SARAJEVO (Reuters) - Angelina Jolie, whose directorial debut on the Bosnian war screened in Sarajevo on Tuesday night, said she would not attend a premiere in Belgrade but denied she was biased against Serbs.
While thousands in Sarajevo, a mostly Bosnian Muslim city, were braving deep snow and freezing temperatures to attend the gala screening of “In the Land of Blood and Honey,” distributors in the Serb region of Bosnia have decided not to show it.
“I am absolutely not anti-Serbian,” Jolie said, answering a question during a news conference in Sarajevo, where she arrived with partner Brad Pitt to present the movie in the city where many of the most brutal events of the 1992-95 conflict occurred.
“I think it’s sad that that question has to be asked today and I think that shows how divided this region still remains.”
The film tells the story of the war through an ambiguous relationship between Danijel, a Bosnian Serb, and Ajla, a Bosnian Muslim woman, whose affection becomes hostage to their respective ethnic groups.
They attempt to maintain their relationship against a backdrop of war, killings and rapes, and pressure from their families, which proves impossible.
“I know this will bring back many painful memories because I know it’s a difficult film to watch,” Jolie, dressed in an elegant black dress, told the audience of 5,000 in a Sarajevo sports centre before the film screening.
“But I hope when you do, it doesn’t just remind you of what you’ve suffered but it also reminds you of all that you’ve survived,” she said with tears in her eyes.
Some of the wartime rape victims, whose protests against the details of the plot halted the shooting of the film in Bosnia, praised the film as difficult, true and brave after it was shown during a one-week screening in Sarajevo in December.
However, some Bosnian Serbs say that Jolie has failed to show balance in presenting all sides of the Bosnian atrocities.
Vlado Ljevar, the private film distributer and owner of the main cinema in Banja Luka, the largest city in the Serb region of Bosnia, said he would not show film.
“I am 100 percent sure that nobody would want to see it in Republika Srpska. Another reason is political, because the audience here considers the content of the film as offensive for the Serb people,” Ljevar told Reuters.
Jolie said she would cancel her planned visit to Belgrade to attend a premiere screening there.
“It’s not just a simple threat, it’s not my safety I‘m concerned about,” she said. “There is so much hostility in the press, there is so much hostility and aggression where I don’t know if they are able to see the film clearly at this time.”
And she dismissed the criticism of any perceived bias.
“The war was not balanced so ... when we say balance we mean that it is not black and white, it’s not pure good and pure evil, that there are layers to each character that shows their humanity, and their own pain and their own history and they are complex,” Jolie said.
“The response from the region all the more shows the importance of bringing films like this to the forefront, and because the debate is all right as long as people are talking and discussing the past and using this as a tool in some way how ever they do to move forward.”
While the audience in Bosnia’s Serb region will not see the film in movie theatres, an activist has organized a private screening in her home, with Jolie’s blessing.
“I don’t want that someone speaks in my name and claims that it is the stance of the whole nation,” Ana Vidovic, a Bosnian Serb woman from the northwestern town of Prijedor, told Reuters.
Additional reporting by Gordana Katana in Banja Luka; Editing by Alison Williams