Winner of the 2012 Grierson Historical Documentary Award

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A BBC Storyville film, The Love of Books: A Sarajevo Story, won the best historical documentary at Tuesday night’s 40th Grie­­rson British Documentary Awards presented by Grayson Perry at the Empire Leicester Square. You can watch the entire thing in the player above.

As the judges argued over another strong contender, the panel divided between the TV insiders and the historians: the win reflects the latter’s clear choice. No formulaic history lesson, the film is a multi-layered exploration of memory and identity, religious and human values. Using interview, archive footage and reconstruction it describes an audacious, if foolhardy, attempt to transcend the destruction and trauma of the civil war. In 1992, after Serb nationalists laid siege to Sarajevo, staff of the Gazi Husrav-Beg library (established by the eponymous Muslim ruler in 1521) risked their lives to rescue over 10,000 ancient Islamic manuscripts.

Unlike several of the shortlisted history films, The Love of Books encompasses a period pre-20th century, shedding light on 16th-century Bosnia under the civilising rule of Husrav-Beg, while the manuscripts themselves are links to still earlier times. ‘The books are as important as the people’ says a library cleaner about her decision to help preserve them.

Accepting the award the Director, Sam Hobkinson, paid homage to the participants, doubting a Grierson had ever before been won by a group of librarian ‘super heroes’.

Charlotte Crow is the deputy editor of History Today