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Winner of the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival, the bold debut of writer/director Jasmila Zbanic is a tender and powerful story of a mother's love for her daughter. In the Grbavica district of Sarajevo, once used as an internment camp during the Yugoslav war, single mom Esma (Mirjana Karanovic) works two jobs trying to make a better life for her daughter. When 12-year-old Sara (Luna Mijovic) signs up to go on a school outing, questions arise about her father, who is supposed to have died a war martyr. Gradually, Sara comes to realize that her mother has never told her the truth about the war years, and the truth threatens to tear them apart.
 

 Grbavica: The Land of My Dreams


"Is it a downer?"

"What do you mean?"

"I mean, is your film a downer? Is it sad? Will it put me down?"

I was asked this question by a guy that I just met in a L.A. Film Festival van. I arrived here the day before from cold Bosnia and realized that I had totally wrong clothes with me. It is not that I didn't check the temperature in L.A. before my departure, but it was 23° F in Bosnia at the time and my body just could not believe that it might be 77° F anywhere. I packed wrong clothes and now I am hot. That's the power of habit: November=Cold. There you go-—swelter now, I think to myself!

The guy I met is a film student in L.A. He now works as a driver. The pay is low but he has to live off something. He asks about my film. I teach him how to pronounce its name: Grbavica. He is successful after just one attempt.

"My film is about love in the time of hate." As I give him my one-liner it already sounds hackneyed. I spent five years of my life making this film and putting all the effort into one single sentence hurts like crazy. Through the windows I can see Marilyn Monroe T-shirts on Hollywood Boulevard. I can hardly wait to get off the van and buy myself one-—no matter how silly I might look in it.

"War topic, your film?"

"No. Post-war," I say.

"Do you think that we Americans are doing terrible things over there?"

"Excuse me?"

"In Iraq? Do you see us as bad guys?"

Surprised by the turn of our conversation, with my eyes jealously looking at his sleeveless shirt and flip-flops, I try to put the conversation back on track by saying that just as I do not see films as simply "downers" or "non-downers," I also do not divide people into just good or bad. To show him that I do not just beat around the bush I tell him what I think about U.S. foreign policy and George W. Bush. And I do it the Balkan way, with lots of F-words and gesticulation.

Now the young man starts to sweat.

On a neighboring street, I buy myself a Mel's Diner T-shirt. My body feels thankful. It is just distrustful of the glass full of ice cubes that the waitress puts down on the table.

Grbavica is being screened at the ArcLight Cinemas. The audience is already in. Somebody waves at me from the audience: the driver! I am really happy. There is at least one person in the theatre who knows how to pronounce the title of my film!

"He is with the CIA," says C., my American friend, while sending an email on her blackberry.

"What?!," I blurt out as an ice cube sticks in my throat. I can already see myself buying antibiotics.

"That driver of yours. He is surely with the CIA," she begins her conspiracy theory. "Why would a film student be interested in your opinion about Bush?" C. does not stop typing.

It is true that his question was out of place and quite out of the blue, but he might just be a conscientious young man concerned for the world's destiny.

"Do not be naïve. What driver would have time to watch films during the festival anyway? Come on."

My body does not believe, again. This time, it is not about the season, but about knee-jerk thinking: America=Free Society. C. laughs. And laughs.

After the film, the driver walks up to me. He shakes my hand and says the film touched him, that he even cried at one moment. He looks sincere.

"Does it mean my film is a downer?," I ask him.

"Well, it does get you down but it is also funny and gives you hope at the end. I love that."

"Thank you," I say and tensely question whether I am speaking to a CIA agent for the first time in my life. Is this possible, or does it only happen in films?! But the director in me speaks: Any spectator is a good spectator. We have to love our audience!

It is a calm night in front of the cinema. The first warm November in my life. A strange feeling!