Tavis: Pleased to welcome Angelina Jolie to this program. This Oscar winner and human rights advocate is making her directorial debut with an acclaimed new project set during the Bosnian War. The project is called “In the Land of Blood and Honey.”
We are also delighted to have on the program tonight one of the stars of the film, Zana Marjanovic. So much to get to, so little time to talk about a movie as powerful as this. The movie opens December 23rd in New York and L.A. More cities thankfully on the way come January.
First, though, before our conversation, some scenes from “In the Land of Blood and Honey.”
Tavis: Zana, first of all, powerful performance.
Zana Marjanovic: Thank you very much.
Tavis: Wonderful, wonderful job. And Angelina, if this is the debut, I don’t know where you go from here.
Angelina Jolie: Oh, thank you so much.
Tavis: No, I’m not saying it, I’m not saying it because you’re here, I’m saying that because when I saw this yesterday it was so moving. I was saying to you as you and I walked into the studio, Angelina, that my first thought when I heard you were doing this was whether or not on your debut as a director you could pull off telling a story that many of us know somewhat well. I wouldn’t say completely well, but we’ve covered this and we’ve seen this for years.
So one, we know the subject matter, number one. Number two, we know your politics on the issue, and I say politics, I say that respectfully. We know your humanitarian work on the issue.
So how does she take a film and deliver an artistic performance that isn’t proselytizing and yet pulls me into the humanity of the character? I say all that to say that it worked, but how difficult for you was that, or not at all, maybe? You tell me.
Jolie: It was. It was very – I didn’t want to direct a film. That wasn’t my reason for doing this. I just wanted to – I wrote the script as this kind of quiet meditation where I would sit alone and think about violence against women and lack of intervention, just, and how people turn on people.
I know a lot of people post-conflict, and I thought what is it? What is it that happens to people where people just – regular people, good people, who suddenly can turn, and they’re warped by this environment and this – what is it?
So I wanted to do a film that was a kind of meditation on that and to study sisters and lovers and father and son and kind of go through this period, and not try to – try not to judge anybody. So I think that’s maybe what the answer is. I didn’t want to – this is not a political statement.
This is I tried to observe and listen to all sides of the conflict, actors from all sides of the conflict are in this film. So it’s not one-sided, the voice is not one-sided, which is I think the most important thing that this film says for the region, which is we just want this to be a dialogue and we want to listen and show humanity on all sides, and show what happened.
So the end, as we spoke about, is strong, but it is a metaphor for what happened. It’s the right – it is the metaphor. So I just tried, and I tried and tried and gave it my heart and soul, and it came from, I feel, an honest, good place, and I think sometimes maybe when you do that you just hope that that comes across, and I hope it does.
Tavis: You and Zana and I were talking before we came on the air here about the end, and this is one of those movies where you don’t want to give the end away, of course.
But I’m sitting watching this and there are two ideas I have about how I think this is going to end, and you took me in another direction with the ending. I’m like it’s either going to go -
Jolie: I’d love to hear your ideas for the next script I write. I call you and try to figure out something.
Tavis: (Laughs) No, no, no, no, I want to ask about that. I’m thinking this has got to end this way or it’s got to end this way, and you went, again, somewhere totally different. So was that the ending from the very beginning? Did the ending ever change? Were there multiple endings? How did you settle on that being the end point? Or did it just seem right?
Jolie: It was always, as I said, it just seemed right. As I was writing it, it was kind of this is what would happen, and if this was me in this situation, and how would you, and how far could you get pushed and what would – and then in the end, though, the bigger message had to be, as I said, what is the metaphor for what happened to which side, and that is the accurate metaphor for what happened to each side if you reflect on it and know the history, so.
Tavis: Yeah. Zana, I was thinking that the – I want to ask a question, and the word I was going to use was “surreal.” But given that your countrymen and women lived this, it’s not even so much surreal, I suspect, filming it as it is taking you back to what was.
So how does one act out a part that is, in fact, so real in the lives of the people you know?
Marjanovic: Well, first of all, it’s really hard, but then you tell yourself that that’s – that you can’t be spoiled and think about how difficult it is for you to enact that part of history of your people, because your people actually went through it. So it’s a huge responsibility.
But at the same time, that made me really do my research well, and talk to people and people were, women I spoke to in particular were – one of them is a great friend now – were just very helpful and very honest. Because they were able to talk to me about it just says how brave they are. As they are my heroes, I tried to represent them as best I could.
