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Linus Roache and Vincent Perez Star in HBO Pictures Drama Shot Through the Heart
Inspired by a True Story of the War in Sarajevo, Debuting Oct. 4, 1998

In wartime, fierce loyalty can push men to new heights of bravery, inspiring astounding acts of valor - or it can lead to chaos, twisting the truth and turning best friends into deadly enemies.

The HBO Pictures presentation SHOT THROUGH THE HEART is based on the dramatic true story of Vlado Sarzinsky and Slavko Simic, best friends and teammates on a professional Yugoslavian shooting team. Their relationship takes a tragic turn during the war in Sarajevo when Vlado, a Croat married to a Muslim, learns that the enemy sniper he is hunting is none other than Slavko, the Serbian friend he has known since childhood. To help protect the people and city he loves, Vlado must now hunt down the man he once considered a brother. Using the besieged Bosnian capital as its backdrop, SHOT THROUGH THE HEART puts a human face on an ethnic civil war.


John Falk, a freelance American journalist covering the Bosnian war, was intrigued by a unique aspect of this unconventional conflict between the Serbs and the Muslims: A mysterious group of snipers or, in this case, "anti-snipers," was formed to hunt the relentless Serb sharpshooters. While most journalists were unable to gain access to the snipers, Falk was introduced to Vlado by a man whose children Falk had helped escape from Bosnia.

When he first met Vlado, Falk didn't set out to interview him right away. "We just got together for drinks and talked about the war in general and slowly became friends," Falk explains. "About a month after our first meeting, with Vlado's permission, I started to formally interview him. It took awhile for him to really open up, because it's not an easy thing for an anti-sniper, or sniper, to speak. They're obviously wary of journalists."

Vlado began to tell the remarkable story of his experience with Slavko, as described in the November 1995 issue of Details magazine."The article contained great human drama," said executive producer Francine LeFrak. "It was a true story that needed to be told on-screen, because it depicted the ravaging effects of war on friendship and family."

The filmmakers and cast hope that SHOT THROUGH THE HEART sheds light on the little-known facts of the Bosnian war, but they did not set out to make a "war film" per se - they wanted to show how war affects personal relationships.

"I was so intrigued when I first read the script, which told how these two childhood friends are suddenly torn apart without any personal conflict between them, " says Linus Roache, who plays the real-life Vlado Sarzinsky in the film. "They didn't have an argument with each other, no sort of disagreement -- they were just separated by historical, religious and political factors."

According to the producers, the biggest challenge of filming SHOT THROUGH THE HEART was shooting on location in Sarajevo and Budapest. One of the difficulties the cast and crew faced was simply getting to Sarajevo, as the airport remains damaged from the war and the slightest change in weather can make landing impossible. Situated between hills, Sarajevo has what is referred to as a microclimate, one day spring-like, the next with six inches of snow, making travel, let alone continuity in filming, a constant challenge.

Still, it was an experience of a lifetime for people who had never seen the tragedy of war close-up. Explains director David Attwood, "We saw bullet-ridden apartments with parts of the building that were entirely blown away. This wasn't a battlefield -- it was a place where people were living and continue to live. We were incredibly fortunate to be able to shoot in some of the actual locations where Vlado's story took place."

Attwood and the rest of the cast and crew attended "mine awareness" training as a precautionary measure against the numerous unexploded mines remaining in the city.

"It was just incredibly sad to see all this devastation," adds producer Su Armstrong, who was particularly touched by filming one character's burial in an actual Sarajevo cemetery.

"During the war there were so many deaths that all the cemeteries became full," continues Armstrong. "With no more space available, they had to make do by converting a football field. So basically you have this cemetery set with the city in its backdrop, and in a very strange way it's so beautiful. But then you think of the fact that it was once a football field, and now all you see are back-to-back headstones that all bear the same year of death on each of them. It really gets to you."

The producers would have preferred to film the entire production in Sarajevo but it wasn't practical. They tried instead to do the next best thing, which was to recreate Sarajevo as best they could in another eastern European city, Budapest. In choosing the locations, they were concerned with maintaining the flavor and personality of eastern Europe, which ruled out filming in any other place.

In Budapest, the filmmakers recreated downtown Sarajevo on what was formerly a Russian army base, then proceeded to blow it up. Observing all the action was none other than the real-life Vlado Sarzinsky , who still lives in Sarajevo. Standing in the doorway on the set of what is supposed to be his apartment, he reflected on the film of his life during the war.

"It's all so confusing in a way," says Vlado. "Remember, I never thought the war would actually happen to begin with. I thought it was all just talk. In a way I should be proud, because it is about me and my family, and how we survived this terrible five years. But then I think it is not about me and my family. It's about a hundred thousand families, some of whom had it a lot worse than I did."

