Shared Identity: Students in BiH Find Parallels in 20 Feet From Stardom
"Normally educated separately, using different history books and educational tools, Bosniak and Croat high school students were permitted to mix for a screening of the film in an English class."
Walking into the cold, dark, empty school building in Busovaca, a small village about an hour outside of Sarajevo, Bosnia & Herzegovina, with a ‘no guns allowed’ sign on the front door, I was not sure what to expect. I have attended few international screenings of 20 Feet From Stardom and even fewer screenings exclusively for young people, so I didn’t know what the response might be or if the students would even relate to the film.
This school is where I began my Film Forward trip to Bosnia & Herzegovina . Normally educated separately, using different history books and educational tools, Bosniak and Croat high school students were permitted to mix for a screening of the film in an English class.
After viewing the film, the Q&A with the students got off to a slow start. At first it was difficult to tell if the students were shy or if they simply didn’t understand English very well. However, after a brief discussion about Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones, they started to relax and began discussing their interpretations of the film's themes and the meaning of success. Not only was their English incredible, but they were amazingly articulate and thoughtful.
Frequently when we screen 20 Feet From Stardom in America questions from the audience are entirely about the music and musicians. I was so impressed by these young students in a rural village in Bosnia & Herzegovina, who were able to see far beyond that and relate the film to their own lives. One young man shared how he wanted to be a karate star and felt that he could relate to the women in our film because he too is fighting against odds to achieve his dreams.
The conversation ultimately turned to the issue of race and segregation in America and what it’s like to live in a society, like theirs, that is divided. The students shared some of their feelings about what it’s like to live and learn in a community that is split along ethnic and religious lines. Many of them shared how they do not have the same views as their parents and that they would much rather live and go to school all together with their friends regardless of ethnicity or religion. The teacher expressed his dissenting views and it was powerful to see the young students stand up for themselves and their opinions.
I never could have imagined that a film about African American backup singers would provoke such a meaningful conversation with a group of young people in rural Bosnia & Herzegovina. In a country that has such a troubled recent past, it was inspiring to see these children respond with passion and open mindedness and be so willing to engage in a dialogue about the challenges in their lives and their country.