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SARAJEVO 2021 Documentary Competition

Review: Disturbed Earth

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- In their deeply emotional documentary, Kumjana Novakova and Guillermo Carreras-Candi thread the tapestry of collective pain through individual tragedies around Srebrenica

Review: Disturbed Earth

Wars destroy countries, communities and individual lives, even for those who physically survive. The war in Bosnia and Herzegovina in the 90s still has repercussions today. It is still a heavy topic, especially around important dates such as 11 July, the date of the Srebrenica genocide, but the narrative in the mainstream media on every side almost exclusively revolves around nations, ethnic or religious groups, and rarely around individuals and their destinies.

That is not the case in Disturbed Earth [+see also:
trailer
interview: Kumjana Novakova, Guillermo…
film profile
]
by Kumjana Novakova and Guillermo Carreras-Candi, one of the films having its world premiere in the Sarajevo Film Festival’s Documentary Competition. As stated on the introductory title card, collective pain is made of personal losses and sorrows. Given the significance of its topic and the freshness of its style, the film does not have any trouble communicating with international audiences, and further festival exposure is to be expected.

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The film begins with a brief introduction shot at the 20th anniversary of the genocide (in 2015). We follow a truck decorated with a flag and flowers, carrying coffins which contain recently exhumed earthly remains of people killed 20 years ago, before witnessing the encounter between the vehicle and the families of the killed and the proper burial of the remains, seeking to secure eternal peace for the dead. The filmmaking duo then shifts its focus towards three survivors, whose difficult daily lives are marked by the sadness caused by loss and hard labour. Srećko is a man who came back to live off the woods around his house, on a hill just above Srebrenica. During the war, he was conscripted into the army of Republika Srpska and therefore forced to facilitate the war crimes against his neighbours. Mirza survived Srebrenica by hiking across the mountains for days to Tuzla. He is now back to his old house together with his wife to live off the land, since there are no jobs. Mejra lost her husband and sons, she is now 85 years old and still lives off the land.

The observations of their routines are intercut with archival material from the time of the war crimes and shortly afterwards, some of it notorious and some not known at all, as well as by title cards of two types. Some of them, written by Kumjana Novakova, serve as a poetic narration of sorts, and the tone of the cards is lyrical, even elegiac. The second group of cards is more matter-of-fact, since its authors are the protagonists themselves, sharing their observations, thoughts and memories about death and life.

Emotions are concentrated in a very compact runtime of just over 70 minutes, but Disturbed Earth does not feel rushed at all. It is in fact meditative, thanks in part to the combination of analogue and digital cinematography by Novakova and Carreras-Candi and the hypnotic editing by Jelena Maksimović. The choice of archival material is loaded with symbolism, while the finely-tuned sound design by Oriol Gallart Miret and his scarce employment of eerie music at just the right moments adds up to the atmosphere of general unpleasantness and sadness. Disturbed Earth transposes its viewer to a specific state of mind and emotion necessary to understand and feel individual