Monday, January 30, 2012

Using New Media to Raise Awareness while Promoting In the Land of Blood and Honey

GK Films, writer-director Angelina Jolie, and the distributors of In the Land of Blood and Honey are utilizing publicity, marketing, and new media devices to enhance the film’s role as a purveyor of education. The Center for the Study of Women recently cosponsored the premiere of the film, which centers on a relationship between a prisoner and her captor in wartime Bosnia, circa 1992 to 1995. The relationship becomes a crucible through which to explore the sociopolitical events that both surround and impact it. In addition to representing this time, place, and community with impressive accuracy, the producers of the film have used it as an opportunity to provide more historical and social context to viewers who explore its official website ( Building on the expected trailer and excerpts of critical acclaim, the website includes personal stories of actors who lived through the Bosnian War, which strongly influenced the content of Jolie’s script, photographs by photo-journalist Tom Stoddart documenting the period, and a series of video interviews with activists and political figures—Madeleine K. Albright, Vanesa Glodjo, Luis Moreno Ocampo, and Zainab Salbi—about the events and issues portrayed in the film. The videos are available for viewing on YouTube.

At the beginning of each video, Jolie states: “We chose to make a film set during the war in Bosnia in part to remind the world of what happened there so recently. It is our hope that In the Land of Blood and Honey contributes to the discussion and understanding of this war, and the tremendous toll that war takes on individuals.” The interviews on In the Land of Blood and Honey’s website are further efforts to inspire such discussion and, perhaps, encourage viewers to use their knowledge of these traumatic events in order to effect positive change.
“[The film] was more than authentic,” says Vanesa Glodjo, an actress in the film who personally survived gunfire and the destruction of her family’s home by a grenade during the conflict. “I will tell you something that is actually the interesting thing, [Jolie is] someone who’s seen this thing, like, intuitively…from inside but also I felt that it’s somehow from an outside eye, because she had the whole situation of the war. It wasn’t just some inside feeling of the war. It’s really both, and that is what’s unique about this film, and what I loved.”

Luis Moreno Ocampo, Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, describes the importance of justice and law in the context of war and, in particular, the Bosnian war. “As a prosecutor of the International Court, my job is to make justice but to stop wars. To stop conflicts,” says Ocampo. “The world cannot imagine. People believe that normal life is a peaceful city in The Netherlands or in California. It’s not true. It is not normal life. It is the result of a lot of work. The world is not normal in this sense. The world is heavy, it’s wild. And when there’s no rule and justice, you can be raped, you can be killed.”

Ocampo emphasizes that the power of the film lies in its insistence on conveying a collective traumatic social, political, and historical context through the lens of intimate human experiences. In doing this, the film aims to revise collective ways of thinking and acting. As a result, Ocampo argues, it performs some of the same functions as law enforcers against war crimes. “My work is to prosecute war criminals. But this movie is showing the meaning of the war much better than any trial, because it’s showing the meaning of the war to normal people, and how it’s affecting everyone. So I think that this movie is basically about justice. It’s a movie against war. Basically it’s a movie that wishes to organize us differently, because war is disaster. War is the destruction of everything, and the movie is interesting because it shows this big idea, with little pieces. The movie shows the big idea that war is insane, with little stories that you can follow.”

Former U.S. Secretary of State Madeline Albright, who was the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations during the war in Bosnia, insists that consciousness-raising about war atrocities and action against them must take place on a transnational level. She argues that the United States’ reluctance to get involved with the conflicts in Bosnia was especially misguided because, thanks to contemporary media, there was extraordinarily ample evidence of the war crimes that took place. “I actually believe that we should have done something earlier,” says Albright. “There is something morally wrong with watching people die and deciding that you wouldn’t use a certain amount of force to make them stop killing each other. There are many, many discussions about it, but from my perspective, if you have the capability of stopping the killing of one group of people for no reason except because you're prejudiced against that group of people, and you have the capability of using the force surgically, then I think it’s worth doing.”

Albright’s discussion of these issues suggests that the film, and perhaps, especially, Jolie’s use of her star power to produce and publicize the film, are part of an effort to make spectators in the United States and other countries aware, on a powerful affective level, of what took place in Bosnia during the war. The film and its publicity seem to urge spectators to become strongly aware of the international, wide-ranging effects of war today and to practice pro-activity in their engagement with countries other than their own. At the same time, the filmmakers seem intent on making the film's production and spectatorship part of a healing process for the Bosnian people who suffered and continue to suffer because of the war.

Another of the short films features Zanib Salbi of Women for Women International, an organization that she cofounded with Amjad Atallah in order to help the multitudes of female rape camp and concentration camp survivors left in the wake of the war. She states that, although the war has been over for eighteen years, many wounds and scars continue to afflict those who lived through it. “This is not only the destruction of a social fabric eighteen years ago it is a pain that has not healed yet.” says Salbi. “I think the lesson that comes out of Bosnia for me is the importance of dialogue and healing, and in Bosnia that dialogue apparently has not happened from five hundred years ago. But it has not even happened from this last war. There isn’t healing in this country, and sometimes healing entails the acknowledgement of what happened, the injustice that happened. Sometimes the healing entails an apology, and sometimes the healing entails forgiveness, even when not asked to be forgiven.”

Glodjo suggests that making the film was a powerful experience because it created an opportunity to look at and speak about painful events that have often been considered unspeakable and, thus, difficult to process.  For her, the production of the film was a step towards the kind of necessary healing that Salbi describes. “I’ve never been speaking about the war since,” says Glodjo. “We never spoke about it, among friends, with anybody. It’s not the subject that’s been brought up. Every day [making the film] it was just some opening, opening yourself to everything that could come.”

It seems difficult to deny that, with In the Land of Blood of Honey and its publicity, the filmmakers and distributors have pushed the boundaries of what kinds of industry and independent films are possible, and what cultural functions they may serve. Let us hope that its success will allow the film and its surrounding discourse to serve as models for other Hollywood power players.

--Ben Sher, Editorial Associate

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