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The Bosnian war, the focus of Angelina Jolie’s directional debut which premiers in American theaters this Christmas, has left heavy memories in the regional history that the production team were mindful to be receptive of and draw on for the movie In the Land of Blood and Honey.
During the war, men and women were often separated and families were split. Many Bosnians of all ethnicities left the country; others were taken into captivity and abused. In one town, Srebrenica, Bosnian Serb forces massacred more than 7,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys. Throughout the war, as many as 20,000 to 50,000 women were raped, many while in captivity.
In response, the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia would eventually indict 161 persons of all ethnicities for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide during the Bosnian War and would become the first tribunal to prosecute rape as an independent crime against humanity.
The last remaining fugitive from the ICTY was captured in July 2011, and 35 cases remain pending as of November 2011. Decisive military intervention by NATO and intense diplomatic pressure eventually led to a cease fire and the signing of the Dayton Peace Accords in 1995. Since then, an uneasy peace has prevailed in Bosnia-Herzegovina, but divisions created by the conflict remain, and the struggle for reconciliation continues.
One could argue that the very existence of In the Land of Blood and Honey — a film in which Serbian, Bosnian Serb, Bosnian Muslim, and Croatian Serb actors all worked together in a spirit of community and familial spirit — offers a rejoinder to what the war represented, namely ethno-religious division and strife.
Creating that sense of harmony worried Jolie at the outset, but after the first day of shooting, she witnessed a powerful and heartening moment. “The very first scene we shot was one of the heaviest in the film. It’s the scene when the women are taken off the bus and brought into the school. That was our first scene! I woke up that morning terrified, but you have to tell yourself to get past that fear.
“It was a lot on the first day. That scene remains one of the most emotional moments in the film. It was the first time that these actors had come together in a scene. The men are pulling the women off the bus. Nobody knew each other. The male soldiers were mostly played by Serbians and Bosnian Serbs, and the main women were all played by Bosnians.
The women didn’t know the men who were ripping their jewelry and coats off of them. Then we went into the rape scene. It was so emotionally heavy that it was going to do one of two things: It would either put us in a really bad place, or it would pull everyone together to focus on what this film was about.
It would pull us into a certain reality. Everyone was going to bond, because if we can make it through this day, we can make it through anything. But after lunchtime, I saw two women hugging each other. When I called ‘cut’ the first time, the man playing the soldier who rapes the woman, hugged the actress playing the victim to make sure she was OK.
All of the guys who had ripped the coats and jewelry off the women then immediately picked the coats and jewelry off of the ground and re-dressed the women themselves. Wardrobe didn’t do it—they did it. That was the beginning. That morning, looking at what had to be done and what had to be asked of people who were on opposite sides of this conflict, to ask them to come together and do this together—it was incredible.”
The making of In the Land of Blood and Honey suggests that healing is possible, and that it’s necessary to remind the world of the dangers of ethnocentric and nationalistic ideology. Goran Kostic, who plays Danijel, hopes the film will be a force for good. “I hope that this will be one of those strong pillars of understanding of what happened then,” Kostić says.
“These stories have to be re-told again and again. A younger generation doesn’t know what happened. If we do not revisit these events, things won’t change. These events get forgotten, accepted. It’s important for these stories to be re-told every three, five, or seven years, and in the harshest ways possible.
We must remind the younger generations about things that have gone on before. This way, when we say, ‘Never again,’ we know what ‘never again’ really means. If one person is able to forgive because of this film, or if 10 kids in the future understand something in a positive way about this period of our history, then that is truly a success.”
For Angelina Jolie, the success of the film belongs to those who helped make it, those who lived through and survived this terrible event. “It’s less about what I accomplished, and more about what the cast accomplished by making this project together. That message of unity and desire for a peaceful future the cast sends is what will make the biggest difference.”