LOS ANGELES - Angelina Jolie didn't plan on directing a movie. But the more she learned about the 1990s Bosnia war, the more she felt responsible for bringing it home to her generation.
Jolie threw her energy into In the Land of Blood and Honey, writing, co-producing and directing the complex love story set against the horror of the 1992-95 conflict in which more than 100,000 people are believed to have died. The movie, which initially stoked controversy in Bosnia, opens in US theaters on Friday and has been nominated for a Golden Globe award for foreign language film.
"I didn't go into this wanting to be a director, I went into this film because I was moved by the themes," Jolie, 36, told Reuters. "It wasn't a normal film experience for me, it was an education every day in humanity and in unity, and also getting to know a culture," she said.
The Oscar-winning Girl, Interrupted actress was just 17 years old and working to establish herself in Hollywood when the conflict in Bosnia erupted on the other side of the world. But it wasn't until years later, when she became a United Nations Goodwill ambassador and visited Bosnia, that she learned about the war and its victims.
"As I looked into Bosnia—because this was (when) I was a teenager—I felt responsible to pay more attention because I didn't at the time ... I was too young and living my life," said Jolie. "This is my generation that went through this in Europe. So I read more and I learned more and I was just so taken by how little I knew, how little the world speaks about it, and I felt compelled to put this story together," she said.
Blood and Honey is the tale of a Serbian man and a Bosnian woman on the eve of the ethnic conflict, who later meet when he is an army officer and she is his detainee. Jolie cast unknown Bosnian actors Goran Kostic and Zana Marjanovic as the leads and filmed in both English and Serbo-Croat.
But before reading the script, female victims of the war raised objections, and Jolie was forced to shoot many of the scenes in Hungary, rather than Bosnia as she had planned. The movie has since received an enthusiastic reception in Bosnia and Jolie was given an honorary award in July by the Sarajevo film festival.
"This film belongs to this country and these people, it's their story and their film," Jolie said. "They're the most talented actors and nobody could have done these roles better."
Responsibility also weighed heavily on the two lead actors. "You try very hard to do the best job you can and represent that conflict and your people as best as you can," said Marjanovic, who plays Ajla.
Kostic, who plays Serbian character Danijel, said the movie was very personal. "It's very close to our hearts, and of course, coming from the region, it's easy to tap into that emotional landscape," he added.
Jolie, who was last seen on screen in the 2010 action romance The Tourist, is yet to schedule her next project. "I still can't believe somehow I ended up doing this, but I was so compelled by this particular story and I have such a unique crew and cast," she said.