Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Bosnian Film Screenings Shake Up Long-Held Prejudices

Young people inspired by product of year-long initiative.
By Mirza Ajnadžić
  • Still from documentary Criminal Code - one of the documentaries IWPR trainees helped produce during the 12-month project on transitional justice.
    Still from documentary Criminal Code - one of the documentaries IWPR trainees helped produce during the 12-month project on transitional justice.
  • Still from documentary Criminal Code - one of the documentaries IWPR trainees helped produce during the 12-month project on transitional justice.
    Still from documentary Criminal Code - one of the documentaries IWPR trainees helped produce during the 12-month project on transitional justice.
  • Still from documentary Criminal Code - one of the documentaries IWPR trainees helped produce during the 12-month project on transitional justice.
    Still from documentary Criminal Code - one of the documentaries IWPR trainees helped produce during the 12-month project on transitional justice.

A project aimed at raising awareness about transitional justice processes in Bosnia and Hercegovina, BiH, has culminated in film screenings at which the project was debated.

The 12-month Tales of Transition project, funded by the Dutch government, was carried out by IWPR and its local partners the Sarajevo Centre for Contemporary Art, eFM Student Radio and the Centre for Justice and Reconciliation.

Fifteen young reporters and aspiring journalists from all over BiH were chosen to take part. They attended a three-day multimedia workshop held in Sarajevo in January 2011, at which they were taught the basics of print, radio and TV journalism. They also learned about transitional justice mechanisms and their importance for the future of BiH.

“People in Bosnia, including journalists, don't really know much about transitional justice,” Dejan Petrovic, a law student from Srebrenica, said after the training. “This is why this project is so useful. It will help young reporters understand this concept better, and will allow them to report on these issues in a fair and balanced way.”

Over the following 12 months, the trainees learned how to write print articles, generate radio reports, and research and produce TV documentaries. During this period, they produced 12 in-depth reports for IWPR and 30 radio reports for eFM Student Radio. They also helped produce six 30-minute TV documentaries which were broadcast on Bosnian state television in November and December 2011.

To mark the conclusion of the project, two public screenings were held in a cinema in Sarajevo, at which of the three documentaries made by young trainees were shown. The first was for high-school pupils, and the second for NGOs and the media. Each was followed by an audience discussion with the film-makers.

At the screening for high school pupils held on December 9, the film shown was “Our People and Your People”, about the prejudices young people from different parts of Bosnia hold about each other as a result of ethnic divisions. A lively discussion ensued, lasting over an hour. Students expressed their views and revealed what stereotypes they had about other ethnic groups.

Many admitted they rarely travelled to other parts of Bosnia where their own ethnic group was a minority, because they would not be comfortable doing so.

After the screening, they said they would be much more willing to travel, because they realised their peers in other parts of the country harboured the same kind of unfounded fears.

Srdjan Rodic, professor of arts at Dobrinja High School, who accompanied students to the screening, said young people in Bosnia were prey to prejudices instilled by the media.

“The media have convinced young people that on the other side of the entity boundary, there are people who hate them simply because they are of a different ethnic background,” he said.

He added that films like “Our People and Your People” could help erase prejudice and encourage young people to find out how their counterparts in other parts of Bosnia live.

At the second screening, which was held on December 10, two documentaries were shown. “Living Memorial” covered victims of war of all ethnicities, the experiences they lived through, and the trauma they are still living with 15 years after the war.

Nejra Suljovic, a law student from Sarajevo, said that the stories of those interviewed for this film really moved her.

“’Living Memorial’ left an incredible impression on me, as it’s the only film I’ve seen to date that shows how much war crimes permanently damaged lives of the victims,” she said. “The last scene, showing still photos of victims’ faces, was very intense for me. I can’t put into words the look in those people’s eyes. It’s as if life has stopped for them and they will never be able to feel joy again.”

The second documentary, “Criminal Code”, was about convicted war criminals currently serving time in a prison in Mostar. The film focused on their reflections about the crimes they had committed and the remorse they said they felt, and their unhappiness about unequal sentences applied under the old, relatively lenient, criminal code in BiH, and a new one that prescribes much harsher sentences.

Ivona Narancic, a political science student from Sarajevo, said the interviews with the convicts surprised her, because it disproved her belief that all war criminals were proud of what they did.

“The film shows that each of them regrets having committed crimes,” she said.

After seeing these two films, a journalist from Sarajevo, Sanjin Becic, said that they gave him “a whole new perspective on the war”.

“Personally, I’m tired of stories about the war,” he began. “But this was the first time I got to see two documentaries that showed the stories of victims on the one hand, and of war criminals on the other. The choice of films and the order in which they were shown made me realise that maybe not enough is being said about the war. The real truth hasn’t been told yet.”

Given the success of the Tales of Transition project, IWPR and its local partners will seek new funding in 2012 to allow the project to continue.

Mirza Ajnadzic is an IWPR-trained reporter in Sarajevo.