Jolie and several Serb members of the cast have received online threats after the film premiered before 5,000 people in Sarajevo—
Angelina Jolie directorial debut, In the Land of Blood and Honey, was intended to remind the world of the horrors of the Bosnian war which began 20 years ago, and trigger a debate among Bosnians over what happened and why. But it has succeeded most in exposing the depth of the rifts in a country that many fear is moving away from reconciliation and drifting once more towards dangerous instability.
Angelina Jolie and members of the cast of her new film, In the Land of Blood and Honey, have reported receiving threats. Photograph: Vedad Dado Vranj/Rex Features
Since the film opened, with a peace award at the Berlin film festival on Monday and a premiere before 5,000 people in Sarajevo on Tuesday night, Jolie and several Serbian members of the cast have received threats.
“There were things sent to me, there were things posted online,” Jolie told the Guardian in an interview in Sarajevo. “The cast … have never complained to me about these threats but I’ve heard through other people it was happening … one of them did have their windows smashed in on their cars and someone else had an issue when their phone was hacked and emails were sent out saying they were from them and saying they had been hurt.”
“It was a scary thought that someone was thinking along those lines,” Jolie said, adding that she had given the multiethnic cast the option to leave the region, where In the Land of Blood and Honey is being shown for the first time this week, but that none of them took up the offer.
Jolie has abandoned a plan to attend a premiere of the film in the Serbian capital, Belgrade, but denied it was a direct result of the threats.
“The physical threats are not what most bothered me because I have been to so many different countries where there are different kinds of threats, being in Afghanistan and other places as an outspoken American woman,” she said.
“It was more that … with a film like this, you don’t want it to be used as a tool … especially in an election year, where people are deciding to label it without having seen it, and try to incite aggression and violence.”
The film depicts the pre-war romance between a Muslim artist, Ajla, and a Serbian police officer, Danijel, which becomes progressively more twisted and degraded by the conflict.
The lead male role is played by Goran Kostic, who, like Danijel, is a Bosnian Serb from Sarajevo and the son of a senior Serbian officer.
“Some people would give me grief if they knew how to get to me,” said Kostic, who spent the war in London and now lives in France. He said his father and other relatives had fought in the war but had not committed crimes.
“They see it as they were fighting a just war,” the actor said. “My father is a professional soldier and is unhappy about what was done in the war. He believed he was doing something for the Serb nation but it was hijacked.”
Kostic said his family supported him in the face of allegations of treachery from other Serbs, but conceded that his father had yet to see the film himself. Asked how the retired colonel was likely to respond, Kostic replied: “I don’t know. We will have to talk.”
In the Land of Blood and Honey is a stark, brutal and often shocking portrayal of the war. It shows summary executions and the systematic rape of Muslim and Croat women by Serbian officers at one of the many camps set up around the country. After being separated by the outbreak of war, Ajla is brought to a camp where Danijel is the commanding officer.
As many as 50,000 Bosnian women, mainly Muslim, are thought to have been raped in the course of the war. The Hague tribunal on Balkan war crimes declared it a “crime against humanity”.
An estimated 100,000 people were killed in the war, including 8,000 Muslim men and boys murdered at Srebrenica in 1995, which the Hague tribunal has declared an act of genocide.
The current Bosnian Serb leadership rejects the findings of the tribunal and other international investigations, and Jolie’s film is not being shown in the Republika Srpska, the Serbian entity which makes up more than half of Bosnia.
Vladimir Ljevar, who runs a multiplex cinema in the main Serbian city of Banja Luka and controls much of the cinema distribution in the Republika Srpska, told the Guardian: “I have seen the film at a screening for distributors in Belgrade. The impression I had of the movie is definitely lousy.”
Ljevar added: “I wish I had a multiplex cinema in Sarajevo so I can also make a profit on it. Here I cannot. There are simply some films that are acceptable for Sarajevo, but not for Banja Luka.”
In the small snowbound town of Pale, the Serbs’ wartime capital about 12 miles from Sarajevo, a group of law students all said they had no intention of going to see the film.
Zeljko Stankovic, who was just two when the war started, said: “It would be an uncomfortable feeling. How would an American feel about watching a film with Americans portrayed doing things like that?”
Back in Sarajevo, where the film was greeted by a standing ovation in a former Winter Olympic stadium, Jolie argued against the suggestion that the film had failed because of its rejection by most Serbs, pointing out that some people in Republika Srpska were trying to get hold of the video independently.
“If anything, it has proven what is happening in the country. It has reminded people of the complications of the region, of the way people view each other. And also many people have risen up like these people who are doing private screenings in their homes,” she said.
“Many people have written to me. People are speaking up and not allowing someone to tell them how they should feel about the film, about each other, about history, and I think this is the extraordinary thing.”