SARAJEVO – A simple and haunting film about Bosnia’s war rapes brought joy back home after winning top prize at the 56th Berlin Film Festival, but for thousands of victims whose life story it resembles it was much more than just an artistic success.
‘Grbavica’, written and directed by Jasmila Zbanic, explores the loving but fragile relationship between 12-year-old Sara and her mother Esma who conceived the child in one of numerous rapes she had to endure as a prisoner of a Bosnian Serb war camp.
Sara has never heard the true story about her father, but there comes a point where it is no longer possible to hide it.
“There are so many children like that, so many mothers who keep moving from one place to another to protect their children from finding out the truth,” Melika Malesevic, a former war camp inmate, told AFP.
Ethnic cleansing campaign
Official estimates put the number of women systematically raped during Bosnia’s 1992-95 war at around 20,000, but the true figure is believed to be much higher.
The rapes were a part of a Bosnian Serb notorious ethnic cleansing campaign and the mainly Muslim women were held in the camps until it was too late for abortion.
Malesevic has spent years gathering information about war rapes and trying to help affected women and children get protection in the highly conservative Bosnian society.
“This whole issue has been hushed up … I want to believe that the film and its success would make us start talking about it, thinking about ways to help these women and children win acceptance,” she said.
Story about forgotten victims
Zbanic, who has described “Grbavica” as a “small film from a small country with a small budget”, repeatedly said the picture was the result of her heart-felt need to tell the story of the forgotten victims of Bosnian war.
The writer-director and her crew travelled to Berlin with no big expectations for the prize, but hoping to steer the emotions of audiences and shift the attention back to the plight of systematically raped Bosnian women.
The Golden Bear prize for “Grbavica” comes less than four years since another Bosnian film, Danis Tanovic’s “No Man’s Land”, won the Oscar for best foreign language film.
“We may not have the quantity, but we clearly have the quality,” Mirsad Purivatra, director of the Sarajevo Film Festival (SFF), told AFP.
“We have a new generation of talented young authors … and Jasmila’s success is likely to open more doors for Bosnian filmmakers.”
Encouraged by the success of the SFF which grew into southeast Europe’s largest film festival since being established 11 years ago in then besieged Sarajevo as much as by Tanovic’s Oscar, Bosnian authorities set up a modest fund for domestic filmmaking four years ago.
The state funding helped the Bosnian filmmakers attract international co-producers resulting in nine films over four years – seven of them by the first-time feature directors.
All the films have toured important European festivals winning awards, including the top award of the Rotterdam Film Festival for ”Summer in the Golden Valley” by Srdjan Vuletic and the second prize from Switzerland’s principal film festival in Locarno for Pjer Zalica’s “Fuse”.
“Film is the only true Bosnian brand,” Purivatra said.
“Success of our filmmakers changes the international perception of Bosnia as of a war-torn country
of suffering and despair and gives us the image of a hotbed of creative, talented people who belong to the world.”