GWEN IFILL: Finally tonight, an unflinching look back at the war in Bosnia, as told by Angelina Jolie.
Jeffrey Brown recently sat down with the Oscar-winning actress and the stars of her new film.
JEFFREY BROWN: She’s one of the most recognizable women in the world, an actress who often appears in glamorous or action roles.
ANGELINA JOLIE (in character): Have you violated international law?
JEFFREY BROWN: But for her latest movie, Angelina Jolie has stepped behind the camera as a first-time director and writer, and tackled a very serious subject, indeed.
“In the Land of Blood and Honey” is a fictional account of events of the war in Bosnia of the 1990s, in which more than 100,000 people were killed amid ethnic cleansing and brutal atrocities against civilians, including systematic rape.
Ms. Jolie, why the war in Bosnia? Was it something that you knew about long ago as it was happening or that you learned about?
ANGELINA JOLIE: It was something that I knew very little of and always felt a responsibility to learn more.
JEFFREY BROWN: Responsibility? Why?
ANGELINA JOLIE: As a human being, because I was 17 when it started. And I had spent the last 10 years traveling the world and going to conflicts zones and post-conflict zones and meeting people who had suffered through war and really seeing the state of people who — as I worked so hard on how do you help countries heal, or how do you return people to areas, or how do you help people get past the trauma they face, you often question, why did it have to go this far?
So, this question of intervention, this question of just war itself. And then Bosnia just was always ringing in my mind in this — what was that? How did that happen in the ’90s? How did that go on for four years with nobody doing anything 40 minutes from Italy? How — and then the more I read about the rape camps and the concentration camps, and — I just couldn’t — I just couldn’t understand it.
And I wanted to understand it. And so I decided to do a project that I thought was going to remain private on my desk to give myself an education.
JEFFREY BROWN: The private research led to the idea for the film, one in which Jolie used Bosnian actors, including Zana Marjanovic and Goran Kostic in the lead roles.
Their characters share a complicated love affair twisted by the viciousness of war, he a Serbian soldier, she a Muslim artist taken captive.
I wonder, how was making this film, because of its subject matter, different from other acting that you’ve done?
ZANA MARJANOVIC, actress: It was very different. It was — first of all, it’s personal. You know, it’s — I was born in Bosnia. And I live there now. And it’s very personal in that way. So it’s a huge responsibility at the same time to play a character that lives in a historical period.
JEFFREY BROWN: You felt that while you were doing it?
ZANA MARJANOVIC: I felt that while I was doing it every today.
GORAN KOSTIC, actor: Indeed, it was very important to get it right, to be genuine and honest, not just to ourselves, of course, but to the public and to the script.
So we knew that we were treading a finding a very specific line. I think, if we kind of slowly lose our balance and push it to much in one side or the other, we might actually not do justice to the victims of the war.
JEFFREY BROWN: It was hard to watch. Was it hard to make?
ZANA MARJANOVIC: Yes, it was very difficult. You know, our first scene, the first day, the first scene we shot is actually when the women are taken off the bus and train to concentration camp and where the first rape happens.
So this is the first scene we did. And it was — we just — and talked about it later on. And I thought, God, why did we have to do that scene first? And it was a very good point that Angelina Jolie made. She said, you know, we need to know that there will be no easy scenes in this film.
JEFFREY BROWN: Off-screen, it seems Angelina Jolie has two very different personas, celebrity and tabloid regular married to Brad Pitt, and the advocate for human rights who serves as a U.N. goodwill ambassador, with particular attention to the plight of women.
You know, another notable aspect, clearly, is the focus on women. Most war films are about the men fighting. This was clearly conscious for you. Important to you?
ANGELINA JOLIE: It is. Very. And it was very specific to this war. It wasn’t that I — as I learned about this war, I just met with so many women. And they told me their firsthand accounts of being raped or being held and used as a human shield or watching their mothers being forced to strip and dance naked in front of soldiers and face the humiliation.
JEFFREY BROWN: You know, this is harrowing and powerful, but not a fun or easy night at the movies, right? Is it your sense that Hollywood, I don’t know, and filmmakers too often avoid taking on subjects like this, tough subjects?
ANGELINA JOLIE: Well, I know — I know these are hard films to watch. I mean, they’re the films I like to watch. But I also know that when life is hard for people, and the economy has been very hard, and people have been in a really tough state these days, I also know the need for escapism, and I understand that. . .
JEFFREY BROWN: You’ve been part of that.
ANGELINA JOLIE: And I’ve been a big part of that.
And I — you know, but these are the movies I like to watch, because, at the end of the day, I think people innately want to be responsible. We want to know what’s happening around us. We want to be a part of the world, be in the world and of the world.
And it is a hard movie to watch, but it is intentionally so. And you’re going to want to get out of that theater and you’re going to want somebody to stop it. And you’re going to wish that this wasn’t — and what it is, is, it’s still a movie. It’s not even real, and it’s as upsetting as it is. So, it forces people to wonder what it must have really been like.
JEFFREY BROWN: And one more thing. This is your directing debut. How did that compare to acting? Is it, I don’t know, more fun, less fun, more fulfilling, less fulfilling?
ANGELINA JOLIE: Yeah, it was so different, because this one for me was — I love history. And I love social — I’m very interested in social issues and women’s issues, of course.
And so this was a labor of love on so many levels. And then I also — creatively, I have worked with a lot of actors and a lot of people around the world, but I have never worked with people from Yugoslavia. And they are an extraordinary bunch of people, so not only extraordinarily talented, but also just a life, a life that they brought to the set, the music and the culture and the — so, it was — I felt like I was welcomed into a world, not just learning about a history, but into a family.
And so it was the best experience I’ve ever had on film.
JEFFREY BROWN: “In the Land of Blood and Honey” is now in select theaters across the country.