Kameni govornici

The Stone Speakers
Igor Drljača
2018

12.02.2019 17:00 Eng. subtitles CineStar 8
14.02.2019 20:00 Eng. subtitles Cubix 9
15.02.2019 12:30 Eng. subtitles Kino Arsenal 1
17.02.2019 13:00 Eng. subtitles Zoo Palast 2

92 min. Bosnian, Croatian, Serbian, English.

After the end of the civil war in Bosnia-Herzegovina in the 90s, the economic system switched to capitalism. Yet to this day, the economy has never really taken off. Resourceful communities have thus rebranded themselves as unique tourist destinations to generate economic growth. The town of Medjugorje, where children reported having visions of the Virgin Mary, has become an international pilgrimage site. Visegrad pays homage to the writer Ivo Andric with a newly built neighbourhood of monumental stone buildings. When the depleted salt mines of Tuzla stopped yielding revenue, the authorities transformed the basins into lakes. In Visoko, a hill reportedly conceals pyramids said to generate cosmic energy fields. Igor Drljaca shows these places with an observational camera, editing together the images with statements made by locals. With apt understatement, he succeeds in taking stock of a society still overshadowed by its past. Kameni govornici reveals the multi-ethnic Bosnia-Herzegovina as a country still riven and in the midst of a profound identity crisis – whose inhabitants are trying to gain a foothold not via facts, but via an amalgam of religion, folklore and esotericism. (Ansgar Vogt)

Igor Drljača was born in Sarajevo, Yugoslavia (now Bosnia and Herzegovina) in 1983. In 2011, he completed his master’s degree in Film Production at York University in Toronto, Canada. Kameni Govornici is his first feature-length documentary.

Tourism and nationalism

In KAMENI GOVORNICI, I wanted to explore the relationship between new tourist sites in post-war Bosnia and Herzegovina and the attempts at creating competing national narratives. The divergent perspectives between Bosnia’s ethnic groups continue to be a source of misunderstanding and tension. The tourist sites may seem harmless, but they all have underlying narratives that suggest an alternative history of Bosnia and its regions.
Today’s Bosnia and Herzegovina was created through the Dayton Accords, which ended the civil war of the 1990s. The Accords cemented the division of Bosnia’s population into three primary ethnic groups: Bosniaks, Serbs and Croats. During the war, the process of so-called ethnic cleansing had already ensured that these groups were largely separated, with only some areas of the country retaining their pre-war multi-ethnic character. Little progress with regards to these divisions has been made since the war, and the country remains economically and socially unstable. In fact, Bosnia’s problems are worsening: it has the most severe unemployment rate in Europe (44%), and its population is experiencing significant decline.
The one upside is the country’s rapidly growing tourism industry. Bosnia’s pristine natural sites and its rich history have started attracting tourists from all parts of the world. But the development of the country’s tourism industry has not been unaffected by the enduring divisions. Some of these tourist sites perpetuate competing narratives in curious ways, many of which can appear eccentric to outsiders. These eccentricities help mask the essentially dangerous nature of the perpetuated narratives, which continue to erode Bosnia’s fragile peace.
While the film was being made, countries across the globe experienced an increase in similar efforts at interpreting and reinterpreting facts and history. Whereas Bosnia once stood out for its eccentricities, it can now bizarrely appear to be at the vanguard of a more global destabilising movement, one which questions our deeply held beliefs about truth and fiction, right and wrong, exclusion and belonging.

The four locations

Medjugorje
The town of Medjugorje in eastern Herzegovina became a site of considerable interest in 1981 after six children, referred to as visionaries, began to see apparitions of the Virgin Mary. Before the visions, life in Medjugorje, which then still belonged to Yugoslavia, had been very difficult for the ethnically Bosnian-Croat inhabitants. The communist government suspected the region of sympathising with the fascist Ustashe movement that had ruled Bosnia and Croatia as a Nazi puppet state during WWII. One of the movement’s objectives was to ‘cleanse’ Croatia of all unwanted ‘elements’, including Serbs, Jews and the Romani. By the end of WWII, the Ustashe were defeated by communist partisans. These were led by Josip Broz Tito, who went on to establish a socialist Yugoslav state. Following the war, communist authorities, while not banning religious expression, sought to control all organised religious activity. When the Marian apparitions began, the government was apprehensive, and imprisoned or interrogated some of the friars who sought to publicise them. This suspicion eventually gave way to mild enthusiasm as some communist authorities recognised the tourist potential of the site, which first attracted hundreds, then thousands of Catholic pilgrims. The site has continued to grow since the early 1980s. While it has not been officially recognised by the Vatican as canonical, interest in Medjugorje continues to grow. The town now attracts upwards of one million pilgrims per year. Despite the foreign crowds, like in the rest of Bosnia-Herzegovina, the local population in the region continues to decline.

