Prague Through the Lens of a Bosnian

December 18, 2009 § Leave a comment

Ivana Milošević spends the Tuesdays and Thursdays of her maternity leave on Školská in Prague 2. The building holds two dance studios, a law firm, and the office of the Institute of Documentary Film (IDF). Milošević is not a dancer or a lawyer but a documentary filmmaker, and so she spends her working hours with the mostly-female members of the IDF in this cozy room.

The office is cramped with bookshelves, desks, and a couch near the doorway. One wall is covered in shelves of DVDs, and bundles of posters and brochures are piled on the floor. There is a bustle of activity as people bring more boxes of them in and continue the piles wherever there is room. “It’s a little crowded in here today,” she says, her lips upturned in a small smile. She ducks around the piles and people as she gathers her coat and pushes a hair behind her ear. Her voice is quiet among the sound of Czech conversation.

Milošević is a creative documentary filmmaker in Prague. Her work is considered part of the ‘new wave’ of Czech documentary film, and she is part of a new generation of documentary filmmakers in the country, even though she is not Czech herself. She calls Bosnia (where she is from) her ex-home and Prague (where she lives at present) her home completely now, but she still takes advantage of these two different identities in her work and her life in the Czech Republic.

Born in Sarajevo in 1976, Milošević was 16 years old when the Bosnian War came to her city in 1992 during the Siege of Sarajevo. Her parents saw no reason to leave the country during the war. “My father was over 60, my mother 50-something, and they’d lived almost their whole life,” she says. “It was crazy to think of going somewhere and starting from complete zero.” In 1996, she was able to leave Sarajevo at the age of 19 to study in Prague because her uncle got her the necessary confirmation letters.

It was not difficult for her to make the transition into life in the Czech Republic. Even though she was young when she moved, she was able to recognize and appreciate some of the differences in temperaments between Czechs and Bosnians. She views Bosnians as very quick to react passionately in conflict. “This burst of energy was sometimes positive and sometimes negative, but when it was negative, it was like a final solution,” she says, gesturing as she tries to find the right words. She sees Czechs, on the other hand, as more introverted and aware of consequences before they speak. As time passed, she realized that this was one of the main reasons that she ended up in Prague. She sympathized with this mindset and wanted to get away from the hotheaded way of dealing with conflict.

The transition into documentary film was very natural for Milošević as well. She studied macroeconomics and politics at Charles University, but imagined herself becoming sucked into the world of bureaucracies. She wanted to use her knowledge elsewhere, so she applied to FAMU (Filmová A Televizní Fakulta Akademie Múzických Umění V Praze, Prague’s film school) on a whim, not expecting to get in. Much to her surprise, she did get in, and she graduated in documentary film direction.

Her style of filmmaking very much reflects that of the Czech new wave documentaries. The difference between the old and new styles is the director’s role in the films. In the nineties, it was considered politically incorrect to be politically engaged in the films, and documentary as a genre was very cautious and conservative. Now the films have broad political themes and are linked in social engagement, and the directors are more involved in their stories.

One of her more recent films exemplifies this new style. She revisited her home country in 2006, ten years after the end of the war in Bosnia. The result of her trip was the film Nikdy nebylo líp (Never Been Better in English). She wanted to give a voice to people who were, in many senses, speechless, and felt that taking a personal approach was more logical than trying to explain the Balkan mentality.

“That would be describing the indescribable,” she says. “This was my major idea, to avoid preaching and saying, this is how it is, because I don’t really know how it is.”

It was a story about feelings that she had gathered about her former home country since the last time she was there, a self-reflective journey about whether or not to give up a citizenship that was meaningful to her in order to become a Czech citizen. In the film, she struggles with her feelings towards both her Bosnian and Czech identity, and uses her unique position to take a neutral and objective approach to two very different mindsets.

“I have a different attitude towards Bosnia and to the whole space of ex-Yugoslavia now due to the fact that I live abroad,” she says. “At the same time, I have a different attitude towards what is happening here [in Prague] because it’s not completely mine. It’s a very good position in a way, because I can comment on each side.”

She comfortably straddles this line between being Bosnian and being a part of Czech society. She is ethnically a Croat Catholic but says that she does not feel the need to promote being Croat Catholic. She feels that she is Bosnian and even though she returns to the Balkans to visit her family on holidays, she feels very much integrated into Czech culture. She uses this duality to her advantage, and feels that she can provide the Czech Republic with a better understanding of international cultures because smaller nations are somewhat homogeneous and not used to such differences.

“There are people from ex-Yugoslavia who are keeping their roots and having friends in smaller circles and having friends who all come from the same region, and I just really don’t care about that,” she says. “I don’t care where people come from. I don’t keep my friends based on geographic place. Maybe in some cases, talking with me would be a new and positive experience for some people.”

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