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Ahmed Imamovic’s last film, 'Belvedere', does not focus not on the infamous 1995 massacre in eastern Bosnia but on the consequences and challenges facing the survivors.
Sarajevo film director Ahmed Imamovic is no stranger to breaking taboos in his movies. His 2005 film Go West followed a gay couple’s attempts to leave Bosnia at the start of the 1992-1995 war.
His most recent film, Belvedere, is the first Bosnian fictional film to deal with the aftermath of the genocide in the eastern Bosnian town of Srebrenica.
The film tells the intimate story of an extended family in the Belvedere collective centre 15 years after the 1995 massacre that killed 8,000 Bosniaks, or Bosnian Muslims.
The residents have survived the genocide while the rest of their families have perished at the hands of the Bosnian Serb Army. The survivors wait anxiously for word that the bones of their missing family members have been unearthed, so they can receive a decent burial.
“In Bosnia, when you buy land and start to dig the foundation for a house, you can never be sure you won’t find a mass grave; there’s been so much bloodshed,” Imamovic told Balkan Insight in an interview.
The film script that he co-wrote with scenarist Aida Pilav is based on extensive research that he conducted with mothers and wives whose sons, husbands and brothers were killed.
Imamovic was interested in portraying the way in which the collective centre’s residents grapple with the trauma they experienced during the war, while other segments of society are wrapped up in the materialistic world of reality TV.
“What fascinated me in those intimate moments of listening about the terrors which befell them is that I never sensed hatred, not even for the perpetrators of the acts that took their loved ones from them. They call for the truth, for justice and for reason,” Imamovic said.
On July 11, 1995, Bosnian Serb forces entered the “UN protected zone” of Srebrenica, which was a temporary home to thousands of internally displaced persons. They separated out the men and boys, slaughtering around 8,000 of them and burying them in hundreds of mass graves, many of whose locations remain unknown.
Forensic experts are still painstakingly working to identify the remains as more graves are uncovered. The International Committee for Missing Persons estimates that 10,000 people remain missing.
The massacre was declared an act of genocide by the International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia, the ICTY, in The Hague.
Belvedere, the first fictional film about Srebrenica, has won praise from survivors groups.
“The film speaks about our suffering, about our pursuit of the truth, about the search for our missing,” Munira Subasic, President of the Movement of Mothers from the enclaves of Srebrenica and Zepa, told journalists at the first screening of the film in the Srebrenica Cultural Centre.
“This film is not significant because of us, the older generation; rather, it is important for our descendants to take the message of the past and to remember that a genocide happened here,” she added.
“The film is an attempt to tell the story not just of victims of Srebrenica but also the problems of the 20th century,” Imanovic adds. “We all have our own tragedies, our own holocaust, our own Srebrenica.”
Crafting fiction from reality:
Imamovic’s direct collaboration with victims is in sharp contrast to the approach of actor and director Angelina Jolie, whose failure to consult victims’ groups in making a film about wartime Bosnia created a furore in the country prior to filming.
The head of Women Victims of War, Bakira Hasecic, raised an outcry on hearing rumours that the film featured a love story between a rape victim and rapist. The script is being kept secret until the premiere of the film, Land of Blood and Honey, on December 23, but the trailer shows that it features a love story between a Serbian prison guard and a Bosnian female prisoner.
Gavrilo Grahovac, the Federal Minister of Culture, first revoked Jolie’s in-country filming permit, which was then re-issued after the ministry staff reviewed the screenplay.
“I didn’t know it would be so sensitive,” Jolie told American broadcaster Tim Simmons on the CBS news show 60 minutes in a recent interview.
The Association of Film Workers of Bosnia-Herzegovina chose Belvedere as Bosnia’s candidate for the Oscar nomination for 2012.
“Belvedere isn’t just atypical, it’s even an anti-film for Hollywood. I have no expectations, but I am glad at least that it will be shown to some people in the commission,” said Imanovic.
The movie was filmed in the real-life collective centre where the story takes place and the extras were all locals. Filming with a photo camera, the Canon DSLR, which is currently taking the global indie filmmaking scene by storm, they were able to shoot in the real buildings of the camp and use natural lighting.
“We were filming in natural buildings in the refugee camp, so it was much easier than filming with 35mm cameras which require a large amount of lighting equipment, and yet the resolution is very high, cinema quality,” the director said. “We wanted to catch that documentary feeling in the photography.”
Belvedere is the first feature film in Bosnia-Herzegovina to be filmed using a Canon DSLR, but Imanovic downplays its significance.
“My first film, 10 minutes long, was filmed on an old Beta camera. The content, the story which you want to tell, is much more important than technology,” he said. “People today are making movies on their cell phones!”
Bosnia and Herzegovina, Imamovic maintains, has no continuity in cinematography due to a lack of funding and infrastructure. “We don’t have three, four or five films a year; it’s like almost an accident whenever a film gets made,” he said.
Belvedere may represent a step forward in cinematography in Bosnia, if only for that reason, and can serve as a hopeful example for new auteurs.
“I hope the 35mm negative will go out of fashion; it’s heavy, it’s expensive, and it must be developed in three separate chemical processes,” he said. “Digital filmmaking can be an excellent solution, especially for young filmmakers with no budget.”
In the film, the characters grapple with the lack of justice after war as those directly responsible for the massacre walk freely on the streets. Some characters, meanwhile, draw comfort from the televised world of Big Brother, when one young character lands a place in the house.
“You know that Hitler came to power in Germany when he made big promises to the masses,” Imanovic said.
“In Big Brother, you are promised 100,000 euros if you stay till the end in this crazy house. The brilliant artist and visionary George Orwell, author of 1984, would be turning over in his grave on seeing such brazen work, this reality show, Big Brother.”
Imamovic says the European Union is today one of the greatest promisers for Bosnia, setting conditions for moving towards the benefits of membership.
“A Croatian friend described it well,” he said, “As Croatia heads for the EU, it is like coming to a party at 2:30am when everything has already been eaten and drunk and people have trashed the joint. By the time we get to the EU, it will be like the after-party.”
But Imamovic still has hope for his country, whatever its EU prospects. “We have all the potential we need. We are more promising than the EU with its flag’s predetermined number of stars,” he says.
Imamovic is currently directing a comedy for the Bosnian National Theatre but hasn’t decided on the topic for his next film.
“If you’d asked me two years ago if I would make this film, I didn’t intend to,” he says. “In fact I was thinking about making something totally different.”
This article is funded under the BICCED project, supported by the Swiss Cultural Programme.
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