saw a concert played to 11,541 red chairs placed on the main Sarajevo street in commemoration of the Sarajevo citizens killed in the Bosnian war.
Commissioned jointly by Belfast's Prime Cut and the Culture Company, The Conquest of Happiness will centre on first hand accounts and dramatizations of some of the 20th and 21st Century's most shocking acts of war, presenting the theory that even when faced with atrocity humanity has the enduring ability to find happiness.
To many, this may seem like an unusual topic for International Peace Day and to quote Bertrand Russell, 'we live in a world that is horrible, horrible, horrible'. However, by exploring the horrors of our recent history, Pasovic hopes to present some ideas on how we can move ahead, together.
This production is more poignant than most for the city of Derry~Londonderry. Not only will this performance be staged in the former Ebrington military barracks, which have since been regenerated as a cultural hub including a gallery currently readying itself for the Turner Prize next month; but the production will also feature a scene from Derry's own history, Bloody Sunday. One section will revisit the killing of 17 year old Jackie Duddy and the waving of Fr. Daly's white handkerchief.
The fact that Derry~Londonderry can embrace and engage with an arts piece such as this
demonstrates, more clearly than anything else, how the narrative of this city has changed, from a city of conflict to a city of culture.
The Conquest of Happiness promises to be an unforgettable experience. Following the premiere in Derry it will travel to Eastern Europe with its cast of multi-national and multi-talented actors, alongside local singers, before returning to Belfast in October.
Despite its depiction of war, the performance articulates the resilience of human spirit. The performance will be sure to challenge its audience, although Haris insists that it is nothing of a high brow intellectual approach. He also insists that 'to go to the theatre must be different than going shopping' and with the Conquest of Happiness this is something that we are confident he has achieved.
The Conquest of Happiness premieres in Derry~Londonderry on 20 and 21 September as part of the City of Culture celebrations. It travels to Belfast on 25 & 26 October, T13 Titanic Quarter Belfast as part of the Ulster Bank Belfast Festival at Queens.