Iron Maiden vocalist Bruce Dickinson is to co-write a screenplay centred around the legendary gig he played in Sarajevo in 1994 at the height of the Bosnian War.
Under the protection of United Nations soldiers, Dickinson and his band Skunkworks were smuggled into the besieged city in December 1994 to play a concert which offered local metal fans a brief glimpse of ‘normality’ in the midst of daily shootings and bombings in the city, a performance documented in the 2016 documentary Scream For Me Sarajevo. Now Dickinson is going to be working alongside filmmaker and screenwriter Sacha Gervasi, who directed the cult classic documentary Anvil: The Story Of Anvil, to write a narrative screenplay based on the show.
Sarajevo was under siege by the Bosnian Serb Army for 1,425 days, from April 2, 1992 to February 29, 1996, during which a total of 13,952 people were killed, including 5,434 civilians, and the city was decimated by artillery and sniper fire. To illustrate the citizen’s defiance, United Nations negotiator Trevor Gibson, who was stationed in the city, originally hoped to book The Rolling Stones for a gig, but was able to persuade Dickinson and his band to enter the combat zone to perform. The trip also saw the band visit an orphanage to sing for children who’d lost their parents in the war.
“The few incredible days I spent in Sarajevo with my solo band pre-Christmas in 1994 were some of the most intense of my life,” the singer remembers. “Crafting a story to bring the emotions, madness, tragedy and triumph to the screen is no easy task. My own journey was as a long-haired heavy metal singer driving through firefights into a city that had been under siege longer than Stalingrad. Mine was not, of course, the only journey taken on that day, and afterwards, at home in London, I left behind in Sarajevo travelling companions on the road of life. This movie is actually dedicated to their story, not mine.”
Sacha Gervasi says: “I first met Bruce Dickinson as a 15-year-old Maiden fan in London in 1982. Now, nearly 40 years later, to be co-writing this extraordinarily intense and personal story with Bruce himself is a genuine and unexpected honour. The real story of the kids and local musicians who attended that show is as poignant as it is inspiring. Many of them didn’t make it. As Bruce has already said, we hope this film will be a tribute to them.”
Speaking to Forbes in 2018, discussing the Scream For Me Sarajevo documentary, Skunkworks bassist Chris Dale said: “We saw what happens when the real basics are taken away. Freedoms, to the extent where they can't leave the block because you might get shot at.”
“All the stuff we see about refugees, Syria, the Mexican border problems… I know that those people are not running away just to try and steal our jobs. I know what they're running away from, I've seen what they're running away from. You would run. You'd take your family and you'd fucking run.”
In 2019, the Sarajevo City Council granted Dickinson the title of “Honorary citizen of Sarajevo,” in recognition of his visit and the band’s performance. At the presentation Mayor Abdulah Skaka said, “The arrival of Mr. Dickinson in Sarajevo in 1994 was one of those moments that made us in Sarajevo realise that we will survive, that the city of Sarajevo will survive, that Bosnia-Herzegovina will survive.”
Watch Dickinson and Gervasi discuss the project on the Next Level Soul podcast below.