Thank you Hanna for being with GeoMovies and talk to us of your latest feature film THE MINER. You put together two hideous actual events occurred in the former Yugoslavia. The first one is dramatically known, the Srebrenica massacre, the other one less known came into light only some years ago when mass graves dating back the Second World War were discovered.
You did not experience of course the events of Second World War, but you lived the experience of the break-up of Yugoslavia Srebrenica massacre.
To start, I must say I was a bit annoyed about the article you wrote, the description you give at the beginning – I was annoyed because I come across something like it very usually: the description of our cinemas in the lands of ex Yugoslavia as mostly dealing with the past wars. Firstly, there are also a great number of films on contemporary life and other subjects. Secondly, why should we not make films about the past which still resonates so much everywhere throughout Europe?
I have been living in Germany for over a decade and here there are still films being made about the Second World War and its consequences. Not only the consequences on the society but also the consequences that war intimately left in the families.
We have the third generation who are exploring the past of their families and are doing films about that and it is seen something positive internationally and it is encouraged.
But what I keep witnessing again and again is that it is seen as not necessary for us in the Balkans to deal with these topics of war and consequences of war, the way they affected our society or intimately affected us. We should just “get over it”.
In fact my generation has only just started to work on this! When we look at the war in Bosnia, we are only the first generation making movies about it. Later on we will have grandchildren making movies from other points of views…. But of course there are, have been and will be a lot of films made on every other topic as well!
I don’t feel comfortable with this judgment about Balkans filmmaking, as you wrote about THE MINER defining it a genuine Balkan movie.
Also, I think the war in Yugoslavia is not something that exclusively concerns and exclusively damaged and touched us living there or in the neighborhood. It’s not only our business to deal with it. It happened to all of us in Europe. I believe this war was a consequence of the Second World War and the way Europe had established itself afterwords with the two blocks and Yugoslavia in the middle.
As for my generation across Europe – with the exception of most of Ex Yugoslavia – we are the first generation who did not live war and it is simply amazing. We don’t have memories of war. But we do have stories in our families, which are still determining who we are. Wars are something that leave deep scars reaching beyond generations, scars on the one hand left in the society and on the other hand intimate personal scars in families. Again and again there is a need to deal with it. It turns out that grandchildren need to dig into the history again if they want to understand their family dynamics and who they are and why they are the way they are.
Of course I did not live the Second World War, my parents were born after the Second World War, my grandparents were children at that time. But somehow through the stories I heard in my family I was touched, not damaged, but I was touched.
I come to your question about Srebrenica. I was twenty in 1995, an age when you are too young and inexperienced to understand what is going on but too old to be relieved of responsibility.
It was a war that was happening very close but somehow very far from our comfortable life. I feel somehow responsible because it happened during my adult lifetime – as much I could do nothing at that time to stop or prevent it. We cannot change what happened in 1995 anymore, but we can influence what happens today, we can have an influence on the consequences for those who survived. Srebrenica has been part of my life, an intimate part of my personal history. I think that is true for many people from my generation across Europe.
What about this striking parallel between the Second World War and Srebrenica?
I was strongly criticized from the left wing for making this parallel. But in fact, I didn’t do it, I didn’t invent this parallel. It is not my idea.
I was myself profoundly touched by this idea when I came across the story of Mr. Mehmedalija Alić. His life made this parallel, he lost his family in Srebrenica and was absolutely damaged ever since. He was not able to bury them, to find them. It became his biggest trauma and obsession of his life, how to redeem himself, how to be worthy of having survived when everybody else was killed.
So this man with this huge debt that he had, not being able to find and bury his brothers – he was the man who was sent to dig out the people from the mine, executed in a different time of history, under completely different circumstances, political and historical. But the images he came across were so terribly similar to the images he knew from Srebrenica. To him, a mass killing was a mass killing. People were people. Injustice was injustice. Denying the victims the right to a burial, the families the right to know what happened, it was unbearable for him as a brother, and it was unbearable for him who found this mass grave in the mine.
