International Theater Festival MESS was founded in 1960 under the name of The Festival of Small and Experimental Stages of Yugoslavia which gave it the widely recognized acronym MES. The Festival was established upon the initiative of Jurislav Korenić, and it belongs into the category of the oldest festivals in East and Southeast Europe. Conceptualized as a festival of Yugoslav theaters, MESS was held every year in Sarajevo. A specific feature of the Festival, were the visits of world famous experimental theater performers of the time. The Living Theater from New York was one of the many to take part at the Festival of Small and Experimental Stages of Yugoslavia in the sixties.
MES was stopped by the break out of war in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The Festival’s administration lead by one of the most distinctive theater directors from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Haris Pašović, renamed the festival into the International Theater and Film Festival MES Sarajevo and launched a cultural resistance to the siege in Sarajevo. The International Theater and Film Festival MES organizes the first film festival in the besieged Sarajevo in 1993 „After the end of the world“, which is the predecessor of today’s Sarajevo Film Festival. At that time MESS produced performances by local artists, but also those directed by Peter Schumann or Susan Sontag. As a result of all the cultural activities during wartime that were largely initiated or realized with the help of MES, Sarajevo was nominated for a cultural center of Europe.
At the end of the siege in 1997 the institution was taken over by young theater workers lead by the Director Dino Mustafić. The Festival was renewed with a high aim of organizing an international theater muster of the most significant plays in the world. The first Festival included names such as Giorgio Strehler, Peter Schumann, Jozef Nadj and Frank Castorf. The Festival, organized with special type of enthusiasm and devotion with the aim of attracting new generations to the theater got a completely new structure of audience but at the same time retained the old one as well. The Festival hosted some of the most prominent theater directors in the history of theater such as Peter Brook, Robert Wilson and Eugenio Barba at the same time fostering its experimental element and discovering young talents who will become global stars on the theater scene in the next several years.
The following names, amongst others, took part at the festival: Peter Brook, Giorgio Strehler, Robert Wilson, Peter Schumann, Eugenio Barba, Josef Nadj, Roberto Ciulli, Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker, Eimuntas Nekrošius, Oscaras Koršunovas, Alvis Hermanis, Olivier Py, Mark Tompkins, Wlodzimierz Staniewski, Simon McBurney, Arpad Schilling, Christoph Marthaler, Frank Castorf, Michael Thalheimer, Thomas Ostermeier, Ariel Garcia Valdes, Andriy Zholdak, Rimas Tuminas, Jürgen Gosch, Emma Dante, Pippo Del Bono, Rodrigo Garcia, Grzegorz Bral, Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, Silviu Purcharete, Alain Platel, Emio Greco, Vilim Docolomansky, Jiři Mencl, Heiner Goebbels, Katie Mitchell, Stefan Kaegi, Romeo Castellucci, Luk Perceval, Jan Lauwers and many others.
International Theater Festival MESS has been innovative from its very beginnings, prepared in all the previous leadership through its history that, even in unbelievable circumstances in Sarajevo, creates a cultural refuge for all generations, risking and investing in the bravest and most interesting art projects. That is precisely why the International Theater Festival MESS is one of the leading festivals of this part of Europe.