Accessibility links

'Outsider' Jolie Puts Bosnia's War Story On World Stage

  • RFE/RL

Some 5,000 Sarajevans turned out on February 14 to watch Angelina Jolie's new film, "In the Land of Blood and Honey." Appropriately, the film's screening took place at a sports complex now surrounded by the graves of people who died in the Bosnian war.

Jolie, her cast, and film crew received a standing ovation from the audience. Afterward, with tears in her eyes, the first-time director spoke a few words to the audience in Bosnian. Making the film was a life-shaping experience, she said.

The next day, Jolie spoke to RFE/RL's Balkan Service in an interview at the city's iconic Holiday Inn hotel, which was heavily shelled by Serbs during the 1992-95 war. She said she felt an enormous responsibility making the film.

"I worked so hard to try to make what I thought was a good film but also a film that I know was going to be so hard for people watching here, because it is their history and it's such a painful time in their history," Jolie said.

"And, of course, to do an artistic interpretation of something, of somebody's life, you feel you can never do somebody enough justice, so you do your best but you hope that you do good and you hope you do enough and you hope you do it right. I was terrified."

Set against the backdrop of the 1990s Bosnian war, "In the Land of Blood and Honey" is woven around a love story between Danijel, the soldier son of a Serbian general, and Bosnian artist Ajla, whose earlier peacetime romance takes on destructive and ambiguously moral dimensions in wartime.

Ajla ends up in a detention camp where all the women are systematically raped. The camp is commanded by Danijel.

'A Shameful Time'

Jolie, who was a teenager during the Bosnian war, said the world's inaction during the horrors of that conflict is a shameful time in history.

"As I've grown up and gone to many parts of the world, this was one that I felt nobody had spoken enough about," Jolie said. "This was such an important time for our world history, what happened here, the fact that the international community turned its back and abandoned these people for so long is such a crime. It's something we should all be ashamed of and learn from and that we must show respect and remember."

WATCH: Jolie, her cast, and crew receive a standing ovation at the regional premiere of the film in Sarajevo on February 14.
Despite her status as an A-list Hollywood star, Jolie spends a great deal of her time promoting humanitarian causes as a goodwill ambassador for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

She said that as she began her research for the film, she fell in love with the area and was deeply inspired by the stories of survivors of the war. She met with a lot of people, she said, and "just listened."

'Closure' For Bosnians?

Gordana Knezevic, the director of RFE/RL's Balkan Service, was in the audience for the regional premiere of Jolie’s film. Surrounding her in the audience were many women who had suffered endless sexual assaults in camps such as the one depicted in the film.

"I got the impression that this movie can provide a closure for their pain and can [bring] an end to the most painful part of their life," she said. "I believe that movies actually can have some healing power."

BBC correspondent Alan Little covered the Bosnian war extensively, and the book, "The Death of Yugoslavia," which he co-authored with Laura Silber, is the story of that experience. After the film's screening in Sarajevo, he commented that Jolie, an outsider, had done what no one before her had managed to do: She launched Bosnia's story onto the world stage.

"It reminded me of something during the war when I was here," Little said. "The need for people here in the siege and elsewhere in Bosnia to have the world know about their suffering, to have the world know about their story. It was a very visceral need. People cared about it very much.

"And she has given a kind of acknowledgement from the outside world that their story is understood and that there is not a massive indifference in the universe. It's connected the people who lived through and survived the Bosnian war to the world, in a way. It was a very special thing for me to witness."

Gordana Knezevic and Irena Chalupa contributed to this story

Show comments