Jasmila Zbanic on “Grbavica: The Land of My Dreams”

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By Aaron Hillis

IFC News

[Photo: Mirjana Karanovic and Luna Mijovic in “Grbavica: The Land of My Dreams,” Strand Releasing, 2007]

With the release of her directorial feature debut, Sarajevo-born filmmaker Jasmila Zbanic has put Bosnia and Herzegovina on the proverbial map as a region to watch in the international film scene. Winner of the Golden Bear (and two other prizes) at last year’s Berlin Film Festival, “Grbavica: The Land of My Dreams” doesn’t just take place in Zbanic’s homeland; it specifically deals with a national issue that goes largely unaddressed in cinema — the countless Bosnian women who still suffer in the aftermath of the Yugloslav wars of the 90s. In this rich and justifiably acclaimed drama, single mother Esma (Mirjana Karanovic) harbors a wartime secret that greatly affects both her own well-being as well as that of her 12-year-old daughter Sara (Luna Mijovic). And it only takes an event as uncomplicated as Sara’s upcoming class field trip to act as the catalyst for a heartwrenching confrontation between mother and daughter over the truth of Esma’s horrifying past. The vowel-challenged “Grbavica” (pronounced GRR-BAH-VEE-ZAH, as named for Esma’s neighborhood) is tough to discuss without divulging some of the film’s plot reveals, so a SPOILER WARNING is in full effect during this chat with Zbanic.

For me, the moments that packed the most potent punch were usually the subtlest, like when Esma makes small talk with a friend about going to the post-mortem identifications as if it were a social occasion. Is it a typical Bosnian attitude to be so nonchalant about the distressing moments in day-to-day life?

At the beginning of the war, one bullet was something to be shocked about for days, and then after you have been under siege for three-and-a-half years, one bullet didn’t mean so much. In any film, drama is created out of these kinds of things, but I wanted to use it as it is in Bosnia today, where you have to accept it as part of normal life. That sounds really dramatic, but you just go on trying to deal with it.

How have Bosnian women responded to the film?

Women who survived these [atrocities] were pretty happy that somebody is talking about it because they were, for many years, forgotten about from our society. No one talked about it. Some would say, “We appreciate what you’re doing, but we can’t watch this film, it would be too emotional for us.” I wanted to make this film not just about Bosnian women, but more universally as a women’s topic. Of course it is located here, though rape happens not just in wars, but during times of peace in the U.S., in Western and Eastern Europe, in every country. That’s why one scene shows peace in Bosnia after the war, and there is a soldier in a cafe who almost rapes a woman. It is not just a wartime effect, but something that has happened throughout the history of women and relationships.

When you received your awards at the Berlinale, you took the opportunity to speak out about Serbian war criminals who still haven’t been captured. What do you hope to ultimately achieve with your films and status as a filmmaker?

When the Berlinale received it for competition, I suddenly learned that I had to do eight hours of interviews for five days. I was thinking, as a filmmaker, I don’t want to talk about my films. I said everything I wanted to in the film itself, so what is the purpose of all of this? Of course, the media is very much needed to help present my film to audiences, and my aim is to have this film seen, so what more could I do than just talk about the film? Knowing how hard our life is in Sarajevo because war criminals are still not captured, I thought, okay, I’m going to use every opportunity I can to speak about Bosnia. When I talk to people, they say, “Oh, they are not captured, really?” There have been so many more wars after Bosnia that this was completely forgotten about. I never thought while making the film that I wanted to achieve anything in a political sense, but once it was finished, I thought I would really try to change something.

Do you think this newfound soapbox will affect your filmmaking in the future?

I mean, I could say that, first of all, I’m a filmmaker and I want to make films that are important to me. I wouldn’t make a [strictly] political-issue film because I don’t think my film is political in this way. On the other hand, every film is political, even the most stupid films. I don’t think it will affect my filmmaking, because I try to make films that could maybe have meaning to human beings for the next 100 years. It’s in my everyday life that I want to talk about things that are unjust. After the film, during my interviews and things, I pointed out that Bosnian women who were raped didn’t have any status in our society. With the big media coverage, we actually managed to change Bosnian law. So, you know, this has little to do with filmmaking, but still has something to do with being a filmmaker, because I think aesthetics is a part of ethics.

You were only a teenager when the civil wars started, but you wrote the script just as you became a mother. So whose perspective resonates more with you, Esma’s or Sara’s?

When I was writing it, I was trying to make the story from Sara’s perspective, and I felt that something was wrong. I thought I should keep it with Esma as much as Sara, because the question of Sara’s identity and future is something for the next generation to answer. We still don’t know what the issues of this generation will be because they are new, and mine is a generation of victims, I could say? We remember the war, and now we have to deliver it — even if we don’t want it — to our kids. I never mention the war in front of my [six-year-old] kid, but she picks it up from TV or somewhere. She comes to me and says, you know, what are mass graves? And I have to answer, so I’m delivering my trauma to her, and I’m trying to explain in a way so that she won’t have to carry it. So, that’s what makes Esma’s perspective more similar to mine, not only because I’m a mother, but because she’s in a position of being hurt. Also, I don’t want to stay a victim [like Esma], I hate when I notice things that could define me as that, so I’m trying to overcome it.

I want to ask you about some of the great music choices you have throughout the film. Could you explain the cultural significance between those spiritual and turbo-folk songs?

Music for me in a film is never… I don’t want to use music as a slave of the image. I want music to be art, or a body in itself to give something to the film. So, I wanted to have these two worlds that Esma goes into. One is her inner world, where she’s at home or the women’s center, and the other is this outside, oppressive world where music is aggressive. [Turbo-folk] came from Serbia, and there are some theories that it was a weapon of war because it’s brainwashing music. You really want to get up and dance, and if a gun is near you, you would shoot. So I wanted to use it as one more layer of portraying Esma’s life.

I was reminded of another great film I watched recently concerning a similar topic. Have you seen Coixet’s “The Secret Life of Words”?

No, but journalists keep asking me that, so I just ordered it from Amazon. [laughs]

“Grbavica: The Land of My Dreams” opens in New York on February 16th (official site).


New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…


IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. 

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number! 

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time. 

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by. 


IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo. 

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim. 

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t? 

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?” 

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud. 

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.


The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”


Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).



Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.


And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.


Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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GIFs via Giffy

In this crazy digital age, sometimes all we really want is to reach out and touch something. Maybe that’s why so many of us are still gung-ho about owning stuff on DVD. It’s tangible. It’s real. It’s tech from a bygone era that still feels relevant, yet also kitschy and retro. It’s basically vinyl for people born after 1990.


Inevitably we all have that friend whose love of the disc is so absolutely repellent that he makes the technology less appealing. “The resolution, man. The colors. You can’t get latitude like that on a download.” Go to hell, Tim.

Yes, Tim sucks, and you don’t want to be like Tim, but maybe he’s onto something and DVD is still the future. Here are some benefits that go beyond touch.

It’s Decor and Decorum

With DVDs and a handsome bookshelf you can show off your great taste in film and television without showing off your search history. Good for first dates, dinner parties, family reunions, etc.


Forget Public Wifi

Warm up that optical drive. No more awkwardly streaming episodes on shady free wifi!



Internet service goes down. It happens all the time. It could happen right now. Then what? Without a DVD on hand you’ll be forced to make eye contact with your friends and family. Or worse – conversation.


Self Defense

You can’t throw a download like a ninja star. Think about it.


If you’d like to experience the benefits DVD ownership yourself, Portlandia Season 7 is now available on DVD and Blue-Ray.