The Banja Luka Youth House screening was a special one for me. Firstly, a young woman, Natasa Maric, talked about the “loss” and “broken promise” from the dam corporation that relocate Ahlo and his family. Natasa and her teacher Alma told me that the older people of communities near Banja Luka had also been displaced by dams – also the victims of broken promises. I had a strong feeling that people were not talking about “loss” as much as they would like and it was wonderful that a story a small family in Laos was provoking conversation. Natasa kindly said it was the best film she had ever seen which is hugely touching for me – especially as her voice had more emotion in in it than I have heard in a long time.
A local theatre actor, Rok Padisa said he had seen himself in Ahlo, the 10-year-old boy in the film. Rok told us the story of when he lost his father in the war at a very early age (I think he was only 5) and he had inherited his father’s house. But it became a “useless space” a place he could do nothing with because it was surrounded by land mines. Ironically he said his father’s name was Srecko which means “Luck” – the name of Ahlo’s father’s rocket in the film which doesn’t help Ahlo. It is Ahlo, like Rok who had to empower their own futures without a parent – Ahlo with his rocket and the rain, Rok with acting and sharing narratives through theatre. I love how a young actor in Banja Luka can find emotion and memory parallels to a 10-year-old boy in Laos.
In a screening at the American Corner in Doboj, a student called Srijezana said, like with the children in The Rocket, she and her friends were too young to know what the war was – that they would play near bombs because, to her, they were just metal. This is the chilling reality of children all around the planet who live with the legacy of war.
One story that has stayed with me for this trip is from U.S. Embassy representative Lejla Pasovic. She told me of her choice to stay in Sarajevo during the siege – a terrifying risky decision but that she felt this was her home, her community and she didn’t want to lose that. Her brother had left but really wanted to return for her 19th birthday but the only way he could get back was to run across the airfield runway that separated the forces, snipers on all sides. The “Freedom Tunnel” hadn’t yet been dug. The runway was controlled by the UN and if you were caught you were sent back to where you came from. Lejla’s brother was caught but he lied and said he was trying to flee Sarajevo and so was sent to Sarajevo (where he wanted to be with his sister). He had two oranges for Lejla which they shared on her birthday.
Thank you to the Sundance Institute, the U.S. Cultural partners and U.S. Embassy for bringing me to Bosnia & Herzegovina, to share The Rocket and to connect with many courageous people and their stories.