Interview - Part 1
Frank Talk on Her Directorial Debut
By Beverly Cohn
hat can you say about Angelina Jolie that hasnt already been
said? She is the most famous, most photographed woman in the world whose
significant other, Brad Pitt, is equally as famous as both an actor and
activist. In addition to this award-winning actress films generating
big box office, her humanitarian activities are legend and have culminated
in her debut as writer/director/ producer of The Land of Blood of
Honey, a compelling story set against the backdrop of the Bosnian
War. Jolies film will honored with the 2012 Producers Guild
of Americas Stanley Kramer Award as well as having received a Golden
Globe nomination for Best Foreign Language Film.
Jolie recently sat down with a select group of journalists
and the following interview has been edited for continuity and print
Q: What is the genesis of The Land of Blood
Jolie: When I first started traveling years ago, and
went to a few countries, I was very emotional about what I saw and it
changed me as a person and as a mother. Then I went through a period
of getting very angry and tried to understand what was happening and
how to fight against it. So its been an evolution for me but I
never expected to make this movie. I quietly sat alone and thought I
had written journals and Op-Ed pieces, but wanted to see if I could
write a project where I could study what happens to human beings through
war so I could have a better understanding and better figure out how
to help. It gave me purpose to watch documentaries and to read books
and watch news footage and to visit the region and spend time with people.
I never thought that this was going to be a feature. I was doing this
research for learning purposes.
First-time director Angelina Jolie checks a shot
with Director of Photography Dean Semler. Photo: Ken
Regan. Courtesy of FilmDistrict and GK Films
Q: This was an extremely ambitious project. Did you
follow your own creative instincts and did you fully understand what
you were getting into?
Jolie: If I only knew. (Laughter) Somehow, in
my mind, the script was very much in these rooms. Then when you have
to accurately depict war, things start to get bigger and bigger. First
we sent the script, without my name on it, to people from all different
sides of the conflict, including Bosnians, Serbs, Croatians, and Muslims,
and decided that if those people could agree on the same story, and
would participate, there would be a purpose in making the film. If they
did not agree, there would be no project. Many of them lived through
the war and told me their personal stories that were eventually incorporated
into the script. I met a woman who was held captive and was used as
a human shield and was forced to watch older women dance naked in front
of soldiers, which is one of the scenes in the film.
Jolie relied on Pitt's input as the script evolved.
Q: Was Brad involved in the film and did you use
him as a sounding board?
Jolie: He was the first person to read the script and
probably if he had said something negative, we wouldnt be here
today. (Laughter) I showed it to him as this kind of private
experiment. He took it with him to Japan and called me and said, Its
really not that bad its really pretty good. We talked
further about it and he encouraged me throughout the whole process.
He came to the set most days and did some still photography. He was
always around and always supportive.
Q: How much of a challenge did you have writing these
foreign characters, all of which are very well developed?
Jolie: I was able to flip the characters in my head
as though I was playing the different roles. You have to inhabit the
characters and write from their individual voices. I tried to keep it
clean without any extraneous dialogue. There was a lot of silence and
a lot of tension so I tried to keep the writing simple and pure. Since
the region is very complicated, the authentic language had to be translated
by different translators. It couldnt be just a Bosnian or a Muslim
or a Serb because the translation could be slanted to one side or the
other. So the final translation had to be agreed on by all sides.
"I hated the day when
I had to ask the old women to strip naked." Photo:
Dean Semler - Courtesy of FilmDistrict and GK FilmsDean Semler
Q: What was your directorial style in working with
Jolie: When the scene was done in their native tongue,
I couldnt understand everything that was being said, so I would
check with the actors to make sure the scene worked for each of them.
For example if Danijel (Goran Kostic) had a big scene, I would pull
Zana (Marjanovic who played Ajla) aside and say that it feels
right for me emotionally, but text wise was there anything that I needed
to know. As a director, I gave them what I always felt I needed when
I was working as an actor safe spaces, respect, sensitivity to
their craft, and trust. For example, in scenes where Zana had to deal
with sensuality or nudity, I made sure to be very considerate and only
put in the film what was necessary for story telling and would try to
protect the actors from the crew and the noise.
Q: Did you give your direction through a translator?
Jolie: Most of them speak English. We also did the entire
film in English and there were only a few actors who had to learn their
lines phonetically. Often we would do the first take in English because
they wanted to do it that way. They found so much when they did the
lines in their authentic language and many times wanted to do it again
in English because their personality and body language would be different.
