SREBRENICA: After premiering her latest feature at the Venice Film Festival last month and sending it off to the international festival circuit, acclaimed Bosnian filmmaker Jasmila Zbanic returned home to Bosnia to host what she described as the film’s “most emotional” screening.
Zbanic’s film on the 1995 massacre in Srebrenica - “Quo Vadis, Aida?” - had its first public showing in Bosnia on Saturday (Oct 10) in the memorial center in the ill-fated town for the more than 8,000 Muslim men and boys slaughtered there a quarter century ago.
Based on true events, the film tells the story of a Bosnian woman, Aida, who tries to save her husband and sons while working for the United Nations as a translator.
The event was attended by massacre survivors and witnesses, but also by young men and women whom Zbanic had invited from across the ethnically and politically divided country.
Among those in the audience was Almasa Sekovic, 34, who witnessed her teenage brother being taken away for execution. She said the film brought back the “smells and sounds” of Srebrenica in July 1995.
“I think it is very important that as many people as possible see this film,” she said.
The Srebrenica massacre was the culmination of Bosnia’s 1992-95 war, which pitted the country’s three main ethnic factions - Serbs, Croats and Bosnian Muslims, known as Bosniaks - against each other after the break-up of Yugoslavia.
It was also a mark of shame for the international community because Srebrenica had been declared a UN “safe haven” for civilians, but the outnumbered, outgunned international peacekeepers could only watch on as the Bosnian Serb troops separated the town’s men and boys for execution.
Two and a half decades later, the slaughter - defined as genocide by two United Nations courts - is still being systematically denied by Serb political leaders despite irrefutable evidence of what happened.
Zbanic spent 10 years on research, speaking to massacre survivors and witnesses. Still, the persistent ethnic divisions in Bosnia turned making a film “about a woman who is trying to save her family from death” into an experience akin to “walking through a political minefield,” she said.
“But I told the story from a female perspective. I was not seduced by the spectacle of war,” Zbanic said.
She said he hoped her film can serve as “emotional bridge” not just for her country's divided youth, but also for the rest of the world.
“When I watch films and find patriotic things about war, I cannot identify with that. I hoped people will identify with Aida, the film’s main protagonist, because wars are banal and evil and there is nothing good in them,” she said.
While uniting Bosnia's different communities around a single narrative about the war remains a tall order in the impoverished nation where political leaders continue to exploit ethnic mistrust, Zbanic said she was moved by the feedback from the young audience members.
An ethnic Serb, Sladjan Tomic, said during the post-film discussion that he hopes those who still celebrate the perpetrators will watch the film.
“I was born a Serb, that is my given identity, but my ethnicity does not define me," Tomic said.
Zbanic agreed and voiced belief that her film holds important lessons not just for Bosnia, but also for democratic societies around the world that are increasingly roiled by the rise of populism and nationalism.