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Emotional showing in Sarajevo for Jolie's war film

By Allan Little
BBC News, Sarajevo

media captionAngelina Jolie: "We must learn from history"

Sarajevo has just seen the premiere of controversial new film - In the Land of Blood and Honey - a love story set during the Bosnian War. It is the directorial debut of Angelina Jolie, and the BBC's Allan Little has been speaking to her about the experience.

She seemed momentarily taken aback by the warmth with which she was welcomed at Sarajevo's Zetra stadium. Five thousand people rose to their feet to applaud Angelina Jolie as she took to the stage to introduce the film, her directorial debut.

"It was one of the most amazing nights of my life, to be a part of that," she told me. "You take people's stories, their histories and you try to do your best by them but you're not making a documentary; it's an artistic interpretation, a film.

"And you see these people sitting here, reliving the worst parts of their lives and you think are they going to embrace it, or are they going to get upset? And when they stood I thought I was going to cry."

In the Land of Blood and Honey is not an easy film to watch. It depicts, in bleak and chilling detail, the brutal process by which hundreds of thousands of non-Serbs were removed from their homes in the campaign that came to be known as ethnic cleansing.

Civilians are casually gunned down in the street; women are repeatedly raped.

image captionJolie, her partner Brad Pitt and cast members appeared on stage at the screening

Many in the audience were in tears as they left. Most I spoke to said the film had captured the reality of what they had lived through in the war years - that it had told Bosnia's story with honesty.

"It is hard for me to talk about this. It is very emotional," one woman said. "The film is good. I am glad she made it."

But go to the Serbian half of the country and you enter a parallel universe.

Here, atrocities committed in the name of the Serb nation, aimed at carving out an ethnically pure Serb territory in Bosnia, are routinely denied. Many argue that the Srebrenica massacre of July 1995, in which 8,000 men and boys were killed, simply didn't happen.

Here, Serb leaders have told Angelina Jolie that she is not welcome in the Serb areas, and that her film will not be shown.

Dragan Mutapdzija is a Serb veteran of the 1992-95 conflict and was himself held in a war-time prison camp for several months.

"Serbs never deny that crimes were committed," he said. "But they were committed by individuals and not by the whole nation. This film demonises our nation. Yet again the Serbs are depicted as the bad guys."

image captionDragan Mutapdzija, a veteran of the conflict, said only individuals were responsible for crimes

The film depicts good and bad on both sides. But overwhelmingly the perpetrators are Serbs and the victims Muslims.

Angelina Jolie rejects claims that the film lacks balance. "The war was not balanced," she says. "I can't understand people who are looking for a balance that did not exist. There are some people who don't want to be reminded of these things, some even who deny that these things even happened. Those people are going to be angry."

Bosnia's wounds are not healed. This film, for all its harrowing honesty, reveals a country unreconciled to its painful past, and bitterly divided still even on the question of what really happened here almost 20 years ago.

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  • Jolie film screened in Sarajevo