Jasmila Zbanic, the director of Bosnia’s competition entry “Na putu” (On the Path), sees only advantages to being a woman director from a part of Europe where men — as elsewhere in the world — dominate the industry.
A Golden Bear in Berlin for her debut feature four years ago — “Grbavica” about a woman raped by enemy soldiers during the Balkan civil war and forced to bear the child — gave Zbanic the attention crucial to winning backing for new projects.
But Zbanic, a quietly spoken woman with good command of English, is characteristically modest about that achievement and attributes her success to more feminine, family values.
“As a woman filmmaker in Bosnia I have more privileges than disadvantages,” she said. “I feel I can do more than my male colleagues with a motherly approach rather than a male approach. The way we organize our crew reflects this — it is more of a family relationship; at the premiere of ‘Na putu’ we will have more than 50 people coming to Berlin from Bosnia, Croatia, Austria and Germany. I want everyone to come — this film is not only my creation.”
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It is this maternal, communal approach to filmmaking that helped Zbanic create her latest work, a film that explores the painful changes wrought in a young couple’s relationship when the man seeks solace for his problems by joining a conservative Wahhabi Islamic community.
Zbanic was intrigued with the Wahhabis when she met a man from the sect in Sarajevo who refused to shake her hand because she was a woman. Initially insulted but then intrigued by the encounter, Zbanic embarked on a year’s research into the Wahhabis — a group that has been attracting increasing numbers of followers in Bosnia since the end of the civil war in the mid-1990s.
“They are a small and isolated community and very conservative, but I managed through a year of going back and forth to open them up,” Zbanic said. “They understood that I was not doing a film to insult them, that I was very interested in how they lived, where they find meaning in their lives. I think they felt that I was honest with them and did not want to hurt anybody.”
Once the Wahhabis opened up to Zbanic and her cast, they showed the actors how they prayed, how they went about their daily lives and provided photographs of their religious camps to enable set designers to faithfully re-create them for the screen.