Tuzla
Tuzla is located in what was once the industrial heartland of northeastern Bosnia. The city is historically famous for its production of salt, which has continued nearly uninterrupted for over a thousand years. The city’s manufacturing sector, much like other industrial infrastructure throughout the country, was criminally privatised and closed in the post-war period. This has contributed to an unemployment rate of over 50% and a mass exodus of the educated younger population. Recent efforts to boost the local economy have centred on promoting the city’s tourist potential. The city authorities have taken advantage of sink holes caused by the over-extraction of salt to create salt lakes that have proven popular with both local and foreign tourists.
The residents of Tuzla have also long been known for their promotion of harmony among the various ethnic groups of Bosnia. They continue to closely observe Bosnia’s worker struggles and the fight against fascism, while also promoting the values that were dominant during the Yugoslav socialist period. This includes the notion that it is possible to have a civic identity rather than just an ethnic one. However, Tuzla’s leaders tend to gloss over the fact that Yugoslavia was led by an authoritarian single-party regime, making their particular method of promoting a civic Bosnian identity unpalatable to many. In Bosnia’s current political setup, a civic identity is not a legally established option. Ethnic identities are entrenched and protected within the country’s constitution, and the ideas promoted by the local leaders of Tuzla have little impact outside of the city.

Visoko
Visoko has only recently received more widespread attention, stemming from claims that a complex network of pyramids, older than the ones in Egypt, has existed at the site since at least 12,000 BCE. These claims, made by Semir Osmanagić, have not been supported by the scientific community, but the town has continued to enjoy a tourism boom as a result. A wide network of tunnels has been unearthed beneath the pyramids, which have been integrated into a tourist attraction promoting the site’s healing energies. Although the project was not widely popular politically, Bosnia’s socialist party, the SDP, initially supported it, as did the former head of the Islamic Community in Bosnia, Reis Cerić. After the SDP was voted out of power, the project failed to attract funding from mainstream organisations, and it has increasingly turned its focus to new age groups, which are drawn to the site as a place for meditation and healing. The current ruling Bosniak nationalist party, SDA, and the new head of the Islamic Community do not support the project. Interestingly, some excavations tied to the development of the complex have discovered ancient man-made structures and early settlements, entirely unrelated to the pyramids.

Višegrad
Višegrad has always been situated at the crossroads of empires and until recently it was a predominantly Bosniak town. Prior to the civil war of the 1990s, Bosniaks accounted for over 60% of the town’s population, but most were killed in the ‘ethnic cleansing’ that took place during the fighting. The city has not been able to fully recover from the war, and its demographic decline continues, driven in part by the poor socioeconomic conditions of the region. The town is visually dominated by the Mehmed Paša Sokolović Bridge, a UNESCO World Heritage site built in 1577 by the Ottomans, who occupied Bosnia for 500 years. The bridge, and the town of Višegrad, were immortalised in Nobel laureate Ivo Andrić’s novel, “The Bridge on the River Drina”, which in part deals with the myth of Mehmed Paša Sokolović, an Ottoman statesman of Serb descent born close to Višegrad. The novel also explores battles over the empire, emphasising Višegrad’s location as a gateway between the East and the West, and with the search for identity that has dominated much of the history of the town and the region.
In the last decade, filmmaker-turned-icon-builder Emir Kusturica, with the support of the town’s Serb authorities, has constructed a stone city, Andrićgrad, as a tourist site within Višegrad. The stone city honours Andrić, who passed away in 1975 before Yugoslavia collapsed. Kusturica’s project at first glance appears innocuous, but a more careful examination reveals the promotion of a revisionist narrative that envisages a Bosnia never touched by Ottoman influence. Andrićgrad uses the idea of a renaissance to imagine an alternative regional history, causing further strain on the already fragile relationship between the three primary ethnic groups in the country. (Igor Drljača)

Production Igor Drljača, Albert Shin. Production company Timelapse Pictures (Toronto, Canada). Written and directed by Igor Drljača. Cinematography Amel Djikoli. Editing Igor Drljača. Sound design Aaron Mirkin. Sound Matthew Chan.

World sales Syndicado Film Sales
Premiere September 08, 2018, Toronto Film Festival

Films

2010: Woman in Purple (14 min.). 2011: The Fuse: or How I Burned Simon Bolivar (9 min.). 2012: Krivina (70 min.). 2015: The Waiting Room (92 min.). 2018: Kameni govornici / The Stone Speakers.

Photo: © Amel Djikoli