Halima’s Path, Croatia’s Oscar Entry, directed by Arsen Anton Ostojic tells the tragic but inspiring story of a grieving, but strong-willed Muslim woman Halima who tries, without success, to find the remains of her son who was killed in the Bosnian War and buried in one of the many mass graves. She realizes that she must track down her estranged niece, who we find carries a mysterious connection to him. After finding her, Halima discovers a horrifying fact from her worst nightmares. With this discovery, the spiral of tragic events from the past would continue in the present, disrupting once again the troubled lives of the characters.
Bijan Tehrani: Is it true that Halima’s Path is based on actual events?
Arsen Anton Ostojic: It is a more accurate statement that it is inspired by a true story. Yes, indeed there was a couple in Western Bosnia who adopted a son after he was born many years ago, and then unfortunately he was killed at the beginning of the war in Bosnia and buried in one of the mass graves. Actually, for two decades, they weren’t able to locate his remains, but the rest is our artistic license and we added to this sad story.
BT: Halima’s Path is like a Greek tragedy in many of its aspects.
AAO: You are absolutely right; from the first moment I read the script I felt that it was a full bodied Greek tragedy and this is one of the elements that attracted me to the project. This also fit into my opus, my other films that I have done were all often in a way and I dealt with these basic relationships within the families: sons, fathers, mothers, and the questions of identity as well. I also felt that the element of tragedy might describe what had happened in Bosnia the best, and so this is the reason why I decided to do this film.
BT: How challenging was it to make this film?
AAO: This is a Croatian/Slovenian/Bosnian co-production, so it’s a regional co-production and it was not easy to raise all of the money. When the film got the green light from the Croatian audio/visual center, they gave me most of the financing. After that it was slightly easier to get other financing together, but it did take two years to put everything together and finally shoot the film. It is still a low budget film—we did not have enough money. We couldn’t shoot in Bosnia because most of the crew would have needed to sleep in a hotel and get per diem, and we did not have that money so we decided to shoot other locations that looked like the landscape in Croatia. In that respect, it was always a struggle because money is always tight, but we tried to do our best. In some ways, it worked well: we just chose simpler options for most things, even make-up. We tried to creatively make up for the lack of money and we tried to add soul and emotion to the film instead of the production values. So, yes, in that respect it was not easy for the film, but we managed to do everything in our 31 days of shooting.
BT: How did you go about casting Halima’s Path ?
AAO: I know most of the actors in the region, especially in Croatia, but I decided not to give the lead roles to anyone unless they went through auditions. So I got all the best actors from Croatia to come and audition for the roles, and then eventually I decided to use Alma Prica, who plays Halima: she was the best for the role. I also tried to combine actors from a number of countries, so there are Croatian actors, there are Bosnian actors—well known Bosnian actors—there are Serbian actors and there is one Slovenian, and they all play characters that represent their countries. They are all who they are in the film, which is interesting, and I tried to achieve some sort of authenticity with casting as well. Also, and this might be difficult for audiences in the states to understand, they all speak with the same Western-Bosnian accent. It is different from the accent in Sarajevo for example, so I insisted on that so they would all be on the same level.
BT: A lot of people don’t understand what really happened during this conflict, so your film is very effective at opening the eyes of a western audience.
AAO: We tried to tell a much bigger story through the tale of one family, so in a way their tragedy becomes universal for the whole war because it was a international conflict. This is the same reaction I get at every festival, that people see the hidden tension between the nations of Yugoslavia. Unfortunately, those tensions exploded in the early 90’s and resulted in a war, but as I said, when making big political statements, we just went the other way and made an intimate little story that will try and say a lot with a little means.
BT: What do you think are the chances of Halima’s Path being nominated or even winning the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film?
AAO: That is really difficult to say. This is a record year for the foreign films—there are seventy six submissions—so there has never been so many foreign films submitted. The initial reactions are very good and it seems that the academy members do like the film, but I do not know and I really could not say anything. I can only hope that the authenticity of the film and its sincere emotions can win over bigger-budgeted films or films that have more money for the promotion. Also, wherever the film is shown, the reaction from audience is always the same: they were moved by the film. That was our goal in our attempt to make a sincere project.
BT: How did you come up with the visual style of the film?
AAO: When we started to prepare the film, we decided to shoot it on super-16 film negative. Very few films are being shot on film these days, especially in the region we come from, so we decided to go in another extreme, which is to shoot on the super-16 to get more grain and have this feeling of something older and something more poetic. We were lucky because even though we shot in March and there could have been a lot of rain, we got a lot of sunshine. Together with the DP, we decided to use that sun as a poetic element in the film, which kind of brought more light into this otherwise dark story. Those are the two most important elements: the poetic elements of the photography and also the film grain and the structure of it, which gave the film another layer.
BT: What is the next project that you are working on?
AAO: I don’t know—not that I don’t have any, I have several projects lined up. Some of them are English language films taking place in the States, some are European co-productions, and I will shoot the one that gets funded first. It seems that fundraising is one of the major issues, so I have a couple of interesting projects, Some are genre, some are dramas, and whatever I will do I will always make a film that is character-based, that pays attention to the story line and to the actors. I think that this is the most important principle and something that will grab audiences in one way or another and make them emotionally involved. So whatever I do, I will do something that can be remembered by audiences long after they see it.