In 1992, ITN reporter Michael Henderson travels to Sarajevo, the besieged capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina. He meets American star journalist Jimmy Flynn on the chase for the most exciting stories and pictures. Henderson and Flynn have friendly arguments and differences in the intervals between reporting. They stay at the Holiday Inn, which was the primary hotel for the press in Sarajevo during the siege. After a previous translator proves corrupt and inept, ITN hires Risto to be Henderson’s translator. Their work permits them harrowing and unobstructed views of the suffering of the people of Sarajevo. The situation changes when Henderson makes a report from an orphanage (Ljubica Ivezic Orphanage) located on the front lines, in which two hundred children live in desperate conditions. After increasingly indiscriminate attacks fail to make the lead story in the UK, Henderson makes the orphanage his lead story to try to bring full attention to the war and encourage the evacuation of the children to safety.
When American aid worker Nina organises a UN-sanctioned bus-borne evacuation of Sarajevan children to Italy, Henderson convinces her to include a Bosniak girl from the orphanage, Emira, to whom Henderson had made a promise to evacuate. Nina knows this is an illegal act – only transfers to relatives abroad have been authorised – but the orphanage director allows it because of the desperate circumstances. Henderson and his cameraman accompany the evacuation under the pretense of covering it as a news story.
Bosnian Serbs hinder the evacuation at several points along its route. In the final harassment, armed Chetniks halt the bus, select and forcibly disembark the Bosniak Muslim children, and take them away on their lorry, presumably to kill them.
After Henderson makes it to London with Emira, she quickly becomes a member of his family. After several months, Henderson receives word from his former producer in Sarajevo that Emira’s mother wants her back. Henderson, who didn’t know that Emira’s mother was living, returns to Sarajevo, now riven not only by the siege but also by organised crime, and seeks out Risto, who has become a Bosnian soldier. Henderson asks him to help find Emira’s mother. They discover from a relative that Emira was put into the orphanage as an infant by her mother under familial pressure. When Risto is killed in his home by a sniper, Henderson asks for help from Zeljko, a concierge at the Holiday Inn, who Henderson had helped in the past. Zeljko negotiates the streets and road-blocks that lead to Emira’s mother. She says she is lonely and now wants Emira to live with her. However, she is persuaded that Emira is happy in England and so signs the adoption papers.
A running joke in the movie is the designation by a UN official that Sarajevo was only the 14th worst crisis in the world. In the middle of the movie, Harun, a cellist friend of Risto, says that he would play a concert on the streets of Sarajevo once it is designated the worst place on Earth. Though he acknowledges the danger, he claims that “the people will die happily listening to my music.” The movie ends with Harun holding a “concert of peace” on a hill overlooking Sarajevo, playing his cello to hundreds of Sarajevans. Among the attendees are Henderson, Flynn and several children from the orphanage. Henderson gives Harun a sad smile; the concert is beautiful, but it also means that Sarajevo had, indeed, become the worst place on Earth.
The closing credits say that Emira still lives in England.