To get the story straight on the Bosnian war, filmmakers turned to Burkle Center Senior Fellow Gen. Wesley Clark.
By Rebecca Kendall, UCLA International Institute, Dec 13, 2011
When Angelina Jolie began making her award-winning film about the Bosnian War that took the lives of 100,000 people and forced 2 million people from their homes, she wanted to meet with war victims, military experts, war correspondents and representatives from the United Nations to grasp what occurred there between 1992 and 1995.
She also wanted to meet the retired U.S. army general who was a key participant in the U.S. delegation that worked toward peace in Bosnia and helped bring an end to the divisive conflict that pitted neighbor against neighbor, resulting in the horrific genocide of Bosnia’s Muslim population.
Wesley Clark, now a senior fellow with the UCLA Burkle Center for International Relations, was that man.
Clark rose to the rank of a four-star general as NATO's Supreme Allied Commander for Europe during his 34-year military career. During the Bosnian War, he was sent to the conflict-ridden nation to serve as the military adviser to a diplomatic negotiating team headed by Secretary of State Richard Holbrooke. Extensive negotiations ultimately resulted in the signing of the Dayton Agreement, which finally brought peace in 1995.
As part of her effort to learn about the forces underlying the conflict, Jolie sent Clark a portion of the script for "In the Land of Blood and Honey" and asked for his reaction. Clark, who had previously met Jolie while working at the Council for Foreign Relations, provided his comments, warned her that the movie would be controversial and gave her the names of others who could provide further perspectives and details.
On Dec. 8, the film that Jolie wrote, directed and co-produced had its Los Angeles premiere in Hollywood, and among the invitation-only audience were more than 50 faculty and staff, many from the Burkle Center and the Center for the Study of Women, two UCLA centers that co-sponsored the event along with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
The Producers Guild of America is honoring the film by giving Jolie a special award for her portrayal of provocative social issues. In the past, the Stanley Kramer Award has recognized such films as "Hotel Rwanda" and "An Inconvenient Truth."
"The film is powerful," Clark said in an email. "It brought back memories of terribly difficult times — of war, violence, lost friends, political manipulation and deceit, senseless prejudices and all the hatreds inherent in old, unsettled conflicts.
"The war was a key experience in learning the post-Cold War lesson that wars within states are highly destructive, regionally dangerous and potentially destabilizing," Clark said. "And, above all, we saw the tragic human toll of such conflicts. Such conflicts must be resolved and — better yet — prevented."
The film chronicles the story of Danijel, a Bosnian Serb police officer, and Ajla, a Bosnian Muslim artist. The pair, who are romantically linked prior to the war and separated following a nightclub fire-bombing, is reunited by chance when Ajla is taken by soldiers from the home she shares with her sister and brought to a war camp that is under Danijel’s military command.
But Jolie, a goodwill ambassador for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees who has traveled to more than 40 countries to support solutions for refugees and vulnerable children, didn’t just make a love story during a tragic time of war.
"She didn’t simplify the topic, as you might expect from a first-time writer," said Alexandra Lieben, deputy director of the Burkle Center, said of the Academy Award-winning actress and three-time Golden Globe winner.
"Instead, she brought life to the human element of war and the complexity of such a devastating situation," Lieben said. "It’s a tough film — but an incredibly valuable one — to watch."
The film also highlights the extreme brutality and humiliation experienced by Bosnian-Muslim women at the hands of Serbian forces. It is estimated that 20,000 to 50,000 women were raped while in captivity during the war.
"This film is very much concerned with humanitarian issues in Bosnia related to the plight of Bosnian-Muslim women, and the systematic rape and sexual assault that were practiced upon many of them," said Kathleen McHugh, a film scholar who directs the Center for the Study of Women. "This film was made so that this human rights crisis won’t be forgotten and to remind the world that the situation there is still very fragile. Women are frequently the most vulnerable in civil wars, and they are the recipients of some of the worst outcomes of ethnic strife and violence."
Circumstances changed so drastically and so quickly, McHugh said. "The situation disintegrated so rapidly that people went from living lives that were tense but okay, to experiencing unspeakable conditions. It went on for a very long time before there was an intervention, and women were the particular victims of that."
In gaining some perspectives on Bosnia, Jolie said she welcomed Clark’s involvement in the project as a consultant on the movie and was impressed that he didn’t pressure her to emphasize America’s role in the peace process.
"There wasn’t a push on his side to say ‘Well, we should be seen as heroes’ or … ‘You should be clear that we’ve gotten all the bad guys,’" said Jolie. "There was none of that. It was, ‘This is a very sensitive region’ and ‘Approach it carefully and thoughtfully from all sides’ and ‘There are great people on all sides.’ … He has an obviously deep connection to the area."
Jolie added: "It’s not a film about America and American intervention. It’s one of the first films, the cast was saying, from an outsider that’s not about outsiders. It’s about the people from inside."
Jolie said she initially conceived of the script as a "kind of private meditation" to help her vent the frustrations she’d felt after more than a decade of traveling into post-conflict regions. In fact, she never planned to show it to anyone initially.
How could so-called "normal" people turn so cruelly against their neighbors and "lose their humanity and begin to behave in a way that just seems impossible to understand?" she wanted to know.
Jolie said the moral support she received from the UCLA community was critical. It was "very, very important" to her that these experts in international relations and women’s studies came to see the film and shared their comments.
She said she hopes the film will become a catalyst for dialogue and action for many people. "Maybe they’ll want to see what’s still going on there and see how they can help because there are so many people still in need there."
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Published: Tuesday, January 03, 2012
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