Set against the backdrop of the Bosnian War in the 1990’s, In the Land of Blood and Honey tells the story of Danijel (Goran Kostic) and Ajla (Zana Marjanovic), who are on very different sides of the brutal ethnic conflict. As that conflict takes hold of their lives and their relationship changes, their connection to one another becomes strained and their allegiances grow uncertain. Portraying the incredible emotional and physical toll that the war takes on individuals, the unrelenting brutality is intended to make audiences question why it took so long for anyone to intervene in a society plagued by such horrific acts.
At the film’s press day, Angelina Jolie talked about making her writing and directorial debut with this war drama, what led her to tell this particular story, cutting the film down from the initial four-and-a-half-hour version that was way more brutal, deciding to shoot the film in two different languages (Bosnian and English), that writing is a cathartic process for her, and that this experience taught her how much she loves being on the other side of the camera. She also talked about a script she’s written about Afghanistan, but said that she doesn’t know if it’s any good, or if she’ll ever show it to anybody. Check out what she had to say after the jump:
ANGELINA JOLIE: We wanted to make a film that’s universal and that could be anywhere, but I landed on Bosnia because I remembered it. It was my generation. I was 17. I remember where I was in the ‘90s, and I felt a guilt and responsibility for not knowing enough and not doing enough. I thought, “This is something I should know more about. This happened in Europe, at this time. Why do I not know more about this?” And, the more I researched, the more compelled I was to make it, and the more I felt we really haven’t discussed it enough. We really don’t quite understand it. It’s only 15 years later and they are still healing from this process. These countries are still forming, and things are still changing in the region. With post-conflict situations, when the conflict is over, a few NGO’s stay, but the attention goes everywhere else so quickly that proper healing is not done. You need proper care to really help people through and out the other end of a situation like this. There was so much trauma with this, and people were so divided, it’s still very, very hard for people in the region, today.
Since you never had any intentions on making a film, were you surprised to actually produce and direct one of your scripts?
JOLIE: Oh, it’s completely bizarre. It’s all very bizarre. I still find it very strange. I don’t know how I got here. I didn’t attend to do this, really.
Why did you decide to make this film so hard to watch for audiences?
JOLIE: In order to get this message out, of wanting people to pay attention and wanting for timely intervention, and not just boots on the ground, but some kind of intervention and dialogue, and if we could make people feel that, in a visceral way while they’re watching it, and if they’re angry help is not coming, then that would be the conclusion that they would walk away with. We tried to make a traditional film with characters and good acting, but somehow you just can’t soften this kind of war. The reality is that the four-and-a-half-hour cut was a lot worse. Some of the hardest things were actually cut out because some people just really could not handle it. I personally feel like, if you’re watching a film about war, you should get a sense of what it’s really like, so we tried to make it authentic.
What was the process of writing your first screenplay and making your directorial debut? Where did you draw some of your inspiration from? Was it from other filmmakers you’ve worked with, in the past?
JOLIE: I did. You know, this was an unusual one because I didn’t set out to become a director. It wasn’t “I want to direct something, so I’m going to write something.” I wrote it because I wanted to think about these issues. I’d written journals and op-eds, and this was just an experiment for me. I wanted to give myself this homework to have the excuse to do it. And then, the cast came together and things started to happen, and somehow it became real. I couldn’t let it go, and I ended up directing. But, because I’m not from the region, in many ways, they directed me. I can’t direct Vanesa [Glodjo] and tell her how to run across sniper alley. She was there, so she can tell me. So often, I was the one asking them, “Does this look right? Did we get this right? Does that sound right? Tell me about when your neighbor’s baby died. How did she react? What happened? Can you give me more detail on that?”
So, it was a very different situation, for all of us. Of course, I pulled on things I learned. I’ve had such amazing directors, in the past. Clint [Eastwood] has taught me about having a crew of good people that you respect, and everybody treats each other well and there’s no drama. He’s a great leader, in that way, so I tried to create a family. Everybody was just good people. When we were putting the team together, we wouldn’t say, “Who’s the most talented?” We’d say, He’s talented, but is he a nice person?” This is a really hard subject matter, and we didn’t want people on set who aren’t nice people. We wanted a family. And, from Michael Winterbottom, I learned a lot about knowing which scenes to really help the actors, so they could live it completely, and not chop it up and not get in their way.
Can you talk about the decision to shoot the film in two different languages and the challenges of that, as a director?
