She Was Named Europe’s Best Director, but Finds Few Fans at Home


SARAJEVO, Bosnia and Herzegovina — A celebrated Bosnian movie director at all times knew her newest film, the harrowing drama of a mom making an attempt unsuccessfully to avoid wasting her husband and two sons from the Srebrenica massacre in 1995, could be panned by Serb nationalists.

But the filmmaker, Jasmila Zbanic, was nonetheless stunned when Serbian media invited a convicted warfare prison to opine on the film, “Quo Vadis, Aida?”, for which she just lately received Europe’s greatest director award.

The chosen critic? Veselin Sljivancanin, a former Yugoslav military officer sentenced to jail by a tribunal in The Hague for aiding and abetting the homicide of prisoners in Croatia in the Vukovar massacre.

While asking such a infamous determine to touch upon the film was a shock, his response to it wasn’t: He denounced it as lies that “incite ethnic hatred” and smear all Serbs.

“He, a war criminal, wants all Serbs, most of whom had nothing to do with his crimes, to feel attacked for his crimes,” Ms. Zbanic mentioned in a current interview at her manufacturing firm atop a hill overlooking Sarajevo, the Bosnian capital. “He is putting his guilt on all Serbs.”

Ms. Zbanic’s unwavering perception that the guilt for the atrocities dedicated as the previous Yugoslavia cut up aside belongs to people, not ethnic teams, has additionally made her a troublesome cultural icon for some in her personal neighborhood of Bosnian Muslims, generally known as Bosniaks, to embrace.

When the European Film Academy final month gave her the award of greatest director and chosen “Quo Vadis, Aida?” as Europe’s greatest movie of the 12 months, a number of Bosniak politicians congratulated her on their private Facebook pages, but there have been no official celebrations of the sort held at any time when Bosniak athletes triumph overseas.

“I did not even get any flowers,” she mentioned.

Fiercely impartial and a self-declared feminist, Ms. Zbanic has for years stored her distance from Bosnia’s dominant and male-dominated political drive, the Party of Democratic Action, or S.D.A., a Bosniak nationalist group. Like Serb events on the opposite facet of the ethnic divide, the S.D.A. now wins votes by stirring animosity towards, and worry of, different teams.

“I’m very much against S.D.A., the main political party, so they know I am not theirs,” she mentioned, noting that she had a number of occasions chosen ethnic Serb actors for starring roles in her films. “I don’t choose actors because of their nationality but because they are the best,” she mentioned.

In her most up-to-date film, the principle position, a Bosniak translator working for the United Nations in Srebrenica, is performed by Jasna Djuricic from Serbia. Ms. Djuricic, who received the perfect actress award from the European Film Academy, has been pilloried in Serb media as a Muslim-loving traitor.

Haris Pasovic, a distinguished Bosnian theater director and Ms. Zbanic’s professor through the warfare years at the Sarajevo Academy of Performing Arts, mentioned his former pupil’s collaboration with the Serbian actress demonstrated her religion that tradition transcends nationalism.

“Events were meant to separate these two people forever, but they came together to create this incredible work of art,” Mr. Pasovic mentioned.

International acclaim, he added, has made Ms. Zbanic “the most successful woman in Bosnian history” and, consequently, “she terrifies Balkan politicians,” practically all males. “She is very careful not to be used in Balkan political trading and has never wanted to be part of anybody’s bloc,” Mr. Pasovic mentioned.

Bosnia has a protracted, wealthy historical past of filmmaking from when it was nonetheless a part of Yugoslavia, the multiethnic socialist state that fell aside within the early 1990s and spawned Europe’s bloodiest armed battle since World War II. More than 140,000 died within the ensuing conflicts.

“What I learned during the war is that food and culture are equal,” Ms. Zbanic mentioned. “You can’t live without either.”

Like a lot else in Bosnia, a patchwork of various ethnic teams and religions, the movie trade has been left bitterly divided by the traumas of warfare. Emir Kusturica, a well known Sarajevo-born director who has embraced Serb nationalism, is now reviled by many Bosniaks as a champion of “Greater Serbia,” the trigger that tore Bosnia aside within the 1990s.

