Angelina Jolie on Tuesday premiered her film "In the Land of Blood and Honey" in Bosnia, where the fictional tale of a romance between a Bosnian Serb man and a Bosnian Muslim woman has shone a spotlight on the ethnic anger still left over from the country's brutal conflict.
Jolie, who arrived in Sarajevo with partner Brad Pitt to attend the screening, greeted the crowd of 5,000 in Bosnian, before acknowledging in English that it would bring back painful memories of the bloody 1992-95 war. As the film ended to a standing ovation, Jolie tearfully said, "To share this with you means the world to me."
At an earlier press conference, Jolie said the movie was "heavy" but that she was happy with it because it shows what horrors can occur in the absence of a timely intervention.
She said she hoped the film could serve as a "wake-up call" for the international community to pay more attention to atrocities and act to prevent them — including in Syria.
"I am satisfied with what we made, I feel very strongly about it and I believe that its core issue — which is the need for intervention and need for the world to care about atrocities when they are happening — is very, very timely and especially with things that are happening in Syria today," she said.
The film, which has already been released in the U.S. follows what happens when the man becomes an army officer and the woman is held in a military prison camp where rape occurs. Some Serbs have accused the film of demonizing them.
"I think it is very important that this film is out at this time and ... if this film points the finger at anybody it is the international community," she said.
The distributor in the Serb part of Bosnia said he won't show it there because it portrays Serbs as the villains and they wouldn't put up with that.
"There is simply no interest for this movie here, so I can't sell any tickets," Vladimir Ljevar told The Associated Press. "The fact that the Serbs are the bad guys in it is the reason why there is no interest. The film is lousy. I watched it. It has had bad reviews. It is unprofitable."
But Jolie rejected the claim that her film was anti-Serb.
"I understand that it's sensitive," she said. "But I also know that the Serbian people are intelligent and open-minded people. They will know the difference between what's been forced upon them and what they feel in their own hearts."
She said that "although it's difficult, I hope that they see intention behind it."
Jolie noted she worked on the plot with people from both sides of the conflict.
"We were trying to find humanity on all sides and yet we were addressing the horrors of something that we felt we must show in a horrific way," Jolie said. "That is not an easy balance to find in such a sensitive subject matter, so we did our best; that was very hard, the politics of this region are very complicated."
Thousands of women were raped during Bosnia's war, which also included the notorious Srebrenica massacre in July 1995 and the 44-month siege of the capital, Sarajevo. Most of the rape victims were Muslim Bosniak women, often the target of mass rape used as a weapon of terror.
Many of the victims were raped repeatedly. Some were brought back to their homes and dumped in front of their husbands. Other women were violated in their husbands' presence as part of a shock campaign.
Defying the unofficial censorship in the Serb part of the country, Ana Vidovic, a Bosnian Serb woman from Prijedor organized a private screening in her home Saturday after she got approval from Jolie.
She told local media she was annoyed by claims there is no interest in the movie among Bosnian Serbs. "I am the public and as far as I remember, nobody asked me," she said.
Jolie said Vidovic's gesture meant very much to her team, so she wrote her a letter and approved the screening.
"We will do that for anyone who wants to have a private screening. And we hope that we encourage the people to see it somehow," Jolie said.
A group of Muslim Bosniaks who now have returned to their homes in the Serb part of the country say they are interested in seeing Jolie's movie and plan to organize private screenings.
Jolie said she made this film because "I just felt that this subject was important and I was really moved by it."
She said she may direct again.
"If I can find something that means as much to me, I will try, but if this is the only thing I ever directed, I would be very happy."