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Interview: Jasmila Zbanic • Director

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"Love and war in Sarajevo"


- "My film is not only about war, it is first and foremost about love, about a love that is not pure because it is mixed with hatred, disgust and desperation"

Interview: Jasmila Zbanic • Director

Jasmila Zbanic (32), the screenwriter and director of Grbavica – Esma’s Secret [+see also:
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interview: Jasmila Zbanic
film profile
, winner of the Golden Bear at this year’s Berlinale, was born and raised in Sarajevo. She was just an adolescent when the four-year war that devastated the former Yugoslavian republic broke out. "However, my film is not only about war, it is first and foremost about love, about a love that is not pure because it is mixed with hatred, disgust and desperation", she says.

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Zbanic wrote the screenplay on the basis of interviews conducted by a journalist friend on the violence of that conflict during the Serbian siege of Sarajevo, which also ravaged the city’s Grbavica neighbourhood, where Jasmila lives. "Grbavica means ‘a woman carrying a burden’ and that neighbourhood was transformed into an enormous concentration camp".

Cineuropa: What compelled you to tell this story?
Jasmila Zbanic: I began writing this story when I had my daughter, Zoe, in 2000 and was shocked by the number of cases of raped women in Bosnia. For me, having a child was a positive upheaval in life. I wondered how they felt about a child they hadn’t wanted. In this case, their love isn’t pure, it’s a very complex emotion. Women are asked to go through a long emotional process in being able to love that unwanted child. It is an experience that involves the woman wholly, along with her entire femininity.

How widespread was the phenomenon of ethnic rape in Bosnia?
According to United Nations data, approximately 20,000 women of all religions were raped in Bosnia in this war. Many of the women I met could not go back to their towns because the rapists were still there. The perpetrators of these crimes were not even minimally punished. Only a few of them, the most well-known, but the reality is that the victims lives side by side with their rapists on a daily basis. People prefer to think that these women don’t exist. Until recently, they were not even considered war victims. Only after the film was a campaign started, based on a petition that forced the government to change the law, and now the victims of ethnic rape are finally recognised as war victims.

What is your religion?
I was born into a Muslim family under Tito’s regime, during which religion was considered “the opiate of the people”. Personally, I am an artist and that is my religion.

How was it for you, a Muslim, working with actress Mirjana Karanovic, who is of Serbian origin?
First and foremost, she is an actress and I am a director. Besides, she always spoke out against Milosevic and the war. I looked for an actress who could best play that role, and I thought of her, a wonderful actress and a wonderful human being. Our ethnic backgrounds weren’t taken into consideration in the slightest. They were absolutely irrelevant.

Grbavica, which is your feature debut, was produced by your husband Damir Ismahilovic.
Damir works in a bank. When I founded Deblokada, a small production company, he decided to help me. The initial years were difficult. We did everything ourselves, along with one friend. Things are better now, we’ve been able to hire on a regular basis in our office. We produce short films and documentaries.


international title: Esma's Secret
original title: Grbavica
country: Austria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Germany, Croatia
sales agent: The Match Factory
year: 2005
directed by: Jasmila Žbanić
screenplay: Jasmila Žbanić
cast: Mirjana Karanović, Luna Mijović

main awards/selection

EFA 2006 selection
Berlinale 2006 Golden Bear 2006; Prize of the Ecumenical Jury; Peace Film Award

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