A professor’s global reputation as a specialist on the modern history of the Western Balkans and hotels in conflict zones has led to him working on a new series of documentaries for world media network Al Jazeera.
De Montfort University Leicester’s (DMU’s) Professor Kenneth Morrison has been working alongside the award-winning Lebanese journalist and documentary filmmaker, Abdallah El Binni, who has directed and produced the TV documentary entitled ‘War Hotels’.
Professor Morrison is filmed in front of the iconic Holiday Inn, Sarajevo
Al Jazeera, one of the world’s most influential media networks, commissioned the series, which looks into the history of iconic war hotels – landmarks close to the frontline of conflicts which became bunkers for global media to report from.
“Journalists operating in war zones needed hotels”, Professor Morrison said. “In the days before the internet and mobile phones you had to power a satellite phone, you needed electricity to charge and run other devices and you needed a water supply.
“Hotels were the only buildings in a warzone that could provide for those needs. As a result, hotels became very much a part of the infrastructure of conflict.”
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Having read Professor Morrison's book, 'Sarajevo's Holiday Inn: On the Frontline of Politics and War', El Binni decided that he simply had to have him on board for the series.
In the book Professor Morrison, who teaches and researches Modern Southeast European History at DMU, tells the story of the iconic Holiday Inn hotel, from its construction in advance of the 1984 Winter Olympics through the period when the hotel became the headquarters for the world’s media during the Siege of Sarajevo.
The hotel remains familiar to many around the world, who can recall the nightly news reports filed from there at the height of the 1992-95 Bosnian war.
“The remarkable thing about the Holiday Inn”, said Kenneth, “was that it was not only within siege lines, but only a few hundred meters from the frontline and located on what became known as ‘Snipers’ Alley’. Some war hotels were some distance from the frontlines and became renowned as watering holes where journalists would sip gin and tonic’s around the swimming pool. But the hotels that are the focus of the series were in the midst of urban conflicts.”
The documentary team, including Professor Morrison, have just returned from filming in Sarajevo and the first episode of the series, focusing on the Holiday Inn in Beirut and the ‘Battle of the Hotels’ in 1975 was broadcast on 3 December on Al Jazeera.
The second programme in the series focuses on life within the Commodore Hotel in Beirut, while the third part, which will air on 17 December deals exclusively with the Holiday Inn, Sarajevo.
Professor Morrison said: “Abdallah, whose work I knew well, told me he had read my book and asked me to appear in the film as a guest speaker about journalists and war hotels.
“I was delighted to do so. It soon became clear, however, that this was a real meeting of minds, and as things progressed I ended up becoming much more involved.”
Abdallah El Binni, the director of the War Hotels series said, "Kenneth's knowledge of war hotels and, in particular, Sarajevo's Holiday Inn was absolutely vital.
“He was an excellent interviewee for the episode focusing on the Holiday Inn, Beirut, and played a major role in putting together the episode focusing on Sarajevo.
“While in Sarajevo, he provided his expertise, arranged key people to be interviewed and even conducted interviews from behind the camera. His overall knowledge of the history of the Holiday Inn and of the city was very important for me as I developed the script and the film."
Kenneth and Abdallah will continue to work together on new episodes of the War Hotels series, with the first of these focusing on the Hotel Europa, Belfast.
DMU has previously told how Professor Morrison’s book has already been optioned by company Corona TV, who have developed a screenplay for a TV drama based on it.
Professor Morrison has also recently been nominated for a prestigious Times Higher Education Award for Research Project of the Year: Arts, Humanities & Social Sciences, which was in recognition of his work as specialist adviser to the House of Lords International Relations Committee for its ‘Beyond Brexit: UK and the Western Balkans’ inquiry.
His intimate knowledge saw him called to guide Parliament on the shaping of Britain’s post-Brexit policies in the region.
He played a key role in advising the committee, travelling with them and participating in high-level meetings with heads of government, drafting questions for witnesses during evidence-taking sessions and collating written evidence submitted to the inquiry.
You can watch the War Hotels series by visiting www.aljazeera.com/programmes/war-hotels
Posted on Monday 10th December 2018