Jeri Jacquin, Movie Maven with Angelina Jolie, writer and director of the film
Angelina Jolie is causing quite a stir with her directorial debut of IN THE LAND OF BLOOD AND HONEY. The film tells the story of the Bosnian war and Daniel, a soldier fighting with the Serbs. It also tells the story of Ajila, his lovers who comes from a different side of the war. Coming to DVD is this story that has affected the lives of so many people in a land so far away.
Daniel is a Serb police officer and Ajla is a Bosnian Muslim artist and as the war breaks out, so does their relationships. A few months later while serving under his father, Daniel comes into contact with Ajla’s sister Lejla (Vanessa Glodjo).
As the conflict changes so does what they once believed and the actions they take are ones that will stay with their souls forever.
Recently, writer/director Angelina Jolie and star Vanessa Glodjo who plays Lejla sat down for a talk about the movie, the inspiration and the camaraderie in the cast and crew over a very touchy subject.
Hi Angelina and Vanessa, how are you?
Angelina: We are very nervous and we’ve been sitting here very uncomfortable for a few minutes but we are excited to talk to you.
So tell us, why is it so important to tell the story of the Bosnian conflict?
Jolie: How could it not be? It is a war that has happened in our generation to our generation. Vanessa was trapped inside for almost four years. People lived besieged, raped and in concentrations camps. It was a time in history that was relatively ignored by the press. I wanted to revisit it so it doesn’t happen again.
Vanessa: For all of us that were inside we thought it was important to tell the story because when you live something like that, that’s horrible that you don’t speak about it. But when requests outside come in and you’re open to tell your story it’s no longer outside of you, its inside you and you can see it again. Once the film was shown people were really confronted and were so grateful that we did it because we needed to confront the horror and trauma. It helps.
How long was the writing process and what was it like?
Jolie: The process, I never planned to direct anything and I sat alone one day after traveling around for ten years seeing crimes against women and lack of intervention I thought I’d write. I didn’t even have a final draft; it took me a very long time. I left it on my desk and for me it was an excuse to force myself to learn about a war I didn’t know a lot about. I went to Bosnia and met people who told me a lot. I decided that if we were going to make a film we were going to have to have it from all different points of view. If we could get a cast like that to agree it would be a film worth making and they would help me finish the script. It took me a few months to write the draft but through the years each cast member would tell me their stories. I felt like we were always writing it and making adjustments. I think that’s what helped us get as close as we could to the balance. We tried not to make it good guys and bad guys because it’s so complex. That’s why we had to keep talking.
What was the most challenging part of playing your role Vanessa?
Vanessa: Everything was challenging. Once I got the script I really saw the whole roles are challenging for actors and I wanted to play that role. I really liked it. I found that all of them are so, so challenging and we had a lot of work to do. Especially my role and I was questioning myself ‘would I accept this role? And am I talented enough to do it?” because I didn’t have anyone else to talk about the role.
Did you cooperate a lot with your cast and crew with collaboration?
Jolie: This film had to be collaboration. It was part of the reason for doing the film because bringing everyone together and from all sides with different histories and backgrounds – the crew everyone took pay cuts because they wanted to learn about the war. Everyday they learned something knew and they knew it was going to be difficult for the cast. It was so important that we had this relationship. There was no separation, we were one big family. We cried a lot and learned a lot together.
How old were you when the war started and what was your life like Vanessa?
Vanes: I was 17 turning 18 and it was a good and normal life. I was like a middle class child and I wanted to go to the Academy of Performing Arts. I had to wait six months during the war and in spite of all this conflict that we had to live I went. I passed the audition and went.
Jolie: She’s very shy talking about herself. Vanessa is very shy and humble. She survived an attack. I went to school but didn’t have to survive an attack. In this particular part of the world they are so creative, artistic and full of life with culture and music. It speaks so much of them that in the middle of the siege she would go to acting classes. They started a film festival and refused to let this stop the arts. I have always been inspired by artists and this helped me to see the level of generosity and performing from such a place.
Vanessa: We do have a different attitude toward art, especially during the war. There is no way you can be rewarded by the material itself. You don’t get money and you don’t get paid during this period of the war.
What was your inspiration for making this film?
Jolie: As I said I was very frustrated by lack of intervention. We saw boards and boards saying “never again” and then you see Rwanda, Cambodia and a continuation of what we learn from our past. As a human being and feeling responsible, as I knew more about Bosnia I started to get very emotionally connected. In the film we have scenes where they have people who use human shields, both of those are personal first hand accounts. That was my experience.
