Angelina Jolie, who makes her directorial debut with “In the Land of Blood and Honey,” has no time for mean people on her set. “We chose [Dean Selmer as] the director of photography, who happens to be one of the most talented DPs, but also one of the nicest people,” Jolie says. “Every time the casting agent would call me from London and say, ‘We’ve met six actors,’ I’d say, ‘Who was nice?’” It was a deliberate choice. The film, which is about the Bosnian war that ran from 1992 to 1995, includes a number of emotionally brutal scenes—some of which depicted events close to what the actors themselves survived.
“These are the people that we’re talking about,” Jolie says. “These people are going to have to re-create such a violent part of their history that if they are not of good hearts and able to be kind to each other, and if this crew is not sensitive to that, then it’s not going to work.”
The film mainly takes place in a Serbian rape camp, where Ajla, a Muslim, (Zana Marjanovic) reconnects with Danijel (Goran Kostic), a man she dated before the war who is now the Serbian commander of the camp. Danijel keeps Ajla as his personal painter, but whether she’s his prisoner or his girlfriend isn’t clear — even to Ajla herself. The depiction of the camp — and the crimes that occur there — are among the most chilling in modern film.
Jolie’s charitable work is already well-known; she’s a goodwill ambassador for the United Nations and often concentrates her efforts on issues facing the world’s women. But making “In the Land of Blood and Honey” wasn’t a political statement on her part. “It was just a way for me to express a lot of the issues and themes — violence against women, lack of intervention — and it was also a way for me to learn more about a part of the world I felt a responsibility to learn more about,” she says.
The film started, she says, as her “education” and eventually blossomed into the feature, which she also wrote. Having such control was a new experience: “As an actor, it’s always somebody else’s words; it’s somebody else’s direction. Out of anything I’ve done, this is the most true to who I am.”