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Old 03-02-2004, 10:27 AM   #1
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Interview: Bill Carter, author and filmmaker


By Devlin Smith

It was a dark and stormy night, literally, when Bill Carterís adventure into Sarajevo began. Carter met Graeme Bint two days earlier and was drafted to join the Serious Road Trip, a group that included Bint and would deliver food, supplies and toys to groups and individuals sometimes dressed as clowns and from trucks decorated with cartoon characters. Carter joined the circus and made his way to Sarajevo, witnessing the senselessness, destruction, hope and grace that dominated the region as it dealt with war.

During this time in Sarajevo, Carter began filming interviews with locals that would make up his award-winning documentary ďMiss Sarajevo.Ē He also made a now-legendary connection with U2, first interviewing Bono for Bosnian television and then bringing together thousands of U2 fans with the people Sarajevo during ZooTV satellite link-ups.

Carter recently published ďFools Rush InĒ (Doubleday), a book that not only discusses his time in Sarajevo but also Carterís childhood and relationship with, and loss of, soul mate Corrina Barton, and how the highs and lows of all that have intersected. interviewed Carter about ďFools Rush In,Ē which sold out of its 7,000 print first-run in just a few weeks, ďMiss Sarajevo,Ē now on DVD, and the lessons a war in the Balkans 10 years ago can offer us today.

Author Jim Harrison's review of your book states that it was "written out of necessity." Why did you feel "Fools Rush In" had to be written?

In short, the story was beginning to consume me. It was taking too much free space in my brain, soul and heart. I needed to get it out of me and onto the page to sort out just what happened, why and what it meant to me. So in that sense Jim H. was dead on, it was written out of necessity. I was going a bit mad with this in my mind.

Why did it make sense to write the book now, 10 years later?

It took that long to calm down and put together the story. Grief takes a while to make sense. Because grief it is a non-linear series of ups and downs that have no pattern, it takes time to figure what it was, how it affected me and then also there is the grief of Bosnia, etc. And please keep in mind when I say grief I am not talking about depression. I believe grief is a very powerful time in oneís life and it can go many ways, including sadness but at the time an overwhelming sense that we are very inter-connected to one another. So 10 years, 20 years, it really doesnít matter. The story is not something that relies on some marketing timing issue. It is a timeless story. The book is really a love story cloaked with the backdrop of a war. Not that I knew that when I was living it, or even when I began it.

Why did you decide to call it "Fools Rush In"?

There have been numerous titles over the years but ďFools Rush InĒ seems to fit because it speaks to the fools in all of us. By fool I donít mean so much a modern sense of fool. I am referring to a more classic sense of the word: innocence. There are many things in this story that would never have happened if others and I had been cynical, distant, over thinking, calculated, manipulative. It all worked because of the innocence of believing, a truly simple but powerful concept. And that is also why the connection with U2 worked, although they are wildly successful and run a large organization, not to mention Bono wrestles with the leaders of the world, he does so with a healthy dose of innocence. Not helpless doe-eyed innocence, mind you, but the kind that believes deeply that love is really worth it.

"Fools Rush In" not only deals with the war in Sarajevo but also some intense events from your personal life. Was it more difficult to write about the war or yourself?

Although Sarajevo dominates the drama of the story, it is the personal life that drained me. Sarajevo was in the front of my mind, aching to get out. My personal life was deeply rooted and it seemed at times I had to pull it out with a tractor of sorts. The pages I wrote about Corrina were the last and the most difficult, by far. It took months before I could re-read it, and then many more months before I convinced myself to let others read it. The trick is to write it down so many times that somehow it becomes not your story but just one of many because if I really think about what is in this book I am apt to move to a village in Mexico, hide and grow mangoes.

What was your family's reaction to the book? Did they have any concerns or objections to you sharing as much as you did about your father and childhood?

My family has been supportive from the get go. Well, actually, my brother Cliff has not read it. I suspect he may not, however he is beginning to hear it from friends of his that have read it so he might read it one day. But he is a very fair and honest person who has a big heart, I am quite sure he will be supportive the same way Sarajevans have been supportive, which has been overwhelmingly good.

As for the childhood issues in the book, I avoided that for so long because I do not like the trend in the tell-all book world, I donít care for it. I didnít want this book to be some sort of autobiography and my story and what happened to poor old me. Anything I added from my childhood, and there isnít much, is there for the specific reason to give credence to the voice of the narrator, myself. I have found when telling the story over the years if I leave out the background people just stare at me and keep asking but why: Why did you go to war? Why did you do this? I felt I had to touch upon the childhood and Corrina in order round out the voice, a voice that is the storytellers.

A great deal of the book also focuses on your girlfriend Corrina. What reaction did her family and friends have to the book?

