Set against the backdrop of the Bosnian War that tore the Balkan region apart in the 1990s, ‘In the Land of Blood and Honey’ tells the story of Danijel (Goran Kostić) and Ajla (Zana Marjanović), two people from different sides of a brutal ethnic conflict. Danijel, a soldier fighting for the Serbs, and Ajla, a Bosnian held captive in the camp he oversees, knew each other before the war, and could have found love with each other. But as the armed conflict takes hold of their lives, their relationship grows darker, their motives and connection to one another ambiguous, their allegiances uncertain. “In the Land of Blood and Honey” portrays the incredible emotional, moral and physical toll that the war exerts both on individuals and people as a whole, and the terrible consequences that stem from the lack of political will to intervene in a society stricken with conflict. Angelina Jolie directs from a script she wrote, Zana Marjanović, Goran Kostić, Rade Šerbedžija, Vanesa Glodjo and Nikola Djurićko star.  ‘In the Land of Blood and Honey’ is set for release December 23rd in the US.

What was it like for you developing this script?

Angelina Jolie: I sent it to lots of different people who either lived through the War, or who were correspondents through the War. And it got many, many different opinions from many different sides. That helped me start to really realise how complex the situation was – because if you send it to three different people, everybody has an extremely differing opinion. I really had to try and find that balance. So with that, I was listening to people from different sides, to try to construct something. It was never intentionally….at first it was to write a story that would be universal, a relationship that could have been a beautiful relationship, it could have ended in family and children, and happiness, love. To show what War does to that relationship. But then all these extraordinary people came in, all these extraordinary actors came in, they started to teach me about each of their roles, who they would be, why they would be the way they were, about their religions, about their history, about their culture. And then I kind of just kept absorbing their information and made adjustments.

I really feel like the local cast added a certain authenticity and emotional weight to the story….

Angelina Jolie: I felt it had to be a local cast, I felt it had to be people from the area because the story belonged to them. Then, being in Hollywood and being an actor in Hollywood, you hear so many times if you say, “We want to cast the European neighbour,” there’s this very short list of actors. There isn’t that faith in the talent internationally, with so many studio films people don’t look beyond certain countries. So I was hoping, and I assumed that there was great talent everywhere. But then when I started to see the tapes I felt like I had uncovered one of the most extraordinary things (laughs), these actors could act so strong, and in more than one language, they could sing, they had a real depth of emotion that, myself, I could never understand. The majority of them had lived through this War and stayed there during the War. Even in their auditions, when they talked about who they were during the War, what they went through, what they saw, what they witnessed…many of them cried during their auditions, many of them hadn’t spoken about things. And then when they did their scenes, wow, it just extraordinary! I just feel so lucky to shine a spotlight on them, to show the world what they can do, because it’s just amazing.

How was it for you working with these actors, that had lived through this War?

Angelina Jolie: We all felt, working on this film, that we were getting an education – and not just in history, also in life. Throughout the movie, the majority of the people were all born in the area, they were there through the whole War. They all recognised the food rations, they all lived through it together. You meet them and you realise….I haven’t meet people more full of life and love, than people who have gone through War – whether it be refugee’s or these amazing actors in this movie. So happy to be alive, so grateful for everything they have, and they give their all as artists, they love life, they love each other, they love performing, they work hard…because they know what it is to be without.

Hearing and re-enacting these stories, these personal experiences, it must have been an extremely emotional set?.

Angelina Jolie: It was, we really became a family after a while, supporting each other. First when I approached this film, I never planned to direct it, I didn’t approach it because I wanted to make a movie. I had been haunted by years of travelling in the field by lack of intervention, with the trauma people face in post-conflict situations. And in my frustration, in seeing their pain, and wondering if we could have prevented this, if we could have done something befoe, the violence against woman, mans inhumanity to man – all of it. So I sat down privately to write something, and this lead me to Bosnia, because it was a War of my generation, to my generation. It was one I felt a responsibility to learn about, because I didn’t know. The more I learned, the more I was overwhelmed by guilt of how little I knew. I was shocked by how long this was going on and what was going on. So when I sat down to speak to people about the story, it was very hard and very emotional. Also because I was asking people to remember and speak about things, and of course you feel guilty asking people to go back into their memories…there was some stories, this woman used as human shield, which she explained in great detail. There were things we re-created from the stories we were told, and on the day of shooting, it was very hard for everybody, because as a director there was certain things I didn’t want to ask people to do – I felt like I was torturing them myself, I kept apologising and apologising. And I think with some of the scenes, I think it was much harder for the men being there, because they had to participate and laugh at these women, in some of the scenes, that was totally against their nature.

Working with many talented directors in your career, what was the most valuable lesson you learned from them that helped you going into this movie?

Angelina Jolie: You learn from everybody. But Clint Eastwood taught me a lot about working with people that you love, that you enjoy working with, to create a family, working with nice people, good people. He’s also very fast, so I had to learn about the economy of a shoot and a budget (laughs). I also learnt a lot from Michael Winterbottom on ‘A Mighty Heart.’ The way he set the tone made it feel real. He allowed a lot of room for the actors to create something that wasn’t pushed on them.