Set against the backdrop of the Bosnian War that tore the Balkan region apart in the 90s, ‘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.

How did the idea of ‘In the Land of Blood and Honey’ come about for you?

Angelina Jolie: I had travelled so much in the last 10 years to conflict and post-conflict areas, and I’d seen a lot. I was very frustrated against the violence against women, and I was very frustrated by lack of intervention. I didn’t plan to become a director, and I didn’t plan to make a movie. I just sat by myself and I wanted to do a story, because I wanted to understand how could somebody from the beginning of a story, beginning of a life, be friends, lovers, family, married to each other, neighbours, and then what happens that gets them to a place where they’re able to kill each other, go against each other. What happens to society in war when there is no intervention? What happens? I couldn’t understand it. I thought if I could analyse it and understand it I would be better equipt to maybe help, or deal with the process, deal with victims of war, hopefully be a part of the solution. I didn’t know, so I researched it, and I researched Bosnia because it was conflict that happened to our generation. It’s one that not that many people speak about. I wanted to learn. So this was a chance for me to give myself homework to learn about a country I felt I should know, that we all should know, it was the 90s, we don’t talk about it enough. The more I learned the more I felt a responsibility and the more I fell in love with the people and the country and the area. I was compelled to make the film.

Was there a particular spark….sometimes it could just be one line of a story, of an article, a picture, a conversation. Was there one thing in particular that sparked your passion to make ‘In the Land of Blood and Honey’?

Angelina Jolie: I met with a woman, I’d been writing it in the way I spoke of, and I went to Bosnia, and I met with victims of war. And I met with one woman, who was an extraordinary woman, an extraordinarily damaged woman, and a woman who spoke about being used as a human shield, and watching woman, older woman, be forced to strip and dance naked in front of soldiers. The way she spoke about it was just so moving. She was really a destroyed human being. She was always in my mind, and her story was always in my mind. She was somebody I felt I wanted to give a voice to. Speaking to her, I just had the feeling….all these other things in life we think about and worry about, sometimes you just sit and speak to that one other person and you realise what we should be focusing on, what you value, that you should be so grateful for freedoms you have and chances you’ve had. Then I really had that moral responsibility of trying to do something to help people understand her pain and her suffering. I was very very moved by that meeting. It was eventually the thing that became a film.

In the film you have a local cast, who came from all sides of the conflict, it crosses ethnic and religious lines. How important was that for you?

Angelina Jolie: When I started this film, from my research, I put it out there, but I didn’t expect it to happen. But I decided I would only make it if people from all sides of the conflict would come together. Because I understood the divisions, and the divisions forced upon the people in the area. I wanted to try to find the balance as well as I could, as well as you can. So I sent it to people who were Bosnian Serb, Bosnian Muslim, Serbian Serb, Croatian, and they all decided they wanted to come together to make it – which I didn’t think they would. Then they did, they taught me so much, this cast has taught me so much because they are not only extraordinarily talented people, but they’re really courageous, really deeply intelligent, deeply feeling….they taught me more about life than any experience, on any film, in any part of my life I’ve ever had. They made the movie, I kind of just got to show up every day and put the camera on them (laughs), but they really made the movie, it’s their film. My name is on it but it’s not me, it’s their film.

Unfortunately, in the film industry, it can be a huge political decision to cast actual people from the region, to not have English speaking actors. That’s refreshing….

Angelina Jolie: It belonged to them. Our producers, we had extraordinary producers who when I said to them, “It belongs to these people and I want to cast locally,” they said, “Ok, but can we see some of the people from the region who’s there, what kind of talent is there?” And then it was like discovering a jewel, you see these tapes, you see this extraordinary talent, and you go and you show the producers, and you say, “Look. THIS is the talent in the region.” And they just said, “You got it!” That was real good, I loved that (laughs).

You had the cast do scenes in English and Bosnian, how did that idea come about, and what was that like for the cast?

Angelina Jolie: It was real hard on them (laughs). We discussed, just a few days before filming, we had this discussion that this is a film, but this is also an educational film. We wanted to reach as many people as possible, but then if we only shot it in the authentic language, it would be for people who like these subject matters, who are emerged in history, who are interested in watching foreign films. But then we thought, “What about all the people who aren’t?” All those people who aren’t, we really really wanted to teach them about this, we really wanted them to be open to it. So we discussed it, we discussed it with the cast, like, “We have this crazy idea, but do you think you could do this in both? And we have 41 days, not a lot of money, really heavy scenes, on average you get two takes of each. But this is why.” And they said, “100%, lets do it, we can do it.”

It was amazing, because these scenes were so emotionally difficult, and they would do these heart wrenching, difficult, emotional, physical scenes, and we’d say, “Amazing! Now lets do it again, in another language.” (Laughs) They’d go, “OK, 2 minutes…….we’re ready!” And then they did it again, and both versions are equally as good, they’re talented equally in both. It’s beyond impressive. In cinemas it’s in the local language, it’s not in English, we done a lot of polling of people (laughs). But in America, on English speaking television or pay-per-view, it’s actually in both English and the local language, which is the first time they’ve ever done that. So things like Direct TV, you have two options, the Blu-Ray disc as well will have two options, you have two discs. It’s nice that internationally everyone has wanted to hear them speak in their local language, and it’s such a beautiful language.

I felt like Danijel and Ajla’s relationship is very symbolic of war…..

Angelina Jolie: Yeah, it’s very symbolic of the war to me. In that, in the beginning there’s unity, and the past, the history, it comes and haunts you, leads you, tells you this is how it should be, it guides you and it pushes you. And you resist, you’re not naturally a fighter, you don’t want to kill your neighbour – and I believe this was in the hearts of the majority of people going through this. So many people, much of the cast, they come from mixed-marriage or are mixed-marriage, it’s common. So this couple at the beginning is true to the area. They were pushed apart and as they were pushed apart, the things that pushed them apart, he is unable, which is symbolic, he’s unable to stand up against his father. He’s unable to stand up against the history, the pressure of nationalism. And he’s unable not to pick up arms when men around him are, these men around him who’ve become like his brothers. He loses the sense of what he had in the beginning, he’s blinded by the war, the violence, the sounds of the bombs. He goes mad in a way, he loses his humanity. He does the thing that’s not natural to him, it’s not who he is, but it’s what he does. And then what happens to Ajla, that’s symbolic of the war, and he has to live with that. So it was a metaphor.

What do you want people to take from ‘In the Land of Blood and Honey’?

Angelina Jolie: I hope a few things. I hope people acknowledge the great talent of an extraordinary region of the world. I hope people recognise the unity of a very brave cast from all over the region, who’ve come together across religious and ethnic lines to come together, that’s a symbol of hope and what we should be pushing for and encouraging in the region, in the world. I hope people think of these international issues, such as Syria now, all the other parts of the world where there’s violence against women, where there is war. When you see war, it’s a movie, but I hope people relate to the characters. So when you see on TV tomorrow a bomb exploded in this place, maybe it will feel that more familiar because these people feel more familiar, people inside war feel more familiar.