Djeca (Children of Sarejavo) is being touted as one of the best films in the Cannes Film Festival line-up this year. Set just after the Bosnian war, it follows Rahima and her teenage brother Nedim. Having lost both their parents in the war, the two fight to survive in their crumbling homeland. Though Rahima's conversation to Islam alleys some of her personal struggles she finds that raising Nedim is draining.
The film beautifully conveys the perils of postwar life in Bosnia while telling a profoundly moving story. For director Aida Begic, Djeca allowed for her to draw from her own experiences. Like Nedim, Begic knows the harsh realities of living in Bosnia. The International Business Times had the chance to ask the talented filmmaker about how she thrives in the film industry, war, and religious views.
It's difficult to become a filmmaker anywhere. Considering your background, how did you manage to do so?
It's very hard. Our annual film fund has about $1.5 million for all features, short films, documentaries, and student films. It's really not much and at the moment it's on the edge of bankruptcy. Many are questioning whether it will survive at all. Our national museum and national gallery are closed and our library was burned down during the war. In this environment you feel as though you're in a desert trying to do something constructive.
It's an achievement in itself just to survive in my country and simply earn a living let alone being a filmmaker. I constantly have to derive energy from people that I work with. I tell myself that the story is important so I have to keep going. Every once in a while I think it's impossible but then I realize you have to believe in what you're doing. It's a major struggle. Our everyday life is like a war. As I show in the film, war never stopped.
The illusion of the Bosnian Dream plays a major role in Djeca how it has hope declined in your country?
When the Bosnian Dream first emerged people talked about our beautiful rivers and the fact that we had the ability to attract many tourists. After the war many believed that the system could be reconstructed from tourism dollars. Unfortunately this didn't happen mainly because of the corrupt politicians, illegal privatization, and the country's post-conflict transition period. We never transitioned to a better state and things have been getting worse. Bosnia is a country that has about 3.5 million people. At one time we had one of the most developed economies in ex-Yugoslavia. It took a massive effort to destroy a country with so many resources. The country had so much potential. That's what hurts the most. When you realize that it happened due to the interest of a few individuals, specifically men in power who took money for themselves, it hurt's even more.
We're forced to wonder what kind of world we're leaving to our kids. I think that the next generation will curse those in power for a long time.
What was your take on Angelina Jolie's Bosnian war drama In the Land of Blood and Honey?
Unfortunately I haven't had a chance to see the film yet. I was out of Bosnia and working on my own project when it was released. It's nice because most of my actresses, actors, and film team were a part of the project. My editor worked on the film as a consultant for the film. It was nice for our actors and people from the region to see something different and experience a world outside of their own. They may even be able to develop careers outside of Bosnia.
What's the role of religion in Bosnia today and how is it affected by feelings of hopelessness?
Before the war, we lived in a communistic and socialistic system. Religion was expelled. In some cases religion was exploited with nationalistic ideas. I'm absolutely against that. I know what faith has nothing to do with nationalism. Personally, I can be very religious and practice my faith and not criticize my nation for following a different folklore. Religion isn't the same thing as national ideas but it's all mixed up and abused. It's happening all over the world. During elections religion is used to generate votes which is very banal but unfortunately it works.
During the war many young people, like I, discovered religion. I wasn't raised in a religious family and grew up in a secular environment. The situation in my country forced me to try and understand the meaning of life. I was in a situation in which I could be killed any second and knew that couldn't be all I had. I couldn't accept the fact that life was senseless. I started my own spiritual journey. I initially looked into Buddhism, which is attractive to most young people. After learning about that religion, Christianity, and, Judaism I found answers in Islam. It fulfilled all of my expectations.
After that I started to wear a headscarf, which was a very natural thing for me to do. Of course no one supported that decision including my family and husband. Many argue that wearing a headscarf means you're not free. For me it was an expression of my freedom. I am constantly fighting because people attack me for it. It's such a paradox because they want to liberate me from my choice. They are arguing from my freedom but my freedom is my headscarf.