He himself with his story, with his reflections on his life and his destiny, he made the parallel between these two awful events. Srebrenica happened to him and he was the one who had to deal with the consequences of the post World War 2 killings. Who can say he has no right to make this parallel? He was there, he experienced both, he was damaged by both.
How much part of the film was fictionalized?
Some parts of course were fictionalized but what was important to me was to keep the inner truth of the story, of the people.
For example Mehmedalija Alić, the real miner doesn’t have two children but three. In Srebrenica he lost two brothers and not one sister as in the film. But the inner truth of the story stayed untouched.
Did you read his biography?
I met him in 2010, soon after that we started work in parallel on his autobiography and the script for the film. While he was writing his autobiography and I was helping him to do this, I was writing the script. It took two years to finish the autobiography and to find an editor and publish it. The book was a success, and after that it took us two more years to get financing for the film. It was a long time of research. When I met the family in 2010 they were in a bad situation, they were totally alone. He was suffering from post traumatic stress disorder because of what he had been through in the mine. They were not appreciated for what they have been through, on the contrary.
The work in the mine took two years in fact, and not two weeks as in the film. There were eleven barriers to knock down and not one, as in the film. Basically the mine was constructed like an atomic bunker, he told me. It probably took one month to build all those walls to hide the executed people inside.
He found the first skeleton, someone who tried to get out and died trying. He kept asking himself who are these people, something we still don’t know. He felt responsible for the people he had found there. He made photos and sent them to the press, trying to get the public to care about finding out who those people are, to bury them. He made photos of braids of women’s hair, for example, to prove that there are civilians among those executed. I believe it was also for this ongoing effort to make the public care about the story that he was eventually fired and left without work, only few weeks before his retirement would start.
I read he was officially awarded for what he had done?
Yes, but it happened four years later. After the book was published and he became somehow known for all that he had done, but most importantly for his humanist point of view and his ideas, he got back his retirement and he was awarded by the President of the Republic.
In Slovenia the topic of post WW2 killings is very difficult. We don’t know the people in the mine are, because nobody was identified. It is supposed they were collaborationists with the Germans and themselves members of paramilitary groups. During the war those paramilitary groups committed much worse atrocities against the civilians than the Germany army. For the people they are worst than the Germans, also because they knew them. It is difficult subject, because during the Second World War there was a civil war happening as well, the liberation movement, the partisans, were fighting against the occupying Nazi army and at the same time against the anti-communist paramilitary collaborationists.
All these paramilitary movements that at the beginning defined themselves as resistance movements, but started collaborating with the Germans because they identified communism as more dangerous than the occupation by the Nazis. Almost in every family in Slovenia you find painful scars left by this period. Still today, people are not ready to admit that killing these people, who were supposedly part of the collaboration, and killing their families and hiding it in this way was a crime.
But we don’t know who were those people, whose mortal remains are still hidden in the mine. We still don’t know who they were, and what they did, what were their crimes.
Do you think it can be possible to discover who they are?
I think every generation has to deal with whatever happens in its time.This discovery happened during our time and we must deal with it responsibly. This doesn’t mean to blindly believe any ideologically fueled propaganda from the left or the right, but ask for historical facts. For me dealing with this part of our history responsibly is a way to free ourselves for ever. But first we need to stop with this ideological blah blah. Just guessing and blindly repeating without knowing real facts is very dangerous.
What about your next project Burned?
This project is not based on a true story, but it is based on what I see in the society lately. It has to do with security and trust, and how it is the basis of any relationship, be it an intimate relationship or a society. If you want to establish trust you have to give up control, because control cannot replace trust. In the society with too much control people lose the feeling of security. You need trust for that. Control and trust are not compatible.
Where is the movie Burned set?
At the moment it is set in Berlin, and on a small island somewhere in Europe.