The feature documentary film “Srpska: The Struggle for Freedom” chronicles the history of the people living in what is today Bosnia and Herzegovina, from Medieval times to the modern country. By presenting interesting historical facts about the Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian times in the region, as well as the Yugoslav era, both royalist and socialist, the film explains the turbulent past that, at times, shaped European, but also global events.
The film discusses important historical personalities, monuments, and events, in order to bring the people of this region closer to the film’s viewers, but also explains their historical struggle for self-determination and the preservation of their tradition and culture.
The film starts with the beginnings of organized institutions in the areas around the source and lower course of the river Bosna, chronicling the rise of the medieval Bosnian state. Later in history, the fate of the Serbs inhabiting the land is intertwined with that of the Ottoman empire and, eventually, Austria-Hungary’s fate. A fateful event in Sarajevo sparked the First World War, which caused a lot of misfortune not only for Bosnia and Herzegovina, but Europe and the world as well.
The film then documents the role that this land played in the first Yugoslav state – the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes, which later became the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. The grave suffering of the people, predominantly Serbs, Jews, Roma, and others, during World War II will be presented in the film, together with a more peaceful and prosperous time that followed, as the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia was formed, under Tito.
The film explains the principle according to which socialist Yugoslavia was organized, but also present the spirit of that time, which promised centuries of peace. The 1984 Sarajevo Olympics are a theme that runs throughout the film, as an example of what the people of the region could achieve when they put their differences aside and worked together for the common good and healthy competition.
The events that lead to the bloody wars in the former Yugoslavia will be explained chronologically from the beginning to the end of the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina with the signing of the Dayton Agreement in 1995 that lead to the formation of an entity called Republika Srpska. Unfortunately, this came after many crimes were committed by all sides, but the film tries to end on a positive note – after so much war and destruction, the nations that inhabit Bosnia and Herzegovina do see a light at the end of the tunnel.
With recognition of the suffering of others comes reconciliation, and with that comes the hope that these people will live in freedom and prosperity, as was the wish of many in the past who have struggled to achieve that freedom.
Boris Malagurski is a Serbian-Canadian film director, producer, writer, television host and activist. His films include "Kosovo: Can You Imagine?" (2008), "The Weight of Chains" (2010), "The Presumption of Justice" (2012), "Belgrade" (2013), "The Weight of Chains 2" (2014), "Kosovo: A Moment In Civilization" (2017), "The Weight of Chains 3" (2019) and "Montenegro: A Land Divided" (2021), and his work has been screened on festivals worldwide, including Raindance in London, BANEFF in Stockholm and Oslo, Montecasino Festival in Johannesburg, Subversive Festival in Zagreb and Beldocs in Belgrade, and broadcast on TV channels worldwide, including Eurochannel.
What makes you fascinated with the cinematic language and what was the first film project you worked on?
I actually started making films in elementary school in Serbia with my friends from class — we’d make up scripts inspired by existing movies and TV shows. But I could say my first real film was a documentary about me moving to Canada in 2005. As I was going through a rollercoaster of emotions, I realized the cinematic language was a way to express myself, but also connect with others who had similar life stories. It was when this film was selected and won in the student film category at the First Take International Film Festival in Toronto that I decided that I would pursue a career in the film industry.
Please tell us how "Srpska: The Struggle for Freedom'' came to life and let us know about the process from pre-production to completion.
In essence, I’m moved by untold stories. Much has been said about Serbs in the past decades, but few journalists and filmmakers dared to dig deeper, beyond the mainstream media headlines. In working with screenwriter Milos Ninkovic, I discovered how rich the history of the area of today’s Bosnia and Herzegovina really is. I’ve known about the suffering of Serbs living West of the Drina River in their centuries-long struggle against foreign colonizers, but to present it in a way that is both informative and engaging was a challenge. Thanks to cinematographer Mladen Jankovic, we brought the story alive with amazing shot angles and spectacular drone footage, while our host, Stefan Popovic, gave it all a personal touch. The film wouldn’t have its soul without our executive producers Damian Gunjak and Anja Grubacic, as well as our editor Aleksandar Savic and composer Andreja Pesic, as well as many others who worked tirelessly to complete this film.
What was the most challenging aspect of working on this feature documentary?
It was hard making history interesting to those who don’t really care much about it. But it matters. Especially considering that freedom is a very basic value all humans yearn for and deserve. This isn’t really a documentary just about Serbs and their turbulent past, it is a lesson for every nation that to be free is glorious, but also expensive. Serbs were victims of Nazi genocide in World War II and lost a third of its entire population in World War I. Many were killed in the 1990s as well, as were members of other nations, but it’s important to openly discuss these issues in hopes of closing the dark pages of history. At least my hope is that this documentary will bring better understanding for a nation that, despite its own stains from the past, has given so much for civilizational values. The positive aspects of our history should be our blueprint for the future.
What is your next film project and what are you currently working on?
I’m currently promoting this film and considering what my next project will be. I used to work on several projects at once, but since becoming a dad, with two beautiful children at home, I’m working on one project at a time.
What is the most creative part of directing a docu project for you?
For me, the most inspiring aspect is not knowing where the story will take you. Of course, I have an idea about how the story will unfold, but creativity is what happens when plans get derailed. And this problem-solving side of the job is what gets me fired up to find creative solutions.
Does the language of cinema stand out more than other arts to you? And why?
It really is a language that speaks directly to our hearts and our minds, stimulating our senses, educating us and having the power to transcend borders and language barriers. Documentaries especially can connect people from all over the world and give us a glimpse into other cultures and ways of life. To me, this ability to unite us, to inspire us and to challenge us to see the world in a new light is what really stands out to me as one of the most powerful and captivating art forms out there.
Why do you make films and what kind of impact would your documentaries have on the world?
I believe that as filmmakers, we have a responsibility to use our medium to shed light on important issues, to challenge the status quo, and to inspire positive change. My hope is that my documentaries will help people to see the world in a new light, to question the dominant narratives that are presented to us by the mainstream media, and to engage with issues that are often overlooked or ignored. I want my films to spark dialogue, to encourage people to think critically, and to inspire them to take action. Whether it is by exposing corruption, telling stories of resistance, or highlighting the struggles of marginalized communities, I believe that documentaries have the power to make a real difference in the world. And so, I strive to make films that are not only engaging and thought-provoking, but also have the potential to inspire real change.