By ANGELA DAWSON
Front Row Features
HOLLYWOOD—Having served as a United Nations Goodwill ambassador, Angelina Jolie has traveled to many war-torn countries over the past decade. Over the course of her travels, she heard about the atrocities committed in Bosnia and Herzegovina in the early 1990s. The Oscar-winning actress decided a couple of years ago to find out more about it and write a screenplay about the war’s effect on a young couple as an exercise. Little did she expect it to become a produced screenplay, one that has been gaining kudos, especially for Jolie’s writing and directing skills. The Producers Guild of America has honored her with its Stanley Kramer award for raising awareness about a social issue. The fledgling filmmaker recently spoke to Front Row Features about “In the Land of Blood and Honey,” the first film she wrote and directed.
Front Row Features: Was the script something that came about as a result of your U.N. work?
Angelina Jolie: Yes, it was. I wasn’t quite conscious of what was happening. I never expected this to be a movie. I quietly sat alone and thought, I’m just going to stick with this format of films since it what’s I’ve done, and quietly see if I can write something where I can meditate and study what happens to human beings through war so I can better understand people in post-conflict situations. Somehow, it ended up evolving into a film.
Front Row Features: How much did you figure out how to do something of this scale for your first project?
Jolie: First, we sent the script without my name on it, to people on all sides of the conflict. If they would agree on the same story and could participate. There would be purpose for doing it, but if they could not, then we would burn it. Many of them were children in the war and one of them lost 28 family members. They all lost somebody. As we got together, they started to tell me more stories and so we started to expand on the script.
Front Row Features: How did you go about writing the script?
Jolie: I did my best to kind of kept it simple and pure. We adjusted it into its authentic Serbian and Croatian languages, which in this region is very complicated. We had to not only get it translated but we had to get it translated more than once to make sure it was accurate and fair.
Front Row Features: You filmed this in the native languages of that region. How did you direct the actors? Did you use translators?
Jolie: Most of them speak English. We also did the entire film in English (for the U.K. market).
Front Row Features: Are you hooked on directing now?
Jolie: It would take a really special project to do it again. I did this not because I wanted to be a director. I did it because I had to get this story out into the world. I really did not realize how much work went into directing.
Front Row Features: Since you had actors from different ethnic groups on this film, how did you keep the peace?
Jolie: I was a little nervous and on the first day. We had one of the hardest scenes, which was the scene where the women were taken off the bus and raped. The actresses in that scene were Bosnian-Muslim and the actors in were mixed Bosnian-Muslim, Bosnian-Serb and Serbian. So having to recreate this and actually physically do this to each other was going to be the hardest thing. But it was somewhat intentional because it was either going to spark all these emotions immediately or it was going to do something else. And what happened was as soon as I called cut for the first time, Ermin (Sijamija) who was playing the aggressor, picked Jelena (Jovanova) up and gave her the biggest hug, apologized and hugged. She then hugged him back. Then all of the men who had ripped the earrings and jackets off the women put them back on them and apologized and took care of them and brought them tea and made sure they were OK. By lunchtime, there was so much kindness because they confronting with this story of ugliness this past that they do not want to repeat.
Front Row Features: Did you have to sacrifice anything to make this film?
Jolie: I would never sacrifice any time with my family. If Brad (Pitt) and I couldn’t manage our schedules, we would always sacrifice work, so I stayed with him while he was doing “Moneyball” in L.A. with the kids. I did the prep for this film mostly (in L.A.) and I only traveled for two days (to Hungary, where most of the film was shot) during that time. I only had three days in country before I started shooting because I had to stay with my family. Brad’s film went over (schedule) so I had to push back the start of production (on “In The Land of Blood and Honey”). He arrived a week later. He took the kids to school, and after school they came to set. We’d would usually stay outside and play with the fake snow and try not to come anywhere near the camera because it’s an inappropriate film for them to see.
Front Row Features: How open are you about with your kids about the problems in the world?
Jolie: Very. My children have been to post-conflict situations and they’ve been to refugee camps with me. For example, we have a house in Cambodia, where Maddox is from. It’s not a house, exactly. It’s a room on stilts surrounded by a Cambodian people that work with us to secure these 5,000 villagers. It’s in the middle of a jungle. We found 48 land mines on our property. We have neighbors that are landmine victims. And the kids play with local kids and they swim in the pond. So it’s a part of what they know, it’s a part of their life. When I go on U.N. missions, I always sit down with them and explain to them why I’m going. And they often know enough, especially the older ones who watch the news. And I tell them that I’m going to go and meet other kids like them and spend some time and make sure everybody’s OK. And sometimes they give me little things to bring to them. They are pretty lovely kids.
Front Row Features: How is your childhood different from the childhood you’re creating for your children?
Jolie: I’m trying to make them more global. My mother, as open as she was, didn’t travel as much but she always taught me to be a good person. She took me to my first Amnesty International for dinner when I was nine. She was part Native American and always told me about world issues but we never lived outside of America. We didn’t travel so we weren’t at home in the world. So with my family, I’m trying to raise them to have respect for all people and make friends around the world and feel at home with the world and really live a truly global life because it’s what forms them and it’s really important to me.
Front Row Features: Besides this film, which obviously had a profound effect on you, is there another film you did that had that kind of effect on you?
Jolie: I loved doing “The Mighty Heart,” which was the Daniel Pearl story. I loved that because I loved (Mariane Pearl’s) message. Her message of tolerance and forgiveness is very important. I don’t know if I could be as gracious, personally. And I’ve come to know her family and her son, so it was very important for me, that film. And I loved Michael (Winterbottom’s) directing. I thought it was just a great experience as an artist.
Front Row Features: When are you happiest?
Jolie: Being a mom. We had a moment recently where we had just finished work in New York and Brad and I were piled in the car with the kids listening to Christmas songs and we were laughing and playing games in the car and I looked at Brad and I said, “This is one of these moments, isn’t it? This is the moments we live for.” And so it’s that. You just catch yourself sometimes and you look around. I’m so fortunate; I love my family so much. And they’re such a funny, interesting group of people.
Front Row Features: Where do you see yourself 10 years from now?
Jolie: I think I’ll be working less. My kids will need me a lot when they hit their teens. (She laughs). If I know anything about being a teenager, I need to be braced to be spending a lot of time with all six of them and making sure I can be there for when they go through everything. Maybe I’ll get to write or something.