"As an American actor, I don't have the depth of emotion and understanding and the commitment to art and the ability that people have from this region of the world. They're well beyond me when it comes to being an artist."
Angelina Jolie was as humble as you can imagine a world-famous actress to be from the moment she sat down at the press conference for In The Land Of Blood And Honey, her directorial debut that she swears she never intended to make. A good amount of the press conference focused on her cast, all from the Serbia/Bosnia region and all with distinct memories of the bloody civil war that serves as the backdrop for In The Land of Blood and Honey, which Jolie describes as "a love story that could have been if not for war." Each member of the cast, as you can see in the video below, was asked to share their own memories of the conflict, and every single one of them was poignant, from one woman who remembered her father being taken away by soldiers only to return to star Goran Kostic admitting he was safe in London at the time but still heartbroken for his home country.
It's clear that these stories had a profound effect on Jolie, who says she started writing the script out of a frustration in seeing trauma across the world, "seeing their pain and wondering if we could have prevented this." When hearing stories from survivors of the Bosnian conflict, Jolie said she was "overwhelmed by the guilt of how little I knew, and was shocked by how long this went on." Even when she was on the set, recreating some of the horrors of war with actors who had survived it, Jolie said she felt some of that guilt return. One scene set at a prison camp required the actors playing soldiers to tell old women to take off their clothes and dance for them, a humiliating routine that Jolie said was difficult for everyone:
"We tried to recreate it on the day. It was very hard for everybody, because as a director I didn't want to ask them to do that. I felt like I was torturing them myself, so I kept apologizing and apologizing. And it was much harder for the men who were there, because they had to participate and laugh at these women and act in a way that is not in their nature. They didn't want to be these people. But they knew that if they did that they would give a gift to these women, because they were going to show the horrors, and that's what a lot of the men in this film did. They acted in a way that was aggressive, which to me is very noble for them to do."
But Jolie went on to tell another anecdote about getting through tough scenes like that, and how one actor in particular-- Ermin Bravo, who actually fought in the conflict as a soldier, and played a fighter on the opposite side in this film-- set the tone that got them through the rest of the shoot.
"The first thing we shot was the scene when the women are pulled off the bus and things are ripped away from them, and one is raped after the other. That was our first day. Many of our cast knew each other and many did not, and they came form all different sides of the conflict. I was nervous that this first day would cause more tension. And the first scene, it played out, and it was I think shocking for everybody, but everybody committed to it and did it. As soon as I said cut, Ermin picked up the woman who he had to rape in the scene, and gave her the biggest hug, and made sure she was ok. They other men followed suit and picked up all the clothes off the floor and redressed the women themselves. That was the beginning of how we would treat each other on the film. It set the tone, it taught me everything. "
You can hear many more stories like that, from the harrowing to the uplifting and back again, in the press conference below. Most of the journalist questions focus on Jolie, as you might expect, but the stories from the cast are very much worth hearing as well. In the Land of Blood and Honey, a difficult but hugely worthwhile film that immediately marks Jolie as a director worth watching, is in limited release now.