Tavis: Yeah. It’s happened to me a number of times in my life and career where I thought I knew a subject matter relatively well and once I start studying the subject matter, researching it, talking to people, I learned stuff that I didn’t even know, even though I thought I was learned about the subject matter.
You know where I’m going with this. Did you have that experience as you started talking to people, that you learned more about a conflict that you thought you knew relatively well?
Marjanovic: Well, being from Bosnia it wasn’t about learning about the conflict itself. It was more about learning just how awful it was and how horrific it was, and just how deep the fear was and just how important it was that these women are the victims, but at the same time are the survivors.
I think this is something that filmmakers and authors often tend to forget when they’re talking about Bosnia or writing or just making any kind of art, is they forget to – I feel they forget to often say that we’re talking about survivors, and that because these women were so strong and spoke about what happened to them, this is why today we have a new law passed that rape is considered as a war crime.
Tavis: Yeah. There is a scene – again, I’m walking gingerly here, Angelina, because I don’t want to give too much of this away – but there was a scene in the movie that for me was the, other than the ending, it was for me personally as a viewer the most seminal, moving part of the entire movie, because the movie is subtitled all the way through.
But there is a scene where Zana and her sister in the film are reunited. You know where I’m going with this.
Jolie: Mm. Mm-hmm.
Tavis: So a scene where they’re reunited, and I don’t speak the language and I didn’t have to speak the language, and you, wisely, I think, chose not to subtitle that scene, because anybody with a heart understands exactly what these two sisters are saying to each other in that moment.
Again, without giving it away, tell me about that scene because I thought the decision to not subtitle that was absolutely a brilliant decision.
Jolie: Oh, well, thank you. I think it partially comes from my inability to write it, because I really felt that same thing. I felt that this is such a, such a huge moment, such a personal moment, such an undefinable moment that it needs to be bigger than anything that could possibly come out of me, out of their mouth.
Somehow it needed to be universal in this way and the best way to do that was to just silently show all of the feelings and show the expression. So they weren’t forced to – they could say something if they needed to, but they didn’t have to, and it was just so much about their emotional connection in that moment that we didn’t force anything. It just was as we felt it should be and tried to make it as organic as possible. It’s one of my favorite scenes in the movie.
Tavis: To your point about organic, tell me how much you had to actually – trying to find the right word here – how much you had to trust the actors here, because you know the conflict and you know the story, but how much did you have to surrender part of what was your baby?
Jolie: I don’t think I still completely understand this conflict, so it’s – and it’s still so complicated today. I heavily relied – heavily – on all of the actors and all of the advisers and people who lived through this, and victims of war that we met. I wrote a script and considered it an outline, and I openly said to everybody, this is not my country, this is not my language. This is your story and your film.
So everybody had the freedom to tell me this is wrong because of this, or we need more of that. So everybody’s voice is filtered in and we all really made it together.
I sent this script out without my name on it to people from all sides of this conflict, and that was the decision. It was if they’d all agree, if all these artists would agree to come together and tell the same story, then we’ve accomplished something. We’ve unified, we’ve done something.
If they don’t, we burn the script and we’re not going to make this movie, because I’m not making this movie without them. So fortunately they did, and so they were everything to me. Everything.
Tavis: I want to ask Zana about the artists in just a second, but to your point, was there any push-back from the artist community, from the body politic, when it got out that you were, again, given that we know what your position is on the issue -
Jolie: What’s interesting is the artist community, and maybe it’s because Bosnia and Sarajevo is such a strong artistic community; this is the community that during the siege, while under siege, they started a film festival. (Laughs) They used their art as part of their survival. They’re extraordinary artists, extraordinary actors and extraordinary, the way they understand and appreciate and are open to all forms of art. So the artistic community was very supportive.
Jolie: There was a rumor from somebody that didn’t know anything about the script that it was about something it’s not about, and so it made some people nervous and there was a question on our permits, but then we showed the script and we got our permits and it was okay.
But it’s so sensitive that you expect, you just expect people who say, “What is this going to be? It’s somebody from outside telling our story. What is this story?” The subject matter’s so sensitive and so many people are so traumatized that it never shook me. I just felt oh, I hope they are patient and they allow us to show them the final film, and we have recently and they’ve embraced it, and so we are very grateful.
Tavis: I don’t want to presume, or put another way, I don’t want to assume; I think I get it, but why send it out initially without your name on it?