(C) Ajla played by Zana Marjanovic and other women
arrive at the prison camp run by Serb soldiers where they are systematically
raped. Photo: Dean Semler. Courtesy of FilmDistrict and
Q: With members of the cast from all sides of the
political conflict, what was the first day of shooting like and were
there any confrontations that you had to deal with?
Jolie: From the interview process, I knew they were
all very intelligent very open, and thoughtful people, and knew they
all had the same goal. During the interviews, even though they were
all divided, they all said they were Yugoslavian. Actually, everyone
took a pay cut because people wanted to work on a film that had some
meaning. Anyway, I was a little nervous on the first day because we
had to shoot one of the hardest scenes, which is the scene where the
women are taken off the bus and raped. The actors in that scene are
a mix of Bosnian, Serbs, and Muslim men. But in some ways it was intentional
to shoot that scene first because it was either going to spark all these
emotions immediately or it was going to do something else. What happened
was as soon as I called cut for the first time, Ermin Bravo,
who was played the aggressor Mehmet, who rapes Esma, picked up Jelana
Jovanova (actress playing Esma) and gave her the biggest hug
and apologized. She hugged him back and all the men who had ripped the
earrings and jackets off the women put them back on them and apologized.
They took care of them and brought them tea to make sure they were ok.
By lunchtime, there was so much kindness because they were confronting,
through this story, the ugliness of the past. So the experience actually
created some beautiful friendships. I just saw all 16 of them in New
York a few days ago, and to see them together had great meaning to me.
"I think the natural multi-tasking that
comes with being a mother works as you transition into a director."
Q: Did your maternal instincts serve you as a director?
Jolie: Probably. As a mother youre always answering
somebody for something. (Laughs) When youve got six kids
youre just used to okay, whats next or what else? So I think
the natural multi-tasking that comes with being a mother works as you
transition into a director.
Q: The whole film is extremely graphic and being
as sensitive as you are, was there one scene where you were just a rag
Jolie: I hated the day when I had to ask the old women
to strip naked. We had two cameras and I only shot it once. At the end
of the take, we had robes and drinks and anything they wanted. We were
actually shooting in Hungary so they were Hungarian and I was using
a translator. I must have gone up to them five times and they must have
thought I was crazy because I wanted to make sure they completely understood
that the people inside (the soldiers) had been directed to laugh
at them and they werent laughing at them because theyre
naked, but because it was their job to laugh and they should not take
it personally. I told them I was so sorry to ask them to do this, but
explained that this was a very important part of the story because they
were representing victims of the war who went through this and this
message will affect people and that they would be doing a great service
to other women. I was just wreck. What was beautiful, too, was I had
to shoot some of the reactions from the soldiers as cut always because
even though the actors tried, they couldnt laugh at the women.
When I went up to the women afterwards and thanked them and told them
they could go home, they talked among themselves and the translator
said they wanted to know if they did something wrong. I told them they
did it perfectly and could go home. But for all of us, we hated that
scene because we felt like we were torturers.
Q: What do you think youve accomplished with
Jolie: With anything having to do with war, you walk
away just so very grateful for everything you have and the safety you
have, but you are also very conscious that the issues in this film are
still going on today in other parts of the world violence against
women, lack of intervention, mans inhumanity to man. These kinds
of atrocities are going on as we speak so we must figure out a way to
address these big issues. So, its a big question for us as far
as what instruments of law weve got in place to help deal with
atrocities. The film is not a solution, its not a political statement,
but it raises those questions.
Jolie conferring with Director of Photography, Dean
Semler. Photo Credit: Ken Regan. Courtesy of FilmDistrict
and GK Films.
Q: Now that youve gotten your directing legs,
do you want to direct another film?
Jolie: It would take a really special project. I loved
this film, not because I wanted to be a director, but because Im
so happy to get this story out and had this wonderful experience of
working basically on a foreign film with actors from across the world.
It was great getting to know them and their culture and history so it
wasnt just a film for me. I dont know if I could put that
much energy into another film. Its a lot of work and much easier
to be an actor and much nicer. (Laughter) I really didnt
realize how much work went into making a film.
In Part 2 of the interview with Angelina Jolie, she
talks about her Humanitarian work, how her career impacts on her children
and how she sees her future.