Jasmila Zbanic and Ilyse McKimmie, Sundance Institute Feature Film Program Labs Director. Photo by Jennifer Prediger.
Jasmila Zbanic, director of ‘Grbavica,’ writes about her experience traveling to the United States with heightened sensitivity after living through the war in Bosnia. She shares her first impressions of Puerto Rico and how they transformed as the trip progressed.
Every screening of Grbavica is different, and this one in Puerto Rico in the FILM FORWARD program is especially peculiar. In the great building of Contrafuertes in the open-air space, projection is situated between walls of Museum and Church in the courtyard of a new alternative art temple. People sit on plastic chairs, they smoke and drink. I meet Sonia Santiago from the organization ‘Mothers Against the War’ and artist Charles Alvarado who are hosting this program. I feel at home immediately. I have to admit, it took me some time to feel comfortable in Puerto Rico.
On the way to San Juan, I was changing flights in Washington. The ground attendant invited priority passengers. “Uniformed members of the U.S. Armed Forces: We thank you for your service. Please board now.” I freeze—though one knows what is going on in the world, I was suddenly stroked: This country is in war! And I felt very uncomfortable. I arrived in San Juan and went out to wander around the Old San Juan. Five minutes from a hotel, I saw a sign on a Tommy Hilfiger store on Christo street: “We honor our Heroes. Military discount offered to all retired and active military personnel.”
I could only imagine “military personnel” from Fallujah who killed unarmed civilians including infants and young children walking down with Tommy Hilfiger brand new suits. Or girls with a deceased Iraqi man taking photos at Abu Ghraib prison with new Hilfiger collection for autumn/winter. Not forgetting guys responsible for massacres in Afghanistan in the U.S. Air force killing as if war was a video game. It is a revelation to know they have priority on board and they are offered honor and discount.
This dichotomy of beauty of San Juan and the fact that it is part of the war is for me very disturbing. I guess I am like a Pavlov’s dog that starts to swallow as soon as a bell rings.
At 6:00 p.m. the Film Forward program began. I am meeting wonderful people of Sociedad de Cine de Puerto Rico, Pimienta Films, and Universidad Metropolitana. They are all doing an amazing job of connecting people through the film giving them/us opportunity to see and tell stories, to share emotions. I am so touched by a beautiful film, Unfinished Spaces, by Alysa Nahmias and conversation with the audience afterward.
Screening of my film day after and conversation with the audience was one of the most beautiful experiences I ever had. People were so interested, thoughtful, and emotional. The questions about identity, art, violence, aftermaths of the war, women, hope were so important for all of us. One man from the audience approached me after the screening; touched by the movie, he told me with deep sincerity, “Mi casa es su casa.” That is definitely not what I ever got from the member of the audience anywhere in the world.
Only in a few hours, my instinct to escape was transformed into love for people here.
Cinema is magic because it does transform us. And it certainly moves things forward. It does not give solutions. (Mothers Against the War will still have to fight that their sons don’t go into actions that government call heroism but many see it clearly as a crime.) Cinema connects us in our efforts to be more human—to see and live the beauty of life.
I am definitely connected to Puerto Rico now. How can I not be when I have a casa here? I just have to trace the guy from last night and find out where he lives.