Ms. Zbanic, 47, mentioned she despised Mr. Kusturica’s politics — he’s near Milorad Dodik, the belligerent nationalist chief of Bosnia’s Serb-controlled area — but nonetheless revered his abilities. “We should appreciate professionals no matter what ideology they have,” she mentioned.

Seventeen years previous when Bosnian Serbs started an almost four-year siege of Sarajevo in 1992, Ms. Zbanic mentioned her movies, which embody “Grbavica,” a 2006 function a few single mom whose daughter was conceived in a wartime rape, are her “attempt to understand what happened and how what happened during the war is still influencing our everyday life.”

“Grbavica” helped strain Bosnian politicians into altering the legislation to offer beforehand uncared for wartime rape victims the identical official recognition and allowances as former troopers. She counts that as one in every of her proudest achievements, noting that “truth is always good, even if it is painful and even if it hurts, it moves things forward.”

The warfare in Bosnia led to 1995 but, Ms. Zbanic mentioned, “we didn’t solve or overcome what happened. We are still living a trauma that is not yet healed. Many stories from the past are influencing our life today.”

The rawest trauma of all is the bloodbath in Srebrenica, a small city in jap Bosnia that turned the scene of Europe’s worst atrocity because the finish of World War II, with more than 8,000 Muslims massacred there.

Many Serbs nonetheless deny the bloodbath or insist the killing was prompted by Bosniak assaults on harmless Serbs, regardless of the 2017 conviction for genocide by The Hague tribunal of Gen. Ratko Mladic, the Bosnian Serb commander who orchestrated the assault on Srebrenica.

While the movie leaves little doubt in regards to the guilt of General Mladic and his Serb troopers, it avoids graphic pictures of their crimes, and Ms. Zbanic’s work received few cheers from Bosniak politicians, who take into account her insufficiently loyal to their very own narrative of the warfare as a battle between good Bosniaks and evil Serbs.

“Srebrenica is very much used by Bosniak politicians to build national unity or whatever — and I was disobedient. I was not making the narrative they were expecting,” she mentioned.

Instead of specializing in ugly violence by Serbs, the movie wrestles with the person decisions of a Bosniak mom who makes use of her place as a U.N. translator to attempt to defend her circle of relatives whereas pleading with the Dutch U.N. commander in Srebrenica to do something to avert the slaughter.

The movie’s principal character, Aida, is “not a saint” and places her household’s survival first, but this doesn’t disqualify her as a sufferer, Ms. Zbanic mentioned. At the tip of the film, Aida returns to her former household residence in Srebrenica to search out it occupied by a Serb girl, who is just not offered as a monster but given a measure of humanity: She has stored Aida’s previous household pictures and returns them.

Unlike the customarily vituperative assaults on Ms. Zbanic in lots of Serb media retailers, direct criticism in Bosnia has been comparatively muted, principally restricted to feedback on social media by fringe nationalists, who view her an insufficiently supportive of a nation-building venture rooted in faith and rural custom.

When filling in official paperwork that ask her to declare to which of Bosnia’s three principal ethnic teams — Bosniak, Serb or Croat — she belongs, she writes “other.” “I cannot identify with nationalism or nations,” she mentioned.

She left Bosnia close to the tip of the combating for the United States, coaching at the Bread and Puppet Theater, a politically energetic troupe in Vermont. She then returned to Sarajevo, teaming up with Damir Ibrahimovic, now her husband and longtime producer, to make her first movies. They have one daughter.

Raised in Sarajevo by economist mother and father, Ms. Zbanic has fond recollections of Yugoslavia earlier than it imploded. “Socialism brought huge, huge progress to our society, especially for women,” she mentioned. “It was not a democratic society at all. But while there are many things to criticize, the fact is that my parents got educated for free, and when they married they got an apartment for free.”

Today’s politicians, she mentioned, whether or not Bosniak, Serb or Croat, have little curiosity in making individuals’s lives higher. Instead, they “use conflict as a way of dealing with each other,” she mentioned, including, “They are just recycling old narratives because that keeps them in power.”



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