Jolie: Because I wanted their honest reactions, and so whether it be good or bad, and I just wanted everybody to say, “This script is terrible. Tell the writer to -” (laughter).
Tavis: Angelina raises a point, Zana, that I want to come back to, because I thought about this watching the film, and that is how the artist in that region survived the conflict, and Angelina makes the point that they did, in fact, your community, your artistic community, started an arts festival in the midst of all this.
But take me back to that era and your sense of how the arts community survived that and what they did to express themselves during that period.
Marjanovic: Well, because I was in New York during the war – I was lucky enough to have left with my mother – it was one of the reasons why I decided to go back to Sarajevo and learn my language properly. Because I was eight when I left Sarajevo, so I didn’t really know very much about my culture and it was so important for me to go back to my roots and meet the people.
As I learned more about them, the more beautiful it was, how brave they were. One of our actresses, actually Vanessa Glodjo, who plays the sister in the scene you mentioned, she walked eight kilometers to the university to study acting and then eight back, while being shot at through snipers and her life in danger at every minute of that walk.
So it just tells you about how important it was, and very many artists came out from that era that are actually considered here and there very, very good and very – very good.
Tavis: I know you picked a great cast of actors, Angelina, to pull this off, but I can only imagine that there had to be some moments, there had to be some days, some scenes, where the emotion of what’s being shot that day overtakes somebody. You can’t just yell “Cut” and you’re both -
Jolie: You had your day.
Tavis: Yeah, you want to tell me about that.
Marjanovic: I had my day. (Laughter)
Jolie: (Unintelligible) the details in the scene, but I think everybody probably at one time or another, every actor at one time or another had to just separate themselves and cry because it was reminding them of something or it was just too much. Or even the men who had to be the aggressors, they just didn’t want to do it and they were just being so gentle with it, because they just couldn’t do what they had to do.
Our first day of shooting was the first time the women are taken off the buses and their coats are ripped off and the rape happened. That was the first day.
Tavis: That’s the first day.
Marjanovic: That was the first day.
Tavis: Wow. You couldn’t have done that a little bit differently?
Jolie: I could not have – yeah, I could have, I know, and we thought about that, but then there was this thought of maybe this is either going to break everybody into – this is either going to be one of the most tense, horrible things and it’s going to – or it’s going to do the opposite.
But somehow, it’s going to drop us into the reality of this is the movie we’re making. But this was – there were a lot of people from all different sides of the conflict, their first time. Some people knew each other, but some people really it was their first – the woman who’s raped and the man who rapes her never met before, and they’re from – so it was.
But what happened was as soon as I called a cut the first time after he had to do this horrible, violent act to her and all the men had to, you know, rip all the women’s clothes off and they’re so crass, as soon as we called cut he picked her up and he gave her the biggest hug, and he dusted her off.
And all the soldiers picked up the clothes for the women and they said, “I’m sorry,” and they picked them up and they re-dressed them and everything, and by lunchtime people were holding onto each other and taking care of each other, and I saw two girls walking to lunch holding hands, and we realized it’s – it remained that way through the shoot.
There was so much brutality and so many horrible memories that it brought out so much kindness and love between the people who either physically suffered it themselves or lost their – one of our actors lost 28 family members. Everybody was affected.
Somehow, everybody became a family and learned something, so it was – but there were some really hard days. Like Vanessa, the scene where she’s going through Sniper Alley, how do I direct her? I’ve never done it. I have to make her re-live one of her worst memories, because she was eventually wounded.
Marjanovic: For me it was difficult, the scene, actually, that was, that happens before the war, where the two characters, lovers, meet in the club, and that was making me -
Tavis: Nice music, by the way, in the club.
Marjanovic: I know, it was, it was fun. It should be fun, except it was making me cry the whole time because that’s the happiest time of Sarajevo I remember, and that’s when everything was great and my parents were happy and we had all these friends, and never for a second did anyone think that such a horrible thing could happen that will change our lives forever.
So I was battling trying to play a happy scene while actually it was really killing me, and it was, yeah, it was very hard to get those smiles. It wasn’t easy at all.
Tavis: What’s the advantage and the disadvantage, Angelina, of bringing to the screen a film about a subject matter that is relatively recent?
Jolie: Well, the disadvantage clearly is that the wounds are still fresh and it’s very sensitive. The advantage to me is that there is still time, and it is important at this time to help to continue to heal and keep focus on all the people that are working to heal in the region, and it is still a sensitive time in the region. There’s still so much going on.