JOLIE: Well, I wrote it in English because I had to. And then, when we had it translated, we had it translated by different people from different sides, to make sure the translation was fair and balanced, which you have to do with almost everything in this region. We talked together with the cast because they all speak English very well, and those who didn’t, learned their scenes phonetically. We felt that the reason for making this film wasn’t just for the people of the area, and we wanted it to be authentic. And yet, we know that there are a lot of people out there that we want to learn about this part of history and speak about these themes, but those people often don’t go to foreign films. So, we said, “Could we do this?” For us, it was not about making a movie. It was about getting a message out and wanting to get it to as broad an audience as possible. In certain states, a theater will say, “Foreign films don’t work. I’m not buying a foreign film.” But we can say, “Okay, we have another version. Can you take that?” I think France immediately wanted the authentic language. There was a question with America. It was up in the air. I think the UK has bought the English version. Maybe they’ll change their minds when they think about it for awhile. I don’t know. People seem to be shifting. They’re not sure.
JOLIE: Yeah. I would love that for the actors. I wish I could shout from the rooftops, how talented these people are and how gifted they are, because I really would love them to cross over into this town and get jobs and work. I don’t know if people understand the extent of how hard their jobs were, but when you see the scenes back-to-back, you understand what they accomplished. I just have so much respect for them. I would like people to see it, if just for that.
Your use of the handheld camera really makes the film personal. What made you decide to do that?
JOLIE: Well, part of it was that we had no time. It takes a long time to set up a dolly track. For example, the end scene between Ajla and Danijel was very much aggressively over one shoulder on the other. My D.P. told me something when we first started. He said, “You never split your lovers. You never separate them. You always try to keep your lovers connected in a shot.” So, we had that in mind. We also wanted to make it feel like a big film, even though we didn’t have a lot of money, and we knew that we wanted it to feel real, and reality is not so staged. Many things had to be broken up in this way. You had to be inside with everyone. You had to inside with the women who are the human shields, so that the audience would feel that.
In regard to your process as a director, the actors said that you are very well-prepared, very fast, and that know what you want. Can you talk about working with the actors?
JOLIE: It was very fast. We had 41 days and $12 million, and we had three and a half years of war and many different seasons to re-create. I found out how much snow cost. I’d say, “I want to snow this whole area of Yugoslavia,” and they would say, “Okay well that is $100,000 worth of snow.” I would say, “Okay, so what’s $20,000 worth of snow?” Plus, we shot in two languages, so everything is doubled. Suddenly, the already tight schedule was tighter. We had to select scenes that had to go. We had to cut the script as we went, and we had to condense things. But, I do like working like that. I like being busy. I have a lot of respect for crew and actors, so I’m happy that they felt I was professional and prepared because I try to be.
JOLIE: Yeah, I suppose they do. You can set a tone. I guess you’d have to ask the crew, but I wasn’t the center of attention. Zana [Marjanovic] was the center of attention. I was the buddy in the corner with all the paperwork and the pencil in her ear, and it was lovely.
In the film, you do a great job of showing different takes on the situation, between the Bosnians and the Serbs, and it brings to light a little bit about how little the rest of the world did, in regard to this situation. Can you talk about bringing light to that and how audiences should feel about that?
JOLIE: I didn’t intentionally make people feel guilty, but I have had that response from a lot of people – that they feel guilty that they didn’t do enough. I feel guilty. I didn’t know enough. So, I think we all should feel that way about this particular war, and we should wonder what it is that we’re going to look back on, in 15 years, and feel that we also didn’t do, that’s happening today. It’s extraordinary. It’s so strange. What were we doing?
Has Bill Clinton seen this?
JOLIE: He has a screener. I don’t know if he’s watched it yet.
JOLIE: Well, Rwanda and that. There were a few. I like President Clinton. I talked to him about it. I called him to say that we did this film on it, and he just said he was looking forward to seeing it and he was very happy that somebody did something on this subject matter, and felt that it was very important that people didn’t forget that time in history and those people. He told me a little bit about the complexities of the years when he said he was going to do something and when he finally did, and what happens to a president, during that time, and what needs to be done. It’s interesting. I’m curious for when he sees it, and if he’s willing to talk about it, which I’m sure he will be, when we talk about Bosnia. I’d be happy for him to join this discussion and help us to understand what took so long.
When you were on set, did you ever find the need to call a time out, much like you would with your children, at home?
JOLIE: There were certainly moments that people had to step outside for a little bit and cry because something became too real and we just needed to take a pause, or we needed to sit together and talk about, “What does this mean? What is this saying? Are we doing the right thing?” We were always asking ourselves that. You’re trying to find this balance, which is an impossible balance to find, really, in this region. You’re doing your best to present something that’s not a documentary or a political statement, but it has all these politics and it has all this sensitivity, so you’re walking a very fine line. So, we were always talking about this line and whether we crossed it. But, the opposite actually happened with us. Because it was so violent and because there were so many aggressive scenes against each other, in between takes, everybody was so kind to each other. Everybody looked after each other. Everybody was running to get each other something to eat or a jacket. They really looked after each other because they didn’t want to hurt each other. They were forced to recreate this, and then they felt bad.