I must disagree with you there, but only in spirit. I donít think a great deal of the book focuses on my girlfriend Corrina, I believe there is a small but powerful part of the book which focuses on Corrina and that it then resonates throughout the book, almost like sheís there even though she is not, which is how she was to me when I was writing the book.

There was truly only one person that I was nervous to give the book to. She was the one person who could have essentially vetoed the book in some ways, or at least parts of it—Corrinaís mother. We hadnít spoken in years, just because it is tough on her and me, but I mailed her the manuscript and her email to me was literally a moment of bliss I shall not forget. She loved the book, that meant the world to me. As for her friends, that remains to be seen. The book hasnít been out long and does not have an American publisher, yet.

"Fools Rush In" begins with you in Split, waiting to go into Sarajevo. Before that point, did you have any interest in the region? If not for the war, do you think you'd have ended up there on one of your voyages?

I believe our lives are a constant thread of our intuition being played out, meaning if we do exactly what our inner voice is telling us then we are where we are supposed to be. Mind you if the voices are telling you to hurt others, well that is another story. With that in mind I donít ponder whether it was the war that brought me there or something else, a pulling of some sort. But in general I believe this liquid dream we live in called life is always tugging us along, itís not always easy but itís all we got.

As for interest in the region, no more than everywhere else in the world. I find the human race utterly mind-boggling—how we can help and hurt in the same breath, how love can spread like wildfire and yet at the same time hate races around trying to bring us down. And what does this mean? You can travel to furthest outpost in Tibet and there will be a man selling a Coke and a Bob Marley tape and pretty soon you are having a conversation about God and the mountains and love. And when you return home you have the same conversation, less exotic perhaps, but still the same basic themes. Those themes run throughout humans, no matter where they live, and fascinate me. And in the Balkans, in Sarajevo and in war, that was no different. And many ways that is the essence of the book, not that there was a war, but that people in war are just like people not in war, that desire to shine a light on that connection is also what drove me to want to do the satellite link-ups with U2.

In Sarajevo you worked with a sort of underground aid group. Why did that appeal to you more than working with the Peace Corps, the Red Cross or something like that?

Most large aid organizations, no matter what their charter states and how articulate the salesman is taking your money, are wasting so much money and manpower it would make you scream. I cannot tell you how many times I have watched aid groups leave food on the dock, in the warehouse, etc, due to some paperwork technicality, while the people waiting for the food are dying. This is a difficult topic. I do not mean to discourage people from giving to charity, not at all, I guess I want to encourage people to investigate whom they give to.

What were the most frustrating and most rewarding aspects of working with the Serious Road Trip in Sarajevo?

As for the Road Trip, they were earnest, funny, slightly insane, reckless but not dangerous. They were survivors and most important they were a circus, meaning they dressed as clowns. They had trucks painted in cartoon scenes and we drove around that country giving food away dressed like clowns. Now you have to understand that war, in general is nothing like what people think it is, it is a surreal happening, full of Catch-22. The Serious Road Trip seemed most equipped to deal with the insanity of it all. Luckily I found Graeme Bint, the leader of that pack, and we became fast friends. The Road Trip delivered where no one would, they stole, lied and cheated if it meant getting the food to the people in need. They didnít wait for the UN to tell them it was safe or for the maps to designate where to deliver, they just did it.

The most frustrating part of working with them was they were slightly mad, which only pushed me further to the edge as well. Once I got involved in Sarajevo I wanted the machine to work full time, round the clock, I didnít want to lose the chaos of the Road Trip but I wanted next to the impossible, I wanted the Road Tripís chaos to be so organized that we could deliver constantly. That was impossible, so in the long run there was waste in the Road Trip as well, but not nearly as much as bigger organizations. And besides in hindsight they were mostly a group of people untrained for this, as was I, and slightly out of their element.

During your time in Sarajevo, you interviewed Bono and then later did the satellite link-ups between Sarajevo and the ZooTV tour. Why did you want to connect with U2 on this? Do you think you could have made the same impact with another band?

During the siege of Sarajevo there was no way out or in for locals (there were secret ways, but for most there was no way in or out), they had been cut off for more than a-year-and-a-half by the time I decided to hook up with U2. When I saw U2 on MTV, via a television hooked up to a generator, they were speaking of a united Europe, it was a nice thought but from where I sat at that time it seemed a bit idealistic but certainly not realistic. Of course I grew up listening to U2, as did most in my generation, I knew they were a passionate group of artists and occasionally that got them in trouble with the press and their fans. As for another band, Iím quite sure that it was important that it was U2. Why? Iím not sure or if we need to know, I just know it mattered that it was.

What was your goal with the link-ups? How close did you come to achieving that goal?

