Documentary filmmaker and photographer, Chris Leslie discusses the process behind making his multi-award winning film, Finding Family.

Finding Family

Finding Family is my first feature length documentary and is a collaboration film project with my fellow filmmaker, Oggi Tomic. The film documents firsthand one orphan’s (Oggi) extraordinary journey as he heads back to Bosnia 20 years on from the snipers and shelling in search of answers from his long lost family.

I first met Oggi in 1997 as a 13 year old in Sarajevo Orphanage. I was there as a volunteer to teach the kids in the orphanage B/W photography in a specially constructed darkroom in the basement. It was only supposed to be a 3 month summer project that grew into a 4 year project, and with meeting Oggi turned into a brotherhood.

Oggi Tomic - Chris Leslie
Oggi photographs Sarajevo – a city scarred by 4 years of war and siege – 1997. Photo by Chris Leslie

Oggi was the first kid who expressed an interest in the project, he was keen to learn photography, he was keen to learn anything that would give him a break from the monotonous and sometimes brutal life of the orphanage. He spoke English and he had a look of honesty that he wouldn’t steal any cameras. From day one, he became my right hand man and with the other students we ran around documenting Sarajevo as it was slowly rebuilt after the war.

Chris and Oggie - 1996 Sarajevo
Chris teaches Oggi how to use a manual SLR in war torn Sarajevo in 1996

I have witnessed and been part of all of Oggi’s life since he was 13, from the low points of him being kicked out the orphanage at 15, to leaving Sarajevo, through to the high points of his graduation and his wedding in the UK.

We have worked together on a few short film projects since he graduated and we always discussed, dreamed of the idea of making a feature length film together in and around Sarajevo. When his long lost family got in touch after 27 years I knew it would be an amazing story to document and this was our moment. We were also aware that we had a unique archive of photography and film taken in Sarajevo from 1996 that could be used in the film.

There was no large crew, it was mainly just myself and Oggi, a cheap hire car that was falling apart and a long journey across Bosnia. It was always going to be a difficult journey for Oggi and we discussed the possible outcomes, good and bad for him. As well as the journey to meet his family, we trace Oggi’s childhood through the state orphanages he lived in all his young life and surviving the siege of Sarajevo. The nervousness and fear of what was to happen next on the 10 day journey of discovery is reflected in front of and behind the camera.

Oggi Tomic - Finding Family
On route through Bosnia, from the state orphanage where he was abandoned to the door step of the family who abandoned him 27 years ago

There is of course the back story of our relationship and I was pushed in certain ways to include this by several fellow filmmakers and industry specialists when I was working on the making of the film on a EsoDoc (European Social Documentary) Course. Maybe if the journey didn’t turn out the way it did then there would have been scope to turn it into a Balkan road movie with two guys making a film. But I knew it was way bigger than that and Oggi’s story and what was captured on the journey is amazing.

Oggie and Chris Leslie - Sarajevo 2013
Oggi and Chris at the world premiere of Finding Family in Sarajevo in August 2013. The film sold out over 2 nights and was given a standing ovation on the first screening.

Then of course there is the lure of the Balkans and Sarajevo in making this film. I had spent several long summers in the city as a youngish volunteer; in a city scarred by the longest siege and bombardment in modern day history. For me – my time in Sarajevo, as a photographer from 1996 to 2001, was crucial in shaping me as a photographer, filmmaker and as a person. For Oggi, Sarajevo is his city, his home and where his heart is.

Finding Family will have its official UK premiere on 19 July at the GFT. See the trailer below. Tickets are available from the GFT here.

Finding Family Trailer

Read about Chris Leslie’s documentation of Glasgow’s regeneration in The Glasgow Renaissance on Central Station here.

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