A Jolie Good Mess?

Saving the day?

If you're a brand new female director, about to release your first feature onto an unsuspecting Hollywood, then you might expect a reasonable amount of attention. If you're Angelina Jolie, then you can bet on it.

Jolie's directorial debut, tentatively scheduled for a release sometime in 2011, will see the superstar become one of a still under-represented group of directors in the industry, an LA Times article from earlier in 2010 claiming that female directors make up between just 7% and 9% of all directing credits.

Whilst Jolie's move into screenwriting and directing should be seen as a positive thing for the industry, her choice of subject matter has guaranteed that many will see it as anything but. Currently only carrying the working title of Untitled Bosnian War Love Story, Jolie's script focuses on the love between a Bosnian woman and a Serbian man, setting the scene on the eve of the Bosnian War.

Jolie's idea for the story seems to have either come from or been developed by her travels in the region with partner Brad Pitt as part of their work for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) as goodwill ambassadors. Having only visited the region for the first time in April of this year, Jolie's film began shooting both in Hungary, ahead of moving into Bosnia, at the beginning of the month, only for it to begin to hit problems last week.

Gavrilo Grahovac, the Bosnian Minister for Culture, revealed on Thursday that Jolie 'no longer has the authorisation to shoot in Bosnia' following a reported technical omission in the application to film and a protest at the film's reported content by a group representing female victims of the Bosnian War. The problems with the shoot looked set to be overcome when, on Monday, Edin Sarkic, a representative of the Bosnian production company working on the film, said that he expected to receive a new permit imminently.

Regardless of its eventual outcome, the controversy surrounding Jolie's film appears to have understandably stirred up feelings in the region where the actress plans to shoot. Dezmond Hunt, who writes the blog Hollywood Spy and is based in Serbia, explains that this isn't to do with the mere fact that the film examines the Bosnian war as, '90% of all our movies talk about the war or at least mention it somehow... they usually depict the people and the soldiers as helpless pawns of ruthless politicians'.

If the film's subject is nothing new for audiences in the former Yugoslavia, then the question remains over Jolie's motivation to make the film at all and whether her 'Western' take on the conflict and the 'forbidden love' story can really be counted as having either any merit or authority. Dezmond continues the story;

'it is a bit morbid and ironic to see Americans making movies about the war, especially since most of the things seen on American TV - in the news channels and in films about the war - are both ignorant and biased... the plot of her film is very similar to one of the films of our famous director Emir Kusturica who even thought of suing her'

Whilst there are huge and undeniably positives in Jolie seeking to join a depressingly small band of female directors, it's impossible not to reflect on the fact that her choice of subject matter seems hardly designed to enter the arena quietly. While Jolie pleads for people 'not to judge' the film before its release, it's difficult not to take a view on what appears to be the Americanisation of a wholly European matter, by people who seem, frankly, entirely ill-qualified and under-experienced to pass judgement.

Perhaps, having not seen the film, the same criticism could be levelled at everyone doubting the merits of the production, although the fact that the people of the region are 'entertained and amused', as Dezmond puts it, by Jolie's adventure, speaks volumes for their resilience and open-mindedness on the subject. A keen observer of the industry, he's keen to emphasise the fact that opinion in the region remains open-minded, if a little sceptical; 'we really don't know what kind of film she's going to make. It could actually be a good one, an objective one'. You can only hope that Jolie's story treats its chosen topic with the same respect and general goodwill that is currently being shown towards her although, both here and in Serbia, the nagging feeling that the controversy could have been avoided entirely is difficult to dispel.

Film Intel would like to pass on our thanks to Dezmond at Hollywood Spy. Without his invaluable input, this article would not have been possible.


  1. glad you were satisfied with my input, Sam :))
    You wrote a nice and intelligent article.

    The latest news from the press today say that the Serbian man apparently kills the Muslim women he loves in the end believing she betrayed his comrades. In the end he turns himself to international forces. This has stirred quite a lot of negative responses in the public today. Everybody is hoping that this isn't true and that we won't have another ignorant picture of these regions again in some foreign film.

    Angelina is hiding the script so hard, arousing suspicions everywhere, especially in Bosnia, where people are much more sensitive to this issue. I'm not sure why is she so secretive. According to their contracts everyone working on the film who shares even the smallest detail from the set with the press will have to pay a huge sum of money as punishment.

  2. Nice article, Sam, and kudos to Dez for his input.

    I doubt we'll ever know what Angie's real motivation is, though I give her the benefit of the doubt that it's not 'malicious.' The secrecy surrounding the script sounds kinda suspicious though.

    Your sentiment that this is an "Americanization of a wholly European matter, by people who seem, frankly, entirely ill-qualified and under-experienced to pass judgement" seems spot-on. It's frustrating when Hollywood actors seem to think they know everything about said culture when they've visited a country only once or twice.

  3. Dez - None Disclosure Agreements (NDAs) are fairly common on film sets but you're right, the fact that they're trying to keep this very tight is worrying and the new news you mention must have caused even more concern.

    Couldn't have written it without you Dez and I hope you'll keep us all updated!

    rtm - I'm sure it's not malicious and I'm absolutely sure that it is well intentioned but the second point in your comment really gets to the crux of it: I'm not sure I want to be educated about the Bosnian war by Angelina Jolie and I'm almost certain that Serbs and Bosnians don't want the world to be ill-educated about the conflict by her (although Dez is obviously much better qualified to comment on that).

    Having said that it's a complex issue and as I say, its got to be counted as a positive that we're going to have another female director who's obviously highly motivated to take that career path.

  4. controversy sells... i wonder if that's what she's going for with such a tight-lipped approach to addressing the content of her film. it seems that the wise action for her to take would be content disclosure to some degree- dispel the tension and apprehension that people are feeling. unless she knows that her script is overtly offensive...
    i'm not a fan of censorship- but promotion of ignorance and discrimination by someone with so much clout is terrifying. as a writer, you need to stand by what you write- defend it. and as someone with as much clout as she has discussing such a sensitive issue, i think her tight-lipped approach is really having a detrimental effect on the perception the public has of this project.

  5. aspiring_x - some really interesting points there. I absolutely agree that the secrecy or perceived secrecy surrounding the project is not helping people to believe that there is nothing insidious going on - nothing to fear. Playing devil's advocate though: how much do we ever know about films before they've finished filming - Malick's TREE OF LIFE has finished and we know nothing about it! Certainly though, as I say, it's not helping and your point about the fact that there is someone with this much clout potentially ill-educating people is, I think, both entirely valid and the main concern.

  6. Very well written. Are we to assume Jolie is starring in the movie as well? Her ego astounds.

    I love the perspective of Dez (representing those in the know over there). We Americans so often forget our viewpoint isn't the only one--or even the right one all the time.


  7. Thanks Michele! Jolie isn't starring in the film though - she has a full cast of regional actors. I can only imagine what opinion would have been like if it had been a US cast!

  8. I just signed up to your blogs rss feed. Will you post more on this subject?