The goal was never so grand as to include the notion that politicians may change their mind, get off their asses and do something, that takes something far greater than what we were doing, that takes voters firing politicians. No, the idea was simple, instead of doing what the news does, which is entertain you, I wanted to do something that the news rarely does, make a person care about the issue. To care doesnít mean information as much as it means relating to people, seeing it in their eyes, hearing it in their voices, their gestures. I wanted young people in Europe to see the people in the war, I didnít want them see politicians or religious leaders or military spokesman. The revolutionary part of the satellites was to not edit them and not tell them what to say. I ran around town, literally, trying to find people that would be able to speak to these crowds of 50,000 to 100,000 people without sounding angry, that was tough. In the end U2 got slammed, Sarajevo got a new face and I lost 20 pounds, but ordinary people spoke to ordinary people via satellite. Sounds so simple itís hard to understand why it doesnít happen in the news today. Well, I have my theories.

Next came the "Miss Sarajevo" documentary, which ended up winning many awards and being seen all over the world. Did you ever believe it would have that kind of impact?

I never knew if ďMiss SarajevoĒ would ever get made. I certainly didnít know it would have the impact it has had. I find it overwhelming that today more people ask for it than ever. Bono once said that is the true sign that it worked, if it has just as much impact in 10 years that the day you made it. I believe it works because a spirit is captured in that film that is timeless. Again, the war is just a backdrop, it could be any war, the point is the vitality of the human spirit to survive, [to] laugh, to love and to move on, that is something we will be addressing always.

Why did you decide to release "Miss Sarajevo" on DVD now?

There are many people who ask for a copy of ďMiss SarajevoĒ and I thought why not put it out to coincide with the book. Although the book covers many other issues and themes that the film I thought it was the right time, besides with the DVD world I could add on bonus features which are also in the book—the original interview with Bono, the conversation that started our relationship is on the DVD. Also on there is the very first satellite, which is very intense. And finally there is a commentary over the film, which after 10 years seemed the right thing to do, [giving] some perspective to the scenes in the film.

One of our readers wrote in that he attended a "Miss Sarajevo" screening this month in Sarajevo, and met you and got a signed copy of "Fools Rush In." Can you describe that event? What was it like to be back there 10 years later with the movie and book?

It is different and the differences are complex. An example is that for the people in the war they often tell me with hushed breathe that their lives were better during the war. They donít mean the fear, the death and the trauma, they mean that when a person is on the very edge of the existence they tend to live their life with a true vigor, life becomes simple and the joys are tremendous. That feeling can make life in peace pale in comparison—paying bills, getting a job and keeping up with the Jonesís is hard and strenuous work.

How much contact do you maintain with the different people you met in Sarajevo—citizens, aid workers, etc?

I keep in touch with almost everyone from the film. I keep in touch with Graeme who is a main character in the book.

Toward the end of "Fools Rush In" you talk about how you became known for being the Sarajevo guy. Is that a tag you think you'll ever shake? Do you care to?

I believe that tag is now gone. Sure I have written a book which concerns time there but I believe if a person reads the book they quickly realize this book is about so much more than this war, and because of that I believe that that tag is fading away. Also I have done many other projects since then.

What lessons would you like the world to learn from what happened in Sarajevo in the mid-'90s?

The world? Iím not sure. I suppose one is that interceding into a conflict for the sake of oil or a perceived threat is certainly not justifiable if we also can sit and watch thousands die over four years because there is no interest there besides doing the right and humane thing. Our interest in this world should be people, not corporations. I have great faith that corporations will always survive; they donít need any extra help.

What was the greatest lesson you yourself learned?

To keep on living, and laughing, and loving. I mean, hell, what else is there?

"Fools Rush In" really seems to be about the best and worst of humanity. Coming out of this experience, tempered by everything else you've encountered in your life, are you optimistic or pessimistic?

Optimism, but without sentimentality. No pity, no whining, just believing there is more to do, more to see, more to experience.

Many thanks to Bill Carter!

Photos courtesy of Bill Carter and available through his website; "Miss Sarajevo" is also available from the same site.

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Old 03-02-2004, 04:00 PM   #2
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Great interview. I love the fact that Interference, when interviewing someone who has worked with U2, never linger too much on the U2 stuff. Great interest has been show towards the whole of the Sarajevo issue. Good job

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Old 03-03-2004, 03:32 AM   #3
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this book is just great, you have to read it
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Old 03-04-2004, 11:45 AM   #4
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I AGREE 100% with the other posters!

Not only is this book a GREAT book which chronicles a VERY sad part of modern history, but it is also a TESTAMENT TO THE HUMAN SPIRIT and the WILL TO SURVIVE against all odds.

And I also want to thank Interference for covering social issues that U2 have been/currently are involved in in a serious manner. I think U2 would want it that way.

Thanks again!
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