Angelina Jolie wasn't always an expert on the Bosnian War. That's one reason she wanted to make a movie about it. "I was very confused as to what were the Balkans, and what exactly happened, and why," says the actress. "Nobody could give me the answer I was looking for. And I remain confused about the region."
But Jolie had another, more personal reason for making "In the Land of Blood and Honey," her directorial debut, which comes out Tuesday on DVD and Blu-ray. The war that raged inside the former Yugoslavia from 1992 to 1995 was the most brutal conflict on European soil since World War II, and many of the people it affected were members of Jolie's generation. People like Vanessa Glodjo, whom Jolie cast in her film. "[While] I was driving back from class in Los Angeles," Jolie says, "she was running across sniper fire to get back to class."
Jolie spent two years making "In the Land of Blood and Honey," serving as writer, producer and (Golden Globe-nominated) director. But that's not all. She actually shot two versions of the entire movie, one in the region's native languages (Bosnian, Serbian and Croatian) and a second -- available for the first time in the new DVD edition -- in English.
To mark the DVD's release, Jolie spoke with The Huffington Post about the film's emotional reception in Sarajevo, her desire (or lack thereof) to direct again, and her belief that she and her partner, Brad Pitt, are obligated to help make the world a better place -- not because they're celebrities, but because they're people.
How did audiences in Bosnia receive "In the Land of Blood and Honey," a famous person's film about a tough issue so important to them?
The few weeks in Sarajevo was the most extraordinary, moving experience I've ever had. We ended up screening it at a place [the Zetra Olympic Hall] for over 6,000 people, that was originally built for the Olympics, which was a symbol for them of right before the war and a positive thing in their country. During the war, it was a place where a lot of bodies were buried. So going into that building was emotional. The whole experience was emotional. Some of the cast members who were Bosnian Serbs hadn't really been back since the war, and they were walking back into where they grew up with a piece of art that they hoped would be interpreted the right way, but they weren't sure.
And what was the audience's reaction after the film had played?
We all stood off the stage nervously holding hands and waiting for it to end, and wondering if somebody was going to scream or throw something, or if we were going to be safe onstage. And they stood up. It was extremely moving -- we all cried. It didn't feel like it was a film. The film didn't matter in the moment where, somehow, I feel like they felt that we did our best. And we tried. And they would forgive any small things and just see the overall, and the overall seemed to move them. And they received it, and they accepted it, and we stayed up until 3 o'clock in the morning speaking with a lot victims of war, and crying a lot and hugging a lot.
Meanwhile, the critical response to your film was mixed. Which leads me to the question: Is it more important for you as a director to get a message across, or more important for it be considered a work of art?
The most important thing is not to get the message wrong. That was what I sat with at the end of the day: I want to spend two years, I want to learn about a new craft, and more importantly, I want to learn about a history and a country and a people, and I know if I focus on this, in a few years I'll be better for it. I'll have grown as a person and have learned something about life. And in doing so, you hope that you can return with something that does right by all the people that trusted and came together and kind of shared and put their own history on the line. You don't want to do something and somebody says we misinterpreted the message. That was my great fear.
You just don't want to mess it up.
Yeah. It was a dramatic interpretation, not a documentary. You can't please everybody. And it's a very fresh war. But at the same time, it's my first film, so just to survive … [laughs]. I was actually very happy about the reviews. I was very happy reading some of the reviews in Europe, because it's a European film.
The DVD features a never-seen-before English version. What was it like shooting the movie twice? Which version do you hope people watch, the Bosnian or the English version?
The Bosnian. A film like that, it's not just to tell the pieces of the history so much as to give you a feeling of who these people are, what it is, what it feels like, what it sounds like. To meet the Yugoslavian people. You don't really get that completely when they're not speaking in their language. But I also am happy that we have the English, because I didn't want to make a film just for people that like history, and foreign films. I wanted to make a film for people that don't know about this war, but really don't like to go to foreign films.
A lot of people won't watch anything with subtitles.
It was really hard on the actors. We did two takes in one, and two takes in the other, on average. We even had the producers say to us, "If you fall behind in the first week, you have to cut a language." The nice thing was, it brought us all together as a team.
After having your directorial debut be nominated for a Golden Globe, do you plan to direct another movie?
I'd love to one day. I had such a wonderful experience. I think I have to be as compelled. It's a lot of hard work, and it's a lot harder for me than acting. I loved it. But it's a much longer commitment. It's your life for two to three years. It has to be something about that matters and I haven't found anything [else I feel that strongly about]. If I just did one, I'm happy, because I learned a lot.
When the breakup of the former Yugoslavia happened, you must have been in your teens. Were you interested in the Bosnian conflict at this time? Did you ever imagine that you'd be directing a movie about it 20 years later?
No, I didn't. And I think that's part of why I did. You know [about] my travels. It's the part of the world that, when I visit, I couldn't understand. There were a lot of conflicts that I tried to learn about, but it was the one I couldn't get all the pieces of, I couldn't get all the information. I was very confused as to what were the Balkans, and what exactly happened, and why, and why did it eventually take so long. Nobody could give me the answer I was looking for. And I remain confused about the region.
So it was really why I wanted to make the film, because I knew it happened in my generation, to my generation. Some of the cast members were my age. Vanessa [Glodjo] -- [while] I was driving back from class in Los Angeles, she was running across sniper fire to get back to class.
That's a creepy parallel.
It's kind of amazing. It was important that we would meet and compare our lives and learn about each other, especially that I learn about her.
Do you think famous people have a responsibility to draw attention to a cause or social issue?
I tend to not think about it as a celebrity thing, but as a human thing. Celebrities just have a louder voice. I feel like we're living in a very interesting time, where people are more aware of the world, traveling more in the world. Young people are more engaged. Everybody has this responsibility. I tend to not sum it up to not if you have money, or if you have celebrity, but as no matter who you are. Certainly Brad [Pitt] and I have been fortunate enough to have success, be able to shine a light into the camera a little more, financially build something, support people or programs. We're very, very lucky.