Oscar-nominated Bosnian filmmaker recalls her time with bread and puppet theater | Movie | Seven days


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  • Painting “Quo Vadis” by Peter Schumann

The Oscars usually aren’t a big deal in Glover’s modest house Bread and puppet theater founders To fart and Elka schumann. But this year they support Quo Vadis, Aida? The film is nominated from Bosnia and Herzegovina for the Oscar for International Feature Film. A fictional account of the massacre of Muslim men by Serbian forces in 1995, it was written and directed by a 46-year-old Bosnian woman named Jasmila Žbanić. As a university student, Žbanić lived with the Schumanns during the summer when the massacre took place.

Peter Schumann said he first met Žbanić in December 1993 when he unexpectedly arrived in Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina, carrying a loaf of stollen, the German Christmas bread, baked by Elka. He went to the office of Bosnian director Haris Pašovi, who had appealed to artists to come to the besieged city and show their solidarity with the inhabitants under the Serbian attack.

“He was completely pale,” PaÅ¡ovi remembers in a telephone interview from Sarajevo at the end of March. “It was really shocking to come to the besieged city. I couldn’t believe it [that he had come], because I have known Bread and Puppet all my life. It was like a miracle, like a fantasy. ”

Schumann said the visit was a painful and emotional reminder of his childhood in Silesia during World War II, when he and his family became refugees in the region. As a preteen boy, Schumann witnessed bombings and washed up bodies on the shores of the Baltic Sea.

During this visit to Sarajevo, Schumann held a workshop at the city’s Performing Arts Academy and gave one of his fiddler lectures for students and faculty in a large office. (The violin hums as Schumann screams and delivers a poetic political manifesto.)

“The students came by bike or on foot or whatever, and they had to walk through sniper fire,” he recalls. “But they came!”

Žbanić was one of those students. She was 19 at the time and Schumann remembered her as the liveliest of the bunch.

“She was so strong and awake and not subject to the situation,” he said. Before returning to the United States, Schumann gave Žbanić his violin, which an American draft fighter had given him during the Vietnam War.

Schumann was known to oppose this war, as well as American military intervention in Central America. He therefore surprised some in the theater world when, on his return to the United States, he advocated bombing the Serbian weapon positions then shelling Sarajevo.

“When he returned from his Christmas trip, he spoke of [Žbanić]”Michael Romanyshyn, a key member of Bread and Puppet at the time, remembers.” She made a real impression on him.

Romanyshyn, who now lives in Maine and makes birch syrup, accompanied Schumann on his second trip to Sarajevo in the spring of 1994. Dressed in bulletproof vests, they were driven into town in an armored personnel carrier. and stayed in a bombed-out skyscraper. . A small group of Bosnian actors set up a circus in the street outside the Sarajevo National Theater, which protected them from sniper fire.

Schumann invited Žbanić to come to Vermont, and in May 1995, she walked through the half-mile passage known as the Rescue Tunnel to Sarajevo Airport. As she exited the tunnel, she and her boyfriend witnessed several civilians who had been wounded by a grenade and were returning to town for medical treatment.

In Vermont, Žbanić lived with the Schumanns for six months. “They accepted me as their child,” she said Seven days during a Skype interview from his home in Sarajevo.

During the spring and summer of that year, Žbanić worked on short plays on the war in Bosnia, focusing on people losing their homes. After learning of the mid-July massacre of more than 8,000 Muslim boys and men in Srebrenica, a town in Bosnia and Herzegovina, she created a show about it for Bread and Puppet’s Domestic Resurrection Circus, which took place on the 26th. and August 27.

In the show, performed above Bread and Puppet’s outdoor amphitheater, Žbanić was accompanied by an a cappella choir of women singing a funeral song from Kosovo. She pointed to images painted on a banner and, in an urgent voice, explained that her mother had handed over the family’s country house to a displaced family. Žbanić also told the story of a widow who was so distraught that she and her two children drowned in a nearby lake.

“Peter and Elka encouraged me to talk about what I hold dear, these are my stories,” she recalls.

Žbanić said his time at Bread and Puppet had a huge impact on his development as an artist. The six months she spent in the northeastern kingdom of Vermont were revealing.

“I had never been in such a place,” Žbanić said. “I had never been with such a [a] group of people. Obviously … that meant I had something of them in me before.

“For me, [it] was very important to see that politics and art can come together in something beautiful and powerful, ”she continued,“ because you often hear that art maybe damaged if it speaks of politics in a direct way. But in Bread and Puppet, I learned how [art] can still speak of pressing problems of our time. ”

Žbanić saw images of the 31 “Quo Vadis” paintings that Schumann created on thrown sheets, inspired by his Oscar nominated film. Some of the paintings represent exploding planets; all contain the words “Quo vadis” (in Latin for “Where are you going?”).

“These are stages of a decrepit civilization that don’t hold together,” Schumann explained.

Schumann, now 87, said he plans to watch the Oscars later this month to see if Žbanić wins an Oscar.

The filmmaker said she was not sure what her next project would be, but that at some point she would like to do a movie or TV series about the siege of Sarajevo. Žbanić’s 20-year-old daughter is now studying screenwriting at the Academy of Performing Arts.


About Eleanor Blackburn

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