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Jasmila Zbanic : "Bosnian pain can be felt by anyone"

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Jasmila Zbanic is a film director very attached to her country’s history. She wishes to share its pains and scars. Her goal is also to show Bosnia from different perspectives, and through different stories. Presenting the intense and beautiful For those who can tell no tales, she tells Cafébabel about filming atmospheres and emotions, all conveyed by her country’s tragic past.

"I wanted to make some­thing that would help me de­fine my coun­try twenty years after the war", ex­plains Jas­mila Zbanic. Then a friend told her about a play by an Aus­tralian play­wright and ac­tress, Kym Ver­coe, in­spired by her own ex­pe­ri­ence in a Bosn­ian city named Viseg­rad. Fa­mous for its bridge and ar­chi­tec­ture, the place re­veals it­self to be a sym­bol of the atroc­i­ties per­pe­trated dur­ing the war.

cafébabel : What’s your per­sonal re­la­tion­ship to the city of Viseg­rad?

Jas­mila Zbanic : I heard what hap­pened in Viseg­rad when the war started in 1992, but I was there just once be­fore the war, never after. It is just an hour and a half ago from Sara­jevo but it feels more far away than Paris to me. When we de­cided to make this film, it was also a sort of self ex­plo­ration; it made me won­der why I also in a way de­nied that this city was what it was. When you live in Bosnia, there are so many sad sto­ries that some­how you have to close your ears and your eyes in order to live and go on. It was a real chal­lenge for me to make this film, be­cause of the way peo­ple would react. I was of course afraid.

cafébabel : The at­mos­phere of the movie is re­ally tense… Is it re­ally the at­mos­phere one feels in Viseg­rad?

Jas­mila Zbanic : It is. You know, we trav­elled sev­eral times be­fore the shoot­ing. I thought it was be­cause I knew what had hap­pened, but later I met a lot of peo­ple who didn’t know and they said they had the same feel­ing. These si­lences, the no talk­ing, put such a big pres­sure on the whole city.

Shoot­ing the po­etic power

cafébabel : But at the same time it does have a po­etic power…

Jas­mila Zbanic : Yes, that’s why I was at­tracted to it.  This bridge is am­biva­lent be­cause it is beau­ti­ful in one way but it is also very scary. The river is beau­ti­ful but when you know that plenty of dead bod­ies were in it, then you have a dif­fer­ent emo­tion. And I liked that it’s am­biva­lent, that you are never cer­tain of the beauty of things.

cafébabel : How were the film­ing con­di­tions there?

Jas­mila Zbanic : I had al­ready made a film in 2006 about mass rapes (Gr­bav­ica, who won the Golden Bear at the 56th Berlin In­ter­na­tional Film Fes­ti­val) and politi­cians said in every paper that I was against Serbs be­cause I said war crimes hap­pened. When or­ga­niz­ing the shoot­ing with the crew, we talked to local peo­ple and they said there was no way we could shoot con­sid­er­ing the topic, that it wasn’t safe. For­tu­nately, a friend of mine, a Ser­bian di­rec­tor, agreed to come with us, and some­how it worked.

For those who can tell no tales, trailer

cafébabel : When did you de­cide to make a movie out of Kym Ver­coe’s play?

Jas­mila Zbanic : In the year 2012, it was 20 years since the be­gin­ning of the war (I was 17 when it started) and I was in a weird po­si­tion of not being able to de­fine it, to put it in a box some­how and say “that’s it”. So I wanted to make some­thing which would help me fig­ure out what my coun­try looks like now. I was search­ing for a story that would deal with this topic. By chance, I saw Kym Ver­coe’s the­ater play and found my story. I was se­duced be­cause she was talk­ing about emo­tions, how the coun­try is beau­ti­ful and won­der­ful on the sur­face, but how many things are still going on. And that is also my feel­ing while liv­ing in Bosnia.

cafébabel : Did it sur­prise you that some­one from so far away as Aus­tralia could be so in­ter­ested in Bosnia?

Jas­mila Zbanic : Yes of course. Kym (who plays her own part in the movie) dis­cov­ered Viseg­rad by ac­ci­dent, when trav­el­ling to the Balkans. She de­cided to visit the city and felt some­thing very deep. It tells us that all human be­ings are the same. It doesn’t mat­ter what na­tion­al­ity you are, you could still feel the same basic emo­tions. It is not only Bosn­ian pain; it can be felt by any­one.

A whole sys­tem cov­er­ing up crimes

cafébabel : Are war crimes still a big taboo in your coun­try?

Jas­mila Zbanic : The fact is that peo­ple who were run­ning the war had noth­ing be­fore and are now multi mil­lion­aires, so of course they are still try­ing not to open this box. They are try­ing to push fear and ha­tred amongst peo­ple so that they don’t think of them as prof­i­teers. The taboo comes from these peo­ple who still have power in pol­i­tics, media, ed­u­ca­tion and po­lice; they are still in­te­grated very much in the so­ci­ety.

cafébabel : The po­lice cars wan­der­ing in the streets of Viseg­rad clearly re­mind us of this po­lit­i­cal pres­sure…

Jas­mila Zbanic : Yes, it is a whole sys­tem cov­er­ing up these crimes. It is such a small city, and when they have for­eign­ers com­ing, they think of them as in­ves­ti­ga­tors for in­ter­na­tional tri­bunals, and im­me­di­ately want to scare them away. What hap­pened is that a lot of war crim­i­nals stayed dur­ing the war in po­lice struc­tures and in tri­bunals. We often think that when the war is over, all war crim­i­nals are gone, but the fact is that just a few are tried, and a lot stay and live a nor­mal life.

cafébabel : Is it a film on mem­ory duty?

Jas­mila Zbanic : For me, the main im­pulse for the film was Kym’s ac­tions, the way she re­acted when she learned about the crimes. I think we are very often taught to be pas­sive in life, but small ac­tions can pro­voke chain re­ac­tions. It led to her the­ater play and to my movie for in­stance. The story is trav­el­ling and peo­ple learn about the topic...

cafébabel : What does it bring you per­son­ally to make films about your coun­try?

Jas­mila Zbanic : I chose to make movies be­cause of a pas­sion or ob­ses­sion that I had about cer­tain emo­tions and sub­jects. And to me, there’s no point in mak­ing a movie if I am ex­actly the same at the be­gin­ning and at the end. Films do change me, es­pe­cially when I work with a team, and when every mem­ber adds its view to the pro­ject.  I have a strong Eu­ro­pean team, and peo­ple from dif­fer­ent coun­tries work­ing to­gether pro­vides such a good en­ergy!