Jasmila Zbanic started film-making in 1997, when she founded "Deblokada" - an artist network and film-production company with whom she developed many documentaries and short movies. One important work she has directed is a short film called "Birthday". It portrayed the different lives of two young girls: One Croatian, one Bosnian. In 2000 she made the documentary "Red Rubber Boots" about mothers who are searching for their children. Another documentary is "Images from the corner", in which she shows a young woman who has been badly injured during the war. The director studied at the Academy of Dramatic Arts in Sarajewo.
Before film-making she worked as a puppeteer in the "Bread And Puppet" theatre in Vermont, and as a clown in a Lee De Long workshop.
At the Berlinale in February 2006 she surprised the international jury and the audience with her first fiction movie "Grbavica" which deals in a very sensitive way with the daily life of a woman in todayâ€™s Bosnia who has been raped many times during war time and who is now caring for her teenage daughter but is suffering from post-traumatic stress.
AVIVA-Berlin: How did you develop your screenplay? How did you feel about the stories of the traumatised women with whom you were talking, during your research?
Jasmila Zbanic: I did a big research. One thing was to read all these reports. Many of the women who decided to talk, testified how it happened. It was really hard to read, because you canâ€™t believe what happened and how was it possible to happen. The more I read, less I understood, how is it possible for men to do this things, to have an erection based on hate.
Then I first talked to therapists who dealt with this women because I wanted to be sure in how to approach them. In 1992 I met three girls who were raped but that was different because we met more like companions, like in a friendship, not for research. I wanted to know from a therapist in which way I should talk to them. She introduced me to some women who wanted to talk. After I read the reports I was mostly interested in how they live today. I spend some time picking up the atmosphere of the everyday life.
AVIVA-Berlin: And how did you develop that particular story?
Jasmila Zbanic: Before I started with writing I already knew it should be something about the consequences. My film is not about rape, it is about love which is influenced by the consequences of what have happened. I was absolutely sure that it should not be documentary. I didnâ€™t have to prove facts. I was making my own story. Esma is not an example of all these women, she is my character through whom I express my world.
I wanted to speak of the relationship between mother and daughter, about love, about how love is possible in this circumstances and then I realised I wanted to talk about it through the perspective of a mother and her daughter. The decision for a mother as the main character happened when I delivered my child. I was questioning how life changes, how my emotions changes. That experience defined the angle from which I wrote the story.
Then I had lot of versions. One of the first versions was very dark and full of my own anger. I had to take time to get rid of it, and to get able to really process it.
AVIVA-Berlin: There is a lot of anger in the relationship between the daughter and the mother. I was wondering if it is usual that the children who are born after a rape stay with their mothers in Bosnia?
Jasmila Zbanic: In reality it is a fact that many of these women had to abandon kids. Because of the psychological problems many of them donâ€™t live with their kids. But often it is not known so it is difficult to generalise it. There are cases where the daughter doesnâ€™t know. But Sarah is not an example, as I said before. Her anger comes from the fact that she lives in a lie. She knows that there is something wrong, that her mother is lying and that makes her insecure. It is already difficult to be a child without father and only from that fact she would have many questions in her mind. When kids live in a lie they are uncertain about what is happening. I wanted to stress that fact.
AVIVA-Berlin: What should be done to improve the help system for raped women in Bosnia? Esma didnâ€™t seem to get much support at the womenâ€™s centre.
Jasmila Zbanic: In reality the fact that we were awarded with the Golden Bear was very, very helpful. Suddenly the people in Bosnia were so excited about it, everybody talked about it, all media were reporting days and days about it. I decided to take advantage of that to improve the situation. Together with a woman organisation we started a campaign which is called "For Dignity of Survivors". Every time the film was screened in cinema we had activists taking signatures of the citizens requesting from the government to change the status of these women. Because they donâ€™t have any status in society. They are not helped by the state. Soldiers and ex-soldiers are helped, women with kids in different situations are helped, but these women are not. When I talk to politicians, I tell them: "You purposely choose not to help these women". They maintain it is not true. But Iâ€™m sure they wanted them not to exist.
AVIVA-Berlin: Why do you think society ignored these women?
