More than twenty years after the end of the Bosnian War which left more than 100,000 people dead, the conflict is still a difficult subject matter to approach. At this year's festival, two films were chosen which each addressed the long-lasting effect of the cultural and individual trauma of the war, as well as the effect on the identity of those who survived it and their children who must live with the ramifications but without the context.
MY OWN PRIVATE WAR is a documentary by Serbian filmmaker Lidija Zelovic featured in the Veto! Political Films sections of the festival. Before the war, she was a journalist just beginning her career making light features for a local television channel in her hometown of Sarajevo. Her life, once happy and carefree, quickly crumbles with the onset of the war, and as a result she fled to Amsterdam and became a war correspondent. In MY OWN PRIVATE WARZelovic tells the story of her life and how it was dramatically altered by war and social conflict. Using her own archival footage, she paints a picture of an idealistic woman who struggles to come to terms with the country, the people she thought she knew and the atrocities they committed. It is a personal analysis with a focus on her family. She, the idealistic daughter searching for comprehension; her parents, a displaced generation raised under communist Yugoslavia who cling to their cultural identity; her young son, raised in Amsterdam and completely sheltered from the trauma of his family's past. The more Zelovic delves into the topic, she finds herself increasingly frustrated with her friends and family who seem resistant to reconciliation. As the film progresses, she struggles with her own identity; she is different from those who remained and yet still feels connected due to her past. As her mother poignantly states, “We have become strangers everywhere,” and throughout this cathartic film, it is clear that Zelovic is still, even twenty years later, trying to come to terms with her new life.
MY AUNT IN SARAJEVO takes a different approach at analyzing the aftereffects of the conflict through the fictional lens of a story about Zlatan, a man who left Bosnia twenty-three years before and never looked back. When his daughter Anja, who has never been to Bosnia, surprises him with a trip back to his home country he is less than thrilled. Anja does not understand her father's reticence about the trip, but events soon occur which bring to light his difficult past. There is such a disconnection between the quiet Zlatan, a man who clearly has had a difficult past, and his naive daughter who has never faced any tragedy in her life. She is more Swedish than Bosnian, but still she longs to know more about her own background and that of her father. However, it is clear that Zlatan has raised her to be ignorant of the horrors of his earlier life, wishing to give her a better life and not understanding her need to know of such terrible things. What results is a touching family drama which brings to light the multi-generational struggles of the families of refugees.
In a time when Europe is dealing with the growing pains of the migrant crisis, it is fascinating to be shown such sensitive insights into the lives of refugees who have been living and integrating in our societies for more than twenty years. Both filmshighlight the struggle of displacement and the longing for that which no longer exists. The children of these refugees face different struggles, such as trying to identify with a culture and a country which they only know second-hand. Both films affectingly address these issues, but leave us with the knowledge that there are no easy answers to these problems.