What did you discover?
Jolie: Like most Americans, I was 17 and not very focused, as I got a little older and then I was aware of Sarajevo and it felt and seemed always so very, very far away. Through my work I learned a little bit here and there but I didn’t know, I really didn’t know there was so much more about that time. I still cannot understand how it was able to go on for so long and the horrific atrocities and for the world to be so completely unaware. I now get to feel like I know it more from the cast and crew. It’s a different life than in the books. When you meet a person from Sarajevo you get to know and fall in love with it.
What part of the process did you enjoy the most?
Jolie: I think making friends. I felt very, very honored that I was welcomed into this family. I felt we all took the challenge. During this film there were a lot of reports about what the film was about and it wasn’t easy. There are people with extreme views and don’t want to talk about it. I felt this pressure for doing the project and the hardest thing turned into the greatest thing in that we stayed together to finish. It bonded us as friends and people to say that this was going to get done. What ever comes…
Vanessa: The hard part was the shooting for you? Or the writing or editing?
Jolie: Honestly I think the hardest thing for me was showing the cast, I was a nervous wreck. When we showed it to people, before that I had a complete emotional breakdown in the shower and Brad found me and I felt the responsibility and felt very small and who was I to take this on and to think I could make a difference and there were so many mistakes I could make and what have I done! I pulled it together before I saw the cast but I was actually terrified.
How did the conflict change you Vanessa?
Vanessa: It changed tremendously my country. With the war it forced us to be primitive. We refuse it, it is not progressive and the healing process really, the one big step was made with this film, for sure. What we needed, and why this film is so important for us, is that you see not only from the inside but from the outside what happened to us. The victims of the war were not only the soldiers but also women and seeing that helped with our pain. I think many Sarajevo people really cried, finally cried about what happened to us.
How did you come up with the title of the film?
Jolie: We are not sure of the origins of it. The cast would say ‘it is the land of blood and honey’ and it’s explained in different ways. Everything’s political but the idea being that it has been referred to as that. It’s also how I see the area. It’s so steep in history, WWII and so much has happened with so much blood and yes, the honey represents this love, sweetness and even sexuality and beauty to the Balkan area. It’s that beautiful, that lovely and that dark and hard and frightening and bloody.
What is your favorite scene in the movie?
Jolie: Is when the sisters are reunited? Vanessa is that yours?
Vanessa: Yes, it’s really, really touching.
Jolie: It’s one of the few happier scenes.
Do you every quite feel that your role as director was an uncomfortable one?
Jolie: I didn’t plan to become a director. I wanted to tell the story and ended up by default being the director. It was actually lovely to shine the spotlight on other actors and actresses. I never stressed but they were so giving and I had the great pleasure of doing and be there to witness it and harness it and put it together. It was a pleasure but I wonder if it would be a pleasure with any other cast and crew.
Do you believe this film has already affected change Vanessa?
Vanessa: Yes, I not only believe that I’ve seen it. It’s changed some things. I don’t think all the wars will stop today but I think at least for the Bosnian people it will make anyone think twice about violence. This is a really serious film both for people who are victims of it but also like with Daniel in the film and what happens to him and what he had to go through.
What is one thing you hope the audience takes from this?
Jolie: I hope that they go online and they learn for themselves about what happened in Bosnia. I hope they have more compassion about wars around the world. I hope they go and visit Bosnia. A big part of the healing is what we give back to life and I hope more people will learn from this part of the world.
How does it feel to be nominated for a Golden Globe?
Jolie: It feels crazy. When you go from crying in the shower and thinking I’ve done all the wrong things and the reaction in Bosnia then on top of it learning of the Golden Globes. It feels like the whole country is coming which is so beautiful and a lot of fun.
What are you working on now?
Jolie: I’m in flux right now. I can go home and try to make a balance in your life. You witness things in the world and you want to be able to do work that will help and makes things grow. I have a career that aren’t humanitarian but are fun. My work has been a lot about entertainment and I’m trying to find that balance. In order to get this kind of film made you have to appreciate other films. To change right now emotionally I’m trying to figure out how to balance between doing the films I want and entertainment films. There is this heavier side of me that wants to feel fulfilled. I don’t know how that’s going to work out but it’s changing.
What was it like having Angelina as a director Vanessa?
Vanessa: If you are an actor you would be jealous of my experience because it really was a fantastic experience for me as an actor. It was the most beautiful experience because to be directed by such an actress as she, its amazing how far she could make it go without pushing me or being strict with me.
