China loves this obscure 1972 Yugoslavian movie—and Sarajevo is cashing in

You’ve likely never heard of the 1972 film Walter Defends Sarajevo, much less watched it. Produced in Yugoslavia and set in World War II, the movie follows a Communist guerrilla leader (codenamed Walter) taking on Nazi occupation forces.

That might sound obscure, but Walter Defends Sarajevo is one of most-viewed war movies of all time. A new museum dedicated to it just opened in Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia-Herzegovina, and officials are planning a tourism route, complete with geotagging, that visits places where various scenes of the film were shot.

To understand why, it helps to know the movie’s importance in one particular country: China. Hundreds of millions of Chinese have watched Walter Defends Sarajevo, among the very few foreign films to be screened in the country during the Cultural Revolution. Bosnia-Herzegovina is looking to capitalize on that history to lure in Chinese tourists, whose numbers are already swelling. And negotiations are under way to remake Walter Defends Sarajevo with several Chinese movie studios, said Jasmin Durakovic, head of the Sarajevo Film Center, where the museum is housed.

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