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SARAJEVO (Reuters) - The Sarajevo Film Festival opens on Friday with the world premiere of "Circus Columbia," a romantic saga set in the period that led to the region's 1992-95 war, by Bosnia's Oscar-winning film director Danis Tanovic.
The film tells the story of Divko, a Bosnian who returns as a wealthy man to his home town in southern Herzegovina at the end of the 1980s after decades of work abroad.
He comes back with a young wife and seeks revenge in a society where former communist leaders have taken top positions in the first democratically elected local government.
Divko's first victory is managing to throw out his ex-wife and a son from their house. It appears he is winning and that money can buy everything, before his life turns upside down and the war comes to his town.
"It is our honor that the film, co-produced by six European countries, has picked (us) for its world premiere, despite invitations by much larger festivals, such as Toronto," said festival director Mirsad Purivatra.
The 2002 Oscar to Tanovic for "No Man's Land" as best foreign movie helped stoke a new feeling of optimism among film professionals and fans alike in a country which is still proud of its pre-war film production.
The Sarajevo festival was founded 16 years ago as an act of defiance at the end of the war, and the siege of the city by Bosnian Serb forces, and has grown into the largest film gathering in the Balkans.
It acts as a major showcase for East European films.
This year it will show five Bosnian feature, short and documentary films in the competition program during the nine-day event, which will show 201 movies in all.
Nine films from the region, spreading from Austria in the West to Turkey in the East, will compete this year for the 25,000 euro ($32,190) Heart of Sarajevo Award, some to be shown for the first time outside their countries.
Last year, the festival hosted about 100,000 film fans, many from neighboring countries and hoteliers and tourism officials say that despite recession, nearly all accommodation has been booked up.
The most famous guest will be Oscar-winning actor Morgan Freeman, whose film "Invictus" about the 92-year-old ex-South African president Nelson Mandela will close the festival on July 31.
Editing by Steve Addison