Love and war are two opposites, how do you define this in the film?
Jolie: They are opposites, the film begins with love. The film begins with a country with people who love each other. Most of the cast was born in Yugoslavia. Now everyone is defined differently. There are mixed marriages. There are these lovers who become each other’s enemy. I suppose it’s the effect that war and violence have on love. Somehow friends like us, years on, actually do kill each other. There is so much of the war brought out, it’s an ugly thing filled with fear and it broke the love.
Vanessa: What you show is Daniel who is actually forced to do this in a way. He almost doesn’t have a choice except to get shot himself. It’s a huge question. In war people do things they would never, never otherwise do.
What is the thing you most want to pass on to your children?
Jolie: I want my children to be aware of the world around them and respect for all people around the world. By the makeup of my family they learn a lot about each other and they are raised to see each other as brother/sister so they don’t see the divide. I want them to travel the world and make friends around the world from all different backgrounds and lifestyles and to have compassion and respect for all human beings.
What is it like to be both writer and director?
Jolie: Because I wrote the film and then it’s not in my language so it was weirder…I tried to be clear with everyone early on that if they hated something or it was a bad line don’t be offended. But when it was translated it was my intention, it was the scene I intended to write but I didn’t recognize the words.
Could you describe the process of choosing the soundtrack?
Jolie: Score I knew him from “The English Patient” and I knew he understood the conflict and I wanted him to understand that there was beauty. He had instruments and musicians from all part of the world and made it their sound. What was important for me was a definition that this wasn’t your grandfather’s war – it’s our war. It’s our costumes, music, neon and hairspray. We wanted that to be done. When Zana (Marjanovic) brought in the first song.
Vanessa: It was a song that was made for peace. This song actually speaks about how it’s the land for us and all of our people and all our children. It really speaks about that.
Jolie: It’s Serbian and comes from Belgrade.
How did you both get through the emotions of making the film?
Jolie: I think it was so different for both of us. For me I was bearing witness, hardest for me was asking them to recreate things. To ask you to run from sniper alley, and the death of a child and to ask them made me feel like I was making everybody cry and go to these horrible places. But all of you gave me strength.
Vanessa: Yes, for me it was emotionally very engaging but that’s what a good actor wants. He wants to open himself and give the most possible and even more if possible. For us it was very supporting that Angelina empathized with us. She listens, really listens and really wanted to hear our stories. That really gives you a great power to say things.
How did you choose to expose the impact of war through a love story?
Jolie: I didn’t intend it to be; when you see the film you see the love story in the center and its something people can identify with. It’s the central theme but the love story is also the sister, the mother and the father so hard on his son. The love for his country and his son are so direct but I do think that’s why it works. I didn’t want to do a big war film with explosions and such. I couldn’t understand how someone could one day be best friends with someone and the next day kill them. I don’t understand how that happens and how people were pushed to that level. How everybody is still coping with those fresh wounds and living together again.
When will the film be available in more theatres?
Jolie: I believe it’s opening wider on the 13th around the country. We go February to Europe and it opened in Bosnia first.
Who came up with the poster?
Jolie: Robert Russell. We didn’t quite know how – it seemed too much a love story and then to much a war story. So this idea, the map and the country are obvious and the rose grenade explodes like that. It’s something like that where it splatters and leaves a strange red color and looks like a rose.
How did everybody unwind on the set after an emotional shoot?
Jolie: I think everybody was stressed the entire time. Maybe that’s because it was so hard. There was a lot of love and laughter too because you couldn’t do anything else.
Vanessa: You really get so close to people in a bizarre way. This unites us and people become very warm to each other. We almost had fun because of that.
Jolie: Some of the scenes are so violent that when the scenes are over people wanted to make up to each other by saying ‘this wasn’t me’. It was hard to do and create so anytime you were off camera there were people apologizing. There was a gentleness and a moving forward with people who had this history.
What is the one thing you would both ask of humanity?
Jolie: We went to the Holocaust Museum and I came out so – you know when your young and you ask humanity to be kind to each other and say never again. Then you see too much and learn too much and you worry about the state of the economy and what people are focusing on. I suppose it’s the simple thing of understanding that it could be you next time. Don’t say someone else’s family is someone else’s family. Life is so short and there is violence and ugliness that is unforgiving and so hard to deal with. Small acts of kindness and thoughtfulness.
