“Grbavica: The Land of My Dreams” director Jasmila Zbanic began making films in 1997 when she founded the artist’s association “Deblokada,” through which she produced, wrote and directed numerous documentaries, video works and shorts. In her first feature, Zbanic tells the story of a daughter and mother living in the Grbavica section of Sarajevo in the aftermath of the war, which ravaged the former Yugoslavia. The daughter wants to participate in a school trip, but her struggling mother tries to find a way to pay for it. The daughter is also trying to find a certificate proving her soldier father’s death in the war, which would allow her a discount, but the past becomes questionable…
Zbanic’s work has been screened in film festivals and exhibitions worldwide, including her short “Birthday,” the 2002 documentary “Red Rubber Boots,” which follows Bosnian mothers searching for their children, and doc “Images From the Corner,” a personal account of a young woman seriously wounded during the war who watched in pain as a foreign photographer snap pictures of her. “Grbavica” won prizes in Berlin and AFI Fest last year. Strand Releasing opened the film in limited release Friday.
Please introduce yourself…
I am a full-time filmmaker. I don’t shoot films every day but I write screenplays, run my production company DEBLOKADA (in translation “breaking the siege”), [and] I organize workshops and produce other people’s films. Age, 32 and [I live in] Sarajevo.
What were the circumstances that lead you to become a filmmaker?
Various subconscious influences. As a child, I used to “torture” other kids by making them be in my shows. I would sell tickets to neighbors and organize performances. Basically, that is what I still do today. Only now, actors are not happy with being paid with ice-creams.
What other creative outlets do you explore?
I have always written–since I was a kid. I might say that I am essentially a writer who is bored to be alone in the room writing. I need to have more people around me. So, I “write” with a film-camera and have a party at the same time by having a bunch of people around.
Did you go to film school?
I did go to a film school in Sarajevo. I studied film and theatre directing. There was a war raging in the country while I was studying, and we did not have neither electricity nor cinemas for three and a half years. The studying itself was quite absurd… We actually studied by imagining films.
How did the concept for your film evolve?
In 1992, I found out about mass rapes in Bosnia, [where] twenty thousand women were systematically raped during the war. I lived a hundred meters from the front line and was most afraid of the proximity of fighting. Since then, rape and its consequences have become an obsession for me–I read and followed everything that was related to this topic. At the time, I did not have a clear idea of why I did the research or what I wanted to do with it. When I gave birth to my child, that was a fruit of love, motherhood, which triggered a whole set of emotions in me [and] shocked me completely. I asked myself what emotional significance does being a mother have for a woman who has a child conceived in hate? That was the moment I knew what I wanted from “Grbavica” and I wrote it–between breast feeds.
What were some of the biggest challenges you faced in developing the project?
First of all, it was almost too emotional for me to deal with the subject. The research and writing were at times emotionally devastating and very often I wanted to give up. But something–again, subconscious–made me want to do it despite all the obstacles.
How did you finance the film?
That was a lengthy process. We had four European countries on board. In Europe, usually money comes from state or regional funds and TV. And all the money you get from one country you have to spend in that same country. So, we shot in Bosnia, developed film stock in Croatia, did editing in Austria and sound in Germany.
What are your biggest creative influences?
I love Ingmar Bergman, David Lean (British director who made “Lawrence of Arabia“), Jane Campion, Lina Wertmuller, Cassavetes, Billy Wilder, Woody Allen…
What is your definition of “independent film”?
I use that phrase when I believe that an author is in the position to make decision about all aspects related to his/her film. Of course, myself being an independent author, my aim is to reach as big of an audience as possible. Therefore, I want to make something that is both communicative and meaningful.
What are some of your all-time favorite films, and what are some of your recent favorite films?
I am not so keen on making a list but here are some: “Cries and Whispers” by Bergman, David Lean’s “Lawrence of Arabia,” “Brief Encounter,” “The Bridge on the River Kwai,” “Sunset Boulevard” by Billy Wilder, “Love and Death” by Woody Allen. Regarding recent films: Not so many good films have been distributed in Bosnia recently. “Paradise Now,” “Amores perros,” and “Brokeback Mountain” are some of the films that I’ve enjoyed.
What are your interests outside of film?
Beside being a mother,which is my greatest most enjoyable and most difficult job, I love being with lots of people while eating, drinking, singing…
How do you define success as a filmmaker? What are your personal goals as a filmmaker?
I am successful if I manage to make a film that I want and if it works emotionally for the audience, and if it stays with them after the screening and means something for them. Awards or money have symbolic power. I do not mean to say they are not helpful, but I have no idea whether my favorite films had ever earned lots of money or if they had received any awards.