Those who assume that mankind has grown more “civilized” as time goes on are in for a major disappointment upon watching “Calling the Ghosts,” a fine documentary concerning treatment of civilian prisoners, particularly women, during Bosnia-Herzegovina conflict only a few years ago.
“Calling the Ghosts” was disqualified for this year’s Academy Awards, according to producer Mandy Jacobson, for having been shown commercially abroad, prior to last year’s consideration run in NYC. Film has been touring the festival circuit, has had domestic showings sponsored by Amnesty Intl. and, says Jacobson, has been sold to TV in several foreign markets.
Filmmakers Jacobson and Jelincic met while working on music videos in New York; this is their first documentary.
Actress Ormond was brought in to narrate and subsequently signed on to help arrange financing of project. Scripted narration was abandoned in favor of first-person interviews, subtitled when necessary.
Protagonists are Jadranka Cigelj and Nusreta Sivac. Legal professionals and Bosnian Moslems, they say that they were abducted by Serbian troops and taken to Omarska “detention camp” where they — together with many other women — were tortured and raped by prison guards. Male prisoners, Cigelj and Sivac say, were tortured and killed; at one point, their living bodies thrown on a pile of burning tires as part of a Serbian holiday celebration.
There’s no attempt to give a balanced picture — to let the Serbs, for instance, explain the basis of their hatred for the Croats and Muslims. But it may be hard for an outsider to feel sorry that the Serbs’ point of view was slighted after watching Radovan Karadzic, here identified as “leader of self-proclaimed Republika Srpska,” vowing to British television that there are no death camps, or to hear a guard reply to Cigelj’s accusation that he wouldn’t have raped her, because she was too old (at 45) and too ugly — due, he fails to add, to malnutrition resulting from her imprisonment.
Others interviewed include Roy Gutman, the Newsday correspondent who broke the prison camp story; Ed Vulliamy, Guardian reporter whose investigation of Omarska led to female prisoners’ release; and Cigelj’s parents and son.
Circumstances don’t allow for much lightness here, though there is a wonderful moment when the two protagonists send a postcard back home from the Hague, where war trials were being held. At once cordial and rueful, message was something akin to “wish you were here.”
Original footage is complemented by much archival stock, assembled with the utmost professionalism. Cinemax is to be commended for airing this sometimes rather harrowing work, even though it won’t get the exposure that “Schindler’s List” — with its not-dissimilar theme — did on NBC last week, it’s a start.