"The Women of Srebrenica Are My Inspiration": 'THR Presents' Q&A With 'Quo Vadis, Aida?' Director Jasmila Zbanic

The Bosnian filmmaker — nominated for both Oscar and BAFTA awards — discusses choosing to tell the story of the 1995 Srebrenica genocide with a "female sensibility towards the war."

Jasmila Žbanić had long thought that a film should be made about the 1995 Srebrenica Massacre — the genocide of more than 8,000 Muslim men and boys by Serbian armed forces that took place in her home country of Bosnia while under the supposed protection of the United Nations. She had hoped that she wouldn’t be the one behind the camera, but 20 years on from the shocking tragedy, no film had emerged.

“So I talked with my crew, with my producers and my friends,” she explains in a special THR Presents Q&A powered by Vision Media. “And we thought, ok, nobody’s making this film. Let’s try to do it.”

Žbanić, who was just a teenager when war broke out in Bosnia in 1992, says her team knew making a film about genocide would be “very difficult” and was warned by many about the complexities she would face.

“But we had such a passion to tell the story, to let people know what happened and this betrayal of the United Nations, and this moment where people are living an absolutely normal life and then this suddenly turns in the opposite direction like you couldn’t imagine,” she says.

The result, Quo Vadis, Aida?--five years in the making--is a powerful, deeply moving drama that centers on a Bosnian mother and teacher caught in the middle of the tragedy as she works for the U.N. as a translator at a temporary shelter for thousands of refugees while also desperately trying to protect her husband and sons from the impending horror. Since first bowing at the Venice Film Festival in September 2020, the film has amassed almost universal acclaim, and is now nominated for both the Oscars (for best international feature) and BAFTA awards (for best film not in the English language and best director).

To tell such a complex story, which Žbanić notes had to be very accurate and authentic while also acknowledging some dramatic license, the director turned to the local Bosnian women. It was the women, she says, who exhibited the most resilience, despite having their families torn apart and, in many cases, now living alongside the perpetrators on the other side.

“The women of Srebrenica are my inspiration,” she says. "Even after this genocide happened, they were always promoting peace, and never asked for revenge or had words of hatred.”

“How you can survive, knowing who killed your family and still want to live together and still want to make this country function? So I told this story from a female perspective, with a female sensibility towards the war. Because I don't find anything spectacular in war. For me, it's the banality of evil.”