Feature film on Yugoslavian war unites creative countrymen
April 26, 2006
By Katie Brandt
At a small post high in the rocky mountains along the Yugoslav-Albanian border, a group of soldiers wastes idle days dreaming of uniform-free lives in the towns below. For the moment, they have time to dream. It's 1987, and the soldiers are living the calm before the storm. In the near future, the countries will explode into a war that will not only change people's lives, but world maps as well.
Rajko Grlic, a Croatian and Eminent Scholar of Film at Ohio University, recreated this scene as the premise for his latest film, "Border Post." The project brought together the nations that once made up Yugoslavia for the first time since war tore them apart in the 1990s. For the country's people, the wounds from that struggle still are fresh, and in "Border Post" – based on Ante Tomic's best-selling novel, "Nothing Can Surprise Us" – Grlic takes a comedic point of view in telling the story of one disease-ridden sergeant and his bored soldiers.
"The story is a collective of all memories of the people living there during the time, but it's not a political statement. First and above all it's a film," says Grlic, noting that the war quickly transformed his countrymen into "soldiers, refugees, victims and criminals."
He traveled to the high mountains along the borders of Macedonia, Greece and Albania to shoot the film. There people from the eight countries involved – Austria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Great Britain, Hungary, Macedonia, Serbia and Monte Negro, and Slovenia – came together as parts of the crew and cast of the $3 million production.
While taping, the president of Macedonia, Branko Crvenkovski, and the president of Serbia and Monte Negro, Boris Tadic, visited the set to witness the collaborative project firsthand. "This was the first 'product' done together after the war among five ex-Yugoslavian countries, today independent states. So the visits have on one level a very political meaning, to support such a co-production project," Grlic says, adding that they also hold a personal meaning for him because he has known the Serbian president since his childhood.
Overall, however, the visits are a side note for Grlic. His concern above all else is the film and the people whose story it tells. He says as a filmmaker, he has to feel for his subjects and to care enough to worry about them before he can tell their story.
Two weeks before shooting began, Grlic gathered the actors on set to rehearse the script and give them a chance to meet each other. Many of them grew up in extremely nationalistic environments in the years after the war, and this film was their first experience working with people from other nations. Because their home countries were once a part of Yugoslavia, they worked out communication in "some middle language," he says. Grlic wrote the script's final draft after witnessing their interactions, which were measured at first, but natural and warm by the time the filmmaker called his final cut.
Once shooting began, a group of graduate students from Grlic's master class at Ohio University — which was organized around the production of the film — joined the set to watch the process unroll. "I wanted to show students the ups and downs of production and the creative side," says Grlic, who has a dozen films under his belt.
The filmmaker, who is also a faculty adviser to the Athens International Film + Video Festival, anticipates a late spring release in the United States for "Border Post."
"You hope because you're making something you enjoy, then (the audience) will enjoy it too," he says. "You hope that energy will come across the screen."
Katie Brandt is a March graduate of the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism and a writing intern for the Office of Research Communications. This story will appear in the forthcoming Spring/Summer 2006 issue of Perspectives magazine.