January 10, 2021
A hit at the festivals, Quo Vadis, Aida? explores the 1995 Srebrenica massacre, informed by its creator’s experiences of war. She explains why nerves in her divided country are still raw
Bosnian director Jasmila Žbanić: A film is more than a film. It is life’
The film director Jasmila Žbanić does not regard herself as a catastrophist. “I’m an optimistic person,” she says, smiling hard. But, like any Bosnian her age, there’s no avoiding the fact that she was formed by the war that broke out in her country in 1992: “I was 17 when it started, and we didn’t understand at first that this was war. We were convinced that Yugoslavia, and especially Bosnia, would never go to war, because it was so mixed. I have Serbian family, I have Croatian family. We were naive. We couldn’t imagine it. We said this will pass. A month or two. There are some stupid people with guns, but they’ll be gone soon. When that didn’t happen, it was a shock, and what it taught us is that everything can turn upside down from one day to another. Life is fragile. The whole system is fragile. This is a feeling that I carry through life. I don’t take anything for granted, especially not institutions.”
Žbanić’s gut-wrenching new film, Quo Vadis, Aida?, deals with one of the war’s most heinous atrocities: the Srebrenica massacre of 1995, during which Bosnian Serb forces under the command of Ratko Mladić executed more than 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys – a genocide the United Nations forces deployed to protect the inhabitants of the supposedly “safe area” of Srebrenica did almost nothing to prevent. By the time of Srebrenica, Žbanić had been living under siege in Sarajevo for almost three years; she might have been preoccupied only with her own problems. But what she heard in the weeks and months that followed stayed with her. “Here was another shock,” she says. “This was a UN-protected area. We felt that if the aggression could not be stopped by the UN, then there were no Human Rights we could believe in – and from that moment, I was obsessed. I wanted to know everything about it. It was a trauma for all Bosnians. When we learned how many people had died, and how they had died, and how they were buried. When we learned that the graves had been moved [in an effort to cover up the massacre].”
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