The economy is weak but the people are strong, but yet there’s still a lot of these fresh wounds. So we can’t just – which we so often do in these conflict situations, we kind of tie a nice little bow on it and think great, and next. This one, it’s not, it still deserves our attention, and so the positive side of it is it will pull back the attention and focus.
The anniversary is coming up, it’s going to be 15 years after, and it’s time to make sure things are heading and healing in the right direction.
Tavis: Are they, Zana?
Marjanovic: Slowly, but very, very, very slowly. Very slowly. Maybe I should say that again to just – it’s really – I think it’s – I heard one of the women who was in Sarajevo during the four years of the siege, and when the war was over she said to me, she said, “Actually, it’s the same thing, but only now I have to pay for the things that I didn’t have in the war, so I didn’t have to pay for them, like electricity and water and gas and food.
“During the war, I didn’t have them. Yes, they were shooting at me, but at least I didn’t have to pay for those things, and now I have to, and I actually don’t have the money.”
Tavis: Now that you’re living back in Sarajevo, what’s your sense of how this project is going to be received in that region?
Marjanovic: Well, we were getting some feedback already because some people have seen the film from various organizations and victims of war, and my father’s kind of texting me every day and telling me about the reactions, and they’re very, very positive.
People are very happy that this film is being made, because they feel that their story’s been forgotten, and if you forget something that’s such recent history, there is a good chance that it may happen again. I think their fear is for the future generations, but not just of the area; of the whole world, where it’s happening or about to happen.
So I think they’re very proud at the same time because of this, the very beginning of the film, where Bosnia is presented the way that I feel, I’ve always felt it should be, and with such dignity and beauty that I think they’re going to be very happy.
Tavis: I was about to say, Angelina, there’s a lot of buzz in this town about you, but there’s always buzz in this town about you. I mean buzz in this town about you relative to this project. I can’t imagine that one takes on a project this ambitious, particularly as a first project, with the thought of Academy Award in one’s head. That’s not why one does something like this.
Which leads me to ask what for you would represent success on this project, or have you already achieved that by getting it done?
Jolie: Well, I’ve – when we got the email – one, when the cast all came together rand we were all together recently in New York, and I’d realized that we had done this together and what that represented for the region, that was – I understood what that meant, I think we all understood what that meant, standing together.
When we first screened it for the people in Bosnia who were victims of the camps and the war, which was only less than 10 days ago, I couldn’t sleep the night before and I was – because it is for them. It’s to teach the world about them, but in our hearts, it’s for them.
So I can’t imagine anything beyond their approval and support, so that, to me, was everything. That was everything.
Tavis: So you picked an awfully ambitious project to come out the blocks with, as (unintelligible).
Jolie: And Christmastime, too.
Tavis: Yeah. (Laughter) You picked an ambitious project. So have you decided now whether you like this enough or dislike this enough to do it or not ever do it again? (Laughter)
Jolie: (Unintelligible) the question (unintelligible).
Jolie: It’s really hard for me. I’ve never been led by – I’m sure if somebody said to you, “You could do this but you have to interview some -” you do what you want to do and you bring something that you believe in. I don’t have another story that I need to tell right now. If I found one, then I would be compelled to use film in order to express it.
But this wasn’t to be a filmmaker, this was to tell this story, and I did love it but I also had brilliant actors who made it really easy, and it was a – it just meant so much. So it was a passion project.
Marjanovic: That’s why I keep laughing, because we keep asking her the same question (unintelligible).
Tavis: Yeah, everybody’s (unintelligible). (Laughter)
Marjanovic: Like, “So, what are you going to do next? What are you going to do next?”
Jolie: Zana and I are doing a comedy. (Laughter) That’s what we’ve decided.
Marjanovic: That’s it.
Tavis: Yeah, I was about to joke I suspect it’ll be something totally different than this (unintelligible).
Jolie: It may have to be, but yeah.
Tavis: But who knows? Anyway, you did a wonderful job your first time out.
Jolie: Thank you so much.
Tavis: It’s a powerful project. Zana, you were absolutely amazing.
Marjanovic: Thank you.
Tavis: Phenomenal, along with the – this is a great cast. This is a great cast of actors.
Marjanovic: Thank you.
Tavis: “In the Land of Blood and Honey” is the project, Angelina’s directorial debut. Zana stars in it. It’s a great project. Be sure to check it out.
[Foreign-language film clip of "In the Land of Blood and Honey"]
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