Concludes Vincent Perez, who portrays Slavko Simic in the film, "What this film is about is the ability of the human spirit to keep going regardless of the difficulties it encounters on a daily basis."

Full Synopsis:

It's springtime in Sarajevo, and everything seems as peaceful as it was eight years earlier, when the world tuned in to watch the 1984 Winter Olympic Games. Best friends Vlado [Linus Roache] and Slavko [Vincent Perez] are en route to Vlado's country house, where they will join Vlado's wife Maida [Lia Williams] young daughter Nadja [Karianne Henderson], as well as another close friend, Misho [Adam Kotz] and his family. As they indulge in their favorite pastime, long-distance shooting from a minimum of 100 meters, it seems like old times for these former teammates on the Yugoslavian Shooting Team.

On their way back to the city, the family is shaken as several soldiers appear on the road, demanding to see Vlado's papers. Insulted, Vlado flatly refuses and drives off, but a third soldier is pointing his rifle at their windshield. Slavko confidently takes control as he gets out of the car, identifies himself as a Serbian and plants some money into the soldier's hand.The next morning, there are news reports that Radavan Karadzic, the new leader of the Bosnian Serbs, has announced the creation of a new Serbian Republic of Bosnia. Although the television news is reporting that there have been unprovoked attacks by Serbians on Muslims in the countryside, Vlado refuses to panic, assuring his family that the attacks will not occur in a European city like Sarajevo.

Tension soon escalates, however, and Muslim civilians begin to flee. Gas prices rise, and black marketers are soon exploiting those in need of transportation out of the country. Vlado is ranting angrily about the panic when Slavko comes by for a visit and announces that he has been called up into the Serbian Army. Maida is shocked and angry, and voices her belief that Slavko does not have to go. Seemingly aware of the dangers that are about to surround the city, as well as his Muslim friends, Slavko announces that he can get Vlado and his family out of the city with three plane tickets for an exorbitant amount of money. Maida becomes incensed, accusing Slavko of wanting to profit from the refugees, while Vlado refuses to give up the business where he has worked so hard for the past 15 years.

A few nights later, everything appears still and quiet, but suddenly the windows explode, shattering glass onto their bodies. Amidst the chaos, Vlado and his family run into the street, dodging missiles and explosions. They run to their friend Misho's [Adam Kotz] family. Concerned about Slavko's safety, Vlado races to his apartment only to discover that it has been abandoned. His friend is now a member of the Serbian army. Meanwhile, the news reports that the airport has closed -- Sarajevo is under siege, and civilians are handing out rifles to any man who will take one.

Vlado is hesitant to join a volunteer army and fight the Serbs, but when he sees how little the men seem to know about handling guns, he begins to train them in the rudimentary skills of shooting. A random attack by Serbian soldiers in the hills subsequently forces Vlado to see the violence that is ravaging his city.

He soon gets a surprising call from Slavko, now a Serbian officer behind the front lines. Aware of the dangers ahead in Sarajevo, he offers him one last chance to leave the city via an escape route through the mountains. Vlado agrees that his wife and child should go, but they are unwilling to leave the city without him. "We stay together, Vlado," insists Maida.

Now reporting each day to a bunker in a bullet-strafed building, Vlado is a sharpshooter who must try and defend sniper attacks in Sarajevo. When Misho's young daughter Lejla is shot on the street in front of her house, both families are grief-stricken, but Misho is even more inconsolable because he knows that Vlado had access to an escape route and did not use it to rescue their families. His wife and child grow bitter after the loss of their young friend, and move to a safer part of the city.

As sniper attacks on civilians continue near a local water supply, Vlado carefully studies the murders and determines that the bullets are coming from one specific building. Looking for further clues, Vlado takes the body of a dead woman to Misho at the hospital for an autopsy and makes a painful discovery - the unusual bullet is the unmistakable signature of his friend Slavko.

Staking out the exact source of the gunshots, Vlado's worst fears are confirmed when he sees Slavko, now a Serbian army sniper, enter the building that is the source of enemy fire. A profound moral dilemma now confronts Vlado -- will he continue to allow this sniper to take the lives of innocent civilians, or stalk the sharpshooter who was his best friend and put an end to the madness?

Vlado tracks Slavko to a home on the outskirts of the city. The war has rewarded him with a fine house, good liquor, and even a beautiful girlfriend. They embrace as best friends would, but their eyes betray the inevitability of this last meeting.Tomorrow, one of them will die.

On location photos:

In the first photo Vincent poses with the real Vlado Sarzinsky, played by Linus Roache in the film. The girl with Vincent is Vlado's daughter, who was portrayed by Karianne Henderson.

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