BERLIN (Reuters) - When Bosnian director Danis Tanovic learned about a Roma family refused emergency medical care because they could not pay for it, he not only decided to turn their story into a film but managed to convince the couple to play themselves.
The result is "An Episode in the Life of an Iron Picker", a simple, powerful tale of one man's struggle to provide for his partner and two daughters and of a society where money is apparently more important than human life.
The fact that Nazif Mujic and his partner Senada Alimanovic are Roma adds an extra dimension of injustice and alienation, but Tanovic's tale is more universal.
"This story happens all around Europe to Roma people," the award-winning director told Reuters in Berlin, where his movie is in competition at the film festival.
"In my country it happens to other people too. It is probably the poorest country in Europe. So this is an unfortunate reality of many, many people who live there ... It really made me angry so I just went there and did this film."
Tanovic first read about the case of the couple and their two children in a local newspaper in 2011.
He went to visit them in their run-down home in the village of Poljice, and after several days they finally agreed to appear as themselves in a kind of docu-drama.
Mujic had no regular job, but helped strip down cars to make a few Bosnian marks from a scrap dealer. Alimanovic was pregnant with their third child when she fell ill and miscarried.
The family was told she must have emergency surgery, but when doctors discovered they had no insurance they were sent away despite Mujic's desperate and humiliating pleas.
Told it would cost 980 marks (around 500 euros) to pay for an operation, Mujic knew he could never raise the money, and so went back to the hospital and to charities, begging for help.
"BETTER IN THE WAR"
In the end the only way to succeed was to break the law.
"I really tried and struggled to get some help for Senada from all the different state institutions, but none of them would help, so it is tough," Mujic said in Berlin, speaking through a translator.
"My biggest ambition is to have a job and be able to support the family, but unfortunately I don't have any illusions or hopes that I will be able to get work anyway."
Tanovic, best known for his 2001 Academy Award-winning debut feature "No Man's Land", said Bosnians too often turned their backs on the poor, despite many cases he knew where people risked lives to help a stranger during the 1992-95 war.
"I wish I lived in a country that took better care of their people but it is not the case," he said.
"So when you open Bosnian newspapers ... every day you see people asking for help, people begging for money to help operate somebody or something. It is terrible."
At one point in the unscripted film, which cost just 30,000 euros ($40,000) to make, Mujic tells a charity worker that life was better during the war, and Tanovic said that to some extent he agreed.
"A lot of people actually lived better in the war, because in war you don't see rich people driving cars around, you don't see politicians having fun ... All you see is people trying to survive and you are surviving too, so you are happy when you have one meal."
(Reporting by Mike Collett-White, editing by Paul Casciato)