Sanela Diana Jenkins

I Was Born in the Land of Blood and Honey

Angelina Jolie has made a powerful movie about the Bosnian conflict that I will never go see. Her film In the Land of Blood and Honey tells the story of a Bosnian woman who is now a captive in a prison camp overseen by a Serbian soldier who was once her lover. The film won the “Cinema for Peace Award” at Cannes and seems destined to win many other awards. I hear it’s a really powerful and well-made film: a difficult story about a very difficult time for the country in which I grew up.

I lived through the Bosnian War; I do human rights work; I run a foundation in Bosnia; I raise money for Haiti and Darfur and other causes; and so I was on the invitation list and was asked to attend the premiere. But I had to turn it down. I couldn’t go and see this movie.

To me, Bosnia is personal. I was born and raised there. My brother was killed there. I watched families destroyed by war and violence. I saw friends die. I survived, but many did not. Everyone loses during a war. Most learn this lesson by watching movies or reading books. I learned it first-hand.

For me the pain is still very real. I can’t just watch this film, step out of the movie theater, and resume a normal life. That’s not a luxury I have. War changes people and leaves a mark on the soul. Angelina’s movie tries to capture that change. It tries to show the blood stains, both visible and invisible. I live with that war every day of my life, and I’ve learned to be careful. My scars will never heal, and over the years I’ve learned to be nicer to myself.

I know people who consider Schindler’s List a great movie and yet have never seen it. Some subjects are just too close. Some concentration camp survivors never talk about what happened to them behind those hellish gates. It’s not that they want to hide what happened; it’s just that they bury that piece of themselves to be able to live with people who never had those experiences. To survive, one has to learn to set boundaries.

I am very happy that Ms. Jolie’s movie shines a spotlight into the darkness of the Bosnian conflict. We need more of that. I personally work hard to help rebuild my country, one school, one hospital, one family, one heart at a time. As a survivor, that’s what I can do. Ms. Jolie is finding herself as a filmmaker and she is an important new voice expressing the emotional truth behind human rights issues. I hope her film wins more awards, gets tons of publicity, and finds a large audience: the more the better. Angelina’s hard work in telling this story of war might ultimately be rewarded with less violence in the real world. And we all could bear to watch that.