U2’s 1997 concert in the aftermath of the Bosnian War is relived and remixed from archive footage, original audio and new testimonials, writes Adrian Pennington.

There’s often a point when making a documentary when the filmmaker finds the key to telling the story. In Kiss The Future it was a conversation director Nenad Cicin-Sain had with The Edge.

KTF - Credit - Screenocean - Reuters Pictures - Damir Sagolj

An Italian peacekeeper holds his rifle as he stands in front of wall covered with U2 posters in Sarajevo, September 21, 1997 ahead of the band’s performance at the Kosevo Stadium

Source: Damir Sagolj

“Nenad always said we needed to bring U2 organically into the story but how do we do that?” said the film’s editor Eric Burton. “It was during his interview with the Edge, that informed the next interview with Bono, where it clicked. Nenad noticed that they were talking about punk rock and the Troubles in Northern Ireland in the 1970s and about how bands like The Clash influenced their lyrics; how they didn’t want to be a pop band but a band making music with a message.”

While Burton didn’t explicitly say it, the concern was not to let U2’s famed self-aggrandisement take centre stage of a story which is more about the gruelling toil of living in a war zone.

“Nenad was able to see the connection with what U2 were saying with interviews conducted in Sarajevo where they were talking about using music against their aggressors in the Bosnian war as a common thread and a natural way to introduce U2. We could build out a punk rock sequence that puts both Sarajevo and U2 in context. It took a bit of back and forth but it helped us introduce U2 early in the film so it didn’t feel like an opportunistic approach. That was really important part of the story for Nenad to tell.”

Behind the Scenes: Kiss The Future

In 1997 U2 staged a concert in Sarajevo in front of 45000 people to celebrate the end of a four-year siege in which almost 14,000 people died. Blending archive footage with talking heads and flashbacks, Kiss The Future - produced by Matt Damon and Ben Affleck - unearths how that it happened.

The archive includes film of underground punk rock clubs in the besieged city, AP news footage and BBC documentary ‘The Death of Yugoslavia’. The filmmakers could also access U2’s content library and were assisted by Ned O’Hanlon, former head of production for the band, including a line cut of the main concert featuring the Zoo TV tour and freshly written song Miss Sarajevo.

Read more IBC2023 Video – all sessions

While Burton had no individual camera footage of the concert to cut with U2 did have audio stems from the performance. This included Bono’s isolated vocal, iso drum and guitar tracks and isolated crowd ambience. U2’s team remixed the concert and this doc is the first time that this will be heard.

U2 also had the final say on how their songs were represented and sounded. “They had initial feedback and to my understanding were very receptive of the direction of the film,” Burton said.

New interviews with the band, luminaries like former US President Bill Clinton and local musicians, artists and journalists, are shot 4K and the film is finished in 4K for streaming. They needed some work arounds for the archival material that was digitized in Pro res 4444, the highest quality possible with an SD 480i signal.

Behind the Scenes: Kiss The Future – AI fills the gaps

Several passes were required to uprez the archive through Resolve in order to double the scan lines to approximate HD. AI was then applied to fill in the gaps.

“Using A.I. we were able to pull out a significant amount of detail,” Burton said. “It’s not as effective on lower rez material but you are able to deal with some of the degraded image quality and add some authentic realism to it. In the concert material after the AI pass you start to see little details like sweat particles which you didn’t notice on the highest resolution standard def capture.”

They didn’t reframe the archive, retaining the black bars either side of frame “but hopefully you’re so engrossed in the story that you don’t notice.”

The project was in prep since 2019 and interview shoots began in March 2021 so if not intentionally designed to reflect the situation in Ukraine, the film clearly echoes current events.

“Thirty years later essentially nothing has really changed. When we started pulling footage for the closing montage sequence (of recent scenes of war, unrest and authoritarian rule) we had to change it many times as more and more news events kept happening. Even though we finished a year ago it is still relevant and timely.”

Behind the Scenes: Kiss The Future – Remote collaboration

Burton cut the show on Adobe Premiere partly because of the ability to work remotely. While Cicin-Sain was on the West Coast, Burton was at home in Oklahoma. They streamed sessions to each other each day using collaboration platform Samara, which was co-developed by Cicin-Sain.

Kiss The Future #2

Behind the Scenes: Kiss the Future

“It took the feed from the NLE and live streamed in full 10-bit HDR frame-accurately with no latency,” he explained. “It’s very much like a Zoom but with a third window for timeline playback.

Nenad was meticulous about picking out specific shots or saying when a piece of archive wasn’t working.”

“It is my edit system of choice,” Burton said of Premiere. “I used to be on Avid in college, then went to Media100 and Final Cut but I’ve used Premier for nearly ten years now. Having systems and applications like Photoshop that can all work harmoniously together was a key selling point.”

Burton has worked as assistant on docs and cut many reality TV shows but this was his first feature doc as lead editor. “I had to break nine years of reality TV habit where everything’s got to be very fast and spelled out and instead to slow down and to let things breathe,” he said. “At the start the studio were a bit wary of using me since I didn’t have feature doc credentials so I started out as associate editor.

“Nenad was adamant about bringing me into production onto the shoots. He wanted to have an editor there as he conducted the interviews. He’d figure out specific storylines and communicate those to me so, at night when I ingested the footage and did the transcripts, I could pinpoint the narrative he wanted to tell.”

Clearly producers Affleck and Damon were impressed since Burton ended up finishing the film as editor.

Kiss The Future recently screened at Tribeca Festival.

Read more Best of Behind the Scenes