JOLIE: Well, there’s constantly people asking you for something, so the multi-tasking of motherhood transfers very well to being a director. And, I think you’re compassionate. I get nervous. I see people get dressed up for a premiere and I think, “Oh, did she get the right earrings?” Or I think, “Did he get anything to eat, before he went to the interview?” With all these other adults, you still feel this strange, nurturing, mothering quality for everybody.
Goran Kostic said that he felt it was important that a female writer/director was telling this story and giving that perspective. Did he express that to you, at all? How do you feel about the importance of having that point of view for this?
JOLIE: In many ways, it’s the point of view of a woman and it deals with the sexual violence against women. Not that a man couldn’t make that, but the internal struggles that a woman goes through and a woman’s point of view maybe makes it a little different. But, so much of my focus was also trying to understand the men. I was trying to put myself in the men’s shoes, which was the biggest challenge for me. I had to write for Nebojsa (Rade Serbedzija). I had to write for Danijel (Goran Kostic). I had to be this other thing, and then direct them. So, in my mind, it was both. But, at the heart of it is my heart, and my heart is very similar to Lejla (Vanesa Glodjo). The loss of a child is my greatest nightmare. The question of whether or not I could turn against somebody I love and what that would take would be the relationship that I would relate to. But, especially the focus on the violence against women and the way the sexuality is handled, women together could discuss how far we could go and what we thought was appropriate, and we also knew what we didn’t feel safe with and how we would protect each other. So, we had this trust, as women together, to deal with the sexuality and violence together.
There are some horrible atrocities depicted in this film, with rape, ethnic cleansing and the death of an infant. Was it difficult to re-enact and create those scenes, and to be there and see those moments?
JOLIE: The difficulty was that I met [people who had been through those things]. For example, the human shield scene was based on a story that a woman told me, one day. We talked and she walked me through the entire thing that happened to her. So is the scene with the women having to strip and dance naked in front of the soldiers while they laughed at them, in front of everybody. So, learning about that and then re-creating it, knowing it was real, was very hard, but nothing was ever as hard for me as it was for the actors who were there. The dinner scene, where everybody was eating the food, all of those actors were effected by the war, but one was able to get out. Everybody else lived off those exact food rations for three and a half years. So, when the food rations came out, they were very emotional. They were so cute too because they looked at some things and said, “We didn’t have chocolate peanut butter. They have tabasco sauce.” It was so moving, but they also had to sit down and think about it. Some of them can’t eat peanut butter anymore because they ate it for three years, so the taste of it makes them remember. It’s crazy. But, everything was sensitive to them.
Since you do so much humanitarian work around the world and you see so much atrocity, is that what inspires you to write? Is the writing process a cathartic experience, based on your need to express what you’ve seen?
JOLIE: It is. I’ve also written a story about my mother, after she passed. They are things that I will never show anybody, but it is nice to spend time with people and characters, in this private world. Then, with the ones that have to do with history, it’s a great excuse to have to learn more. You start to focus your news and what you’re reading about. You’re pushed to get a better education, in different things.
What’s the greatest thing you’ve learned about yourself, during this directing process?
JOLIE: That I loved being on the other side of the camera. I loved watching another actress in the spotlight, do an extraordinary job, and I loved making her beautiful and interesting, protecting her emotions, and showing people her talent. I loved being on the other side of the camera and interacting with the crew. When you are an actor, you have to stay inside this world, but when you are with the crew, on the outside, you are in the dirt, working through all the issues. It’s just a different way of working, and I think I preferred it.
What is the script about Afghanistan that you told producer Graham King you want to do?
JOLIE: Between Graham and me, it was an idea. I said that I had this thing, but nobody has seen it. It’s just something that I have on my desk, but now it’s something that I’m talking about. No one has actually seen it, and I have no idea if it is any good. I traveled to Pakistan for two weeks, before September 11th, and I visited Afghan people, when they first landed in Kabul. Over the last 10 years, I’ve tracked some families and been with them. On the other side of it, I’ve visited a lot of wounded soldiers in Ramstein and Walter Reed, and met with a lot of female soldiers. What bothers me is when they say that women are not in combat, and yet they are dying in combat. It is this lack of respect for female soldiers and what they go through, and the new relationship between men and women, when the women go to war, and what it is for a woman to leave her children when she goes to war. It was a study in that. That is where it came from. I don’t know if I’ll ever show it to anybody, but that was what it was.
IN THE LAND OF BLOOD AND HONEY opens in theaters on December 23rd.