Jasmila Zbanic: Different reasons. The majority of politicians are men who are not fashionable about it. Politicians are using all these other groups for their own promotion. You can read it in a newspaper when a politician is helping soldiers. But with these women you canâ€™t have pictures with. Itâ€™s not only in Bosnia. In Germany you have many women who are raped by Russian soldiers and nobody talked about it as well. These women are not talking about it, government isnâ€™t talking about it. Itâ€™s somehow that society is ashamed for them, or maybe itâ€™s to painful, I donâ€™t know. Itâ€™s very strange but itâ€™s the way it is.
AVIVA-Berlin: What do you think is the most important thing that friends or relatives could do to support a traumatised woman? In the movie, Esmaâ€™s friend is not accepted by the daughter which makes life even harder.
Jasmila Zbanic: Yes, but I mean, it was a shock for both of them. In the future they will find a way to deal with it.
In society it is a very complex theme. It is already ten years after the war. There is another trauma from society not accepting them. I donâ€™t want to give the picture that they are thrown away. They are ignored by general public and politics. But the individual citizen who knows about their destiny tries to help them.
But somehow in general they are hidden, itâ€™s not that someone insults them, itâ€™s not taboo to talk about it, but somehow more subconsciously we look at them like in a distance. Itâ€™s a long process. I think the first thing which needs to be done is to give them status. Out of this they can get monthly benefits and health care - now they are without that.
AVIVA-Berlin: The casting for the role of Sara took place in public schools. Why did you decide to go there instead of the usual way - dealing with casting agencies?
Jasmila Zbanic: I had the experience with my short film that when we announced it all these ambitious mothers come. But I wanted really to see what potential we have. For example Luna never thought to be an actress, she would never had applied for an public audition. So we took an audition with 2000 kids in school.
AVIVA-Berlin: How did you explain the characters to the young actors? Was it very difficult to make them understand the complexity of the characters?
Jasmila Zbanic: No, kids living in Bosnia know much about it. They live in reality and they know what is happening. They are not so naiv like other generations. They are quite aware of the situation. I was lucky to have Luna, and Kenan who played her friend, to be really clever kids. I gave them the scripts to read and then we talked about it and discussed it. They were really wonderful actors.
AVIVA-Berlin: How was the movie reacted to in Bosnia?
Jasmila Zbanic: The first reaction was to the Golden Bear, the premiere in Bosnia has been in March. Everyone was very happy that the film has been awarded at the Berlinale and when they saw the film themselves people really liked it. We had a lot of audience, 180,000, which is for a country with 4 million people very, very good. On the other hand we have a part in Bosnia with a Serbian majority, the officials there were boycotting the film. It is not screened there.
AVIVA-Berlin: In how many countries is the movie going to be shown?
Jasmila Zbanic: The world sale has placed it in most of the countries in Europe, it already started in Austria, Slowenia, Croatia, Macedonia and Norway. In Italy and France it will be shown in autumn. In Latin America it will be started as well, at the moment we are dealing with the US.
AVIVA-Berlin: Is film-making still very difficult in Bosnia? Is there a big difference there compared to other countries?
Jasmila Zbanic: Yes, it is very difficult. We donâ€™t have basic equipment which is very frustrating and hard. We have to import cameras from other countries, use labourites in other countries. There are lot of professions missing. It is very, very hard to put up productions.
AVIVA-Berlin: Was it difficult to get public financial support to make this movie?
Jasmila Zbanic: We have a film fund from which we got money from but that was only ten percent of the whole budget. It really had to be an international co-production to get realised.
AVIVA-Berlin: The ending is hopeful, despite the deep conflict in the relationship between the mother and the daughter which escalates previously. Do you have hope that the political and social development in Bosnia will improve soon?
Jasmila Zbanic: Oh, that is difficult to answer. The ending, I think, is hopeful but is ambivalent in a sense that the audience will leave the cinema with the question what will it mean for this girl to go on with her life. How it is for the new generation to find their own identity. Well, that is a big question, and of course, Iâ€™m hopeful. I do everything I can to create an atmosphere which is prospective for a better new Bosnia. But there are also a lot of people who are taking advantages of the situation as it is now which is for most of the people not good. There are politicians, there are groups of profiteers.
AVIVA-Berlin: Do you already have plans for a new movie project?
Jasmila Zbanic: Iâ€™m always working on some things. So, I have to see what would be the thing which will take me into that direction. There are actually several things I want to do.
More information about the situation of women raped during the war in Bosnia:
The movie in the web: