Bosnian filmmaker Jasmila Žbanić, whose latest feature, “Quo Vadis, Aida?,” world premieres Sept. 3 in competition at the Venice Film Festival and also screens at Toronto in the Contemporary World Cinema section, is developing a slate of new projects, including a documentary about the Jewish Bosnian businessman and philanthropist Emerik Blum, Variety has learned exclusively.
The untitled project tells the story of Blum, the founder and CEO of Energoinvest, an engineering and energy company that ranked among the largest conglomerates in Eastern Europe. Until his death in 1984, Blum was a leading philanthropist in the former Yugoslavia, sponsoring thousands of students through his personal fortune and offering company housing for his employees.
“It is amazing to see this from the perspective of today’s Bosnia and today’s economy,” said Žbanić, noting how Blum also organized concerts in his factory with leading contemporary composers. “Can we imagine any CEO doing that now?”
The director is also developing a fiction film, “My Women,” which follows four generations of women in her family “who had to overcome societal restrictions, wars, patriarchy—one century of the lives of women in the Balkans,” according to Žbanić. Another untitled project is a TV series about the siege of Sarajevo.
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The acclaimed director is in Venice for the premiere of her film about the mass killing of some 8,000 civilians—mostly Muslim men and boys—in Srebrenica, a town that was considered a “safe area” amid the wider, raging conflict of the Bosnian War in the 1990s. The worst act of mass killing on European soil since World War II, the massacre was perpetrated while U.N. peacekeepers stood idly by, and was later deemed a genocide.
“Quo Vadis, Aida?” was produced by Damir Ibrahimović and Žbanić through the artists’ association Deblokada, which she founded, and co-produced by coop99 Filmproduktion (Austria), Digital Cube (Romania), N279 Entertainment (Netherlands), Razor Film Produktion (Germany), Extreme Emotions (Poland), Indie Prod (France), Tordenfilm (Norway), TRT (Turkey), and ZDF/ARTE (Germany). Indie Sales is handling world sales.
Žbanić’s debut film, “Grbavica: Land of my Dreams,” about a widowed woman and her young daughter struggling to scrape by in war-ravaged Sarajevo, won the Golden Bear in Berlin in 2006. More than a decade later, she returns to the turbulent Balkan conflicts of the 1990s to tell the story of a U.N. translator in Srebrenica, played by veteran actor Jasna Đuričić, desperately trying to save her family from the coming violence.
A quarter of a century after the killings, Srebrenica remains a “political minefield,” said Žbanić, used by some in Bosnia as a political tool while denied by many to this day. The director knew that navigating such a minefield would pose other challenges as well—from financing through the limited resources of the Bosnian film industry to depicting historical figures still alive today—yet she felt an “unbearable need” to tell Srebrenica’s story.
Still, she had powerful misgivings. “As a Bosnian filmmaker who survived the war I am deeply close to the subject, but that closeness is not always a good quality for making a movie,” she said. “You are too involved, too nearsighted, too vulnerable.”
Writing the script, Žbanić wanted to see the events through fresh eyes, “trying to tell the story to an imaginary audience who never heard about Srebrenica, constantly putting myself in a position of one who has this experience at one moment, and a position of somebody who doesn’t know anything about it and sees it for the first time in the next.”
What remained clear throughout was her urgent need to present the Srebrenica killings, and their aftermath, with grim clarity—to depict war in a way that “strip[s] it naked from patriotism and other bullshit that often serve as a cover-up for its banality.”
To that end, she used the story of Aida to highlight the specific burden war places on women, who not only suffer through the war itself but are often left to pick up the pieces afterward. “For me a war is a stage for the performance of sociopaths and psychopaths—they function perfectly there while others are lost and suffering,” she said. “[The] heroism of women is not the heroism of men.”
While her film is set during a particularly bloody chapter in recent European history, Žbanić described what happened in Srebrenica as “a serious warning” to the world today, at a time when populism and nationalism are on the rise globally.
“The film shows what can happen if we don’t have solidarity, empathy, and what happens when our institutions who are supposed to serve and protect society are ruined,” she continued. “Not only the U.N., but all institutions that our civilizations build for the good of a democratic society: from the health care system to the postal service.”
Twenty-five years later, she described the bloodshed of Srebrenica as a reminder of “how easy it is to slip into the unimaginable” at the hands of “irresponsible politicians and their interests.” She added: “I think we live in a time when we can not afford to buy into easy narratives.”