Vanessa: What I would ask is responsibility that people start to feel responsible. We have only one power as citizens and it’s a huge power. People vote for nationalists and most of us knew – that’s a huge responsibility.
Are there elections or free elections?
Vanessa: That’s also the responsibility of the people. That’s the word I use.
What are the advantages or disadvantages of directing?
Jolie: In this one I didn’t have any disadvantages. If I didn’t have such great actors I might have been frustrated. I didn’t feel like anyone looked at me as an actor.
Vanessa: She had more friend relationship. It was so fast and friendly between us that she directed us as friends and we saw it as that.
Has your family seen the film Vanessa?
Vanessa: My husband has seen the film and he thought – he had nightmares because he was also there during the war. He found it very powerful. He told me ‘I’m very proud of you’ so that’s good. He is a director too.
What’s the next project for you?
Jolie: I wish I knew. I’d love some advice. I don’t know what I should do. I know where my heart lies and I’m writing different scripts. I have some acting things to do. I would love to have some thoughts on that on what people would like me to do.
What was the hardest scene to shoot and why?
Vanessa: Most of them were hard to shoot and really demanding. Probably the hardest one, can I say? Is when my character discovers she has lost a child. I prepared for it for a very long time. From there it starts something new for my character and I thought about it a lot and it was hard. During the war I had a neighbor, she lost her own child and she was waiting 13 years again. Finally she got pregnant and two hours later they brought her son back dead from the front line. I saw how it was for her. She was completely stoned without any emotion because she couldn’t form the pain. A month later she started to cry and I could hear her. It inspired me and I’m glad I got the chance to say that.
What did you like first about the culture?
Jolie: We shot some of the film in Bosnia and its sensitive and didn’t want to bring that back. We shot in Hungary and it was an interesting experience. It’s a very beautiful country that most don’t go to. It brought us all together.
What were you feeling working in a country that has been through so much?
Jolie: I sent this out and I thought if it wasn’t received I would just throw it in the garbage. Because I can’t, because its not my country and my heart is in the right place but I’m not sure how this should be done. I did feel that responsibility but as everyone came on there were days where I was scared or nervous, everybody stepped forward with that balance. I never felt alone and even now that it’s opening
What does it feel like to be a role model?
Jolie: You can’t imagine that you’d ever be anybody’s role model. You just try to do the right things and try not to screw up to badly. I’m very grateful that I’ve had the opportunity. I hope I’m a good role model for my daughters and my children. Vanessa is a role model and a role model for people back home.
Who are your favorite actors and actresses Vanessa?
Vanessa: Besides Angelina Jolie, well, Clint Eastwood, I’m a big fan of his. Julie Andrews is someone I love a lot. I love Meryl Streep – I love actresses and actors and what kind of job it is. It’s very fun but also dealing a lot with your emotions and psychology. I just love actors, all of them.
What is next in your career?
Vanessa: Well, we shall see that. For now I’m working in Bosnia in the theatre and in French films so we’ll see. I hope – it started with Angelina.
What did you learn in terms of technique in directing?
Jolie: I had such a great team of people and everybody across the board. I found that my technique was to listen, listen a lot. I had books of images of the war because the people trapped inside the siege lost electricity. We adjusted and knew that’s how we would shoot it. We made sure it would not go grainy and black and wait but infuse color. My technique is to be grateful for every day that I was there. If anyone had a better idea for a better shot then we did it. I stayed very open.
Vanessa: People in Bosnia say you are a bigger patriot than we are.
Why did you decide to make the film in both English and Bosnian language?
Jolie: Part of this process that there is a big educational component to it. We wanted to educate as many people about that. We know people don’t see art form or subtitled movies. We had to do it creative and emotionally correct. What I found extraordinary that they would speak English and Serb and I realized what an extraordinary thing that they were all so capable. They asked if I could do every scene twice, once in English and once in Serbian. I’m looking forward to everyone seeing in English version. I think it would also be amazing to see it in the Bosnian language.
Are there things you can do to get involved after seeing the film?
Jolie: We have a website, I do know there is a lot of information and will guide you and direct you. There are SOS villages around the world and many Balkan organizations. I think its not hard to find and any help would be appreciated.
The film is one that will move the viewer and is powerful in its telling. IN THE LAND OF BLOOD AND HONEY is a must see and understandably a Golden Globe nominee this year. Jolie has proven that not only can she act, but writing and directing is also a talent she can add to her resume.
In the end – love can change what we want and war can change who we are.