Bill Carter

The U2 Connection

Bill Carter has had a long and varied career as an assistant director, bartender, adobe mason, firefighter, commercial fisherman, photographer, journalist and filmmaker. In 1993, he landed in Sarajevo during the Bosnian War and joined The Serious Road Trip, an unofficial aid organization that delivered food to children affected by the war. While he was in Sarajevo, he shot hundreds of hours of video. He later assembled the footage into Miss Sarajevo, an award-winning documentary. U2’s Bono became the film’s executive producer and wrote “Miss Sarajevo” for the film’s soundtrack. U2 has been performing the song and showing footage from Miss Sarajevo on their current 360° Tour. Carter spoke to SOMA from his home in Tucson, AZ.

How did you come to be in Sarajevo during the war?
For the long answer, read the book I wrote about it, Fools Rush In. The short answer is that my fiancée died a tragic death in America. Grief is a strange animal. I felt like I needed to give as much of myself as I could to others, to see if I could find a reason to start living again. The people I found in Sarajevo saved me.

I arrived in March of ’93 and worked as a humanitarian worker with The Serious Road Trip. They were not a sanctioned group, so we didn’t get help or protection from UN troops. We dressed as clowns, our trucks had cartoon characters painted on them and we’d do a circus act while delivering food to children in places no one else would go. The Serbs were caught off guard and didn’t shoot at us most of the time.

You got a job reporting for a Bosnian TV station in Sarajevo. That led to a meeting with Bono and U2. How did you get that job?
I didn’t. I did some comedy on Bosnian TV. On the way out (of the station) I took a piece of letterhead paper and wrote to U2 asking for an interview. They said ok. I wrote back “I couldn’t get out of the country because I’m a Bosnian Muslim, but we can send our associate Bill Carter to your show in Verona, Italy.” Bono liked me because of the audacity I showed in getting into the show. I wanted to film the band sending a message of hope to the people in Sarajevo. At that point, they’d had no gas, electricity or running water for 18 months. The clip would be shown on closed circuit TV and let the people of Sarajevo know that the people in the rest of the world hadn’t forgotten about them.

When did you decide to make a film out of your video footage? Had you ever made a film before? Did Bono help?
I’d worked as an assistant director in San Francisco, but I had no idea how I was going to make [the film]. Bono became the executive producer and let me use the equipment in U2’s Dublin studio. Today, you can edit on a computer in your hotel room. Back then, you needed an AVID editing machine. Bono insisted I call the film Miss Sarajevo, after the beauty contest Sarajevo organized during the siege of the city. That contest is the centerpiece of film. There’s a lot of irony in a beauty contest in the middle of the insanity that was going on. The film shows a lot of ordinary Sarajevans going about their regular lives in the midst of the war. It’s a youthful city and one of the few places where Serbs, Croatians and Muslims lived in peace together. Sarajevo maintained its hip, multi-cultural existence, even in the war.

How long has U2 been using your film on their tour?
They called me last year and asked if they could use the footage, but they just started using it this year. They put about four minutes of film on the big screen above the stage while Bono sings “Miss Sarajevo.”

There’s talk about making a movie based on your book Fools Rush In. How’s that going?
I can say it’s in the works. I did the screenplay a while back, but it’s a long complicated process. If I said there was something definite happening, the next day it would crash. There’s a bit of fire under it, but we’ll have to wait and see what happens. We can just say it seems to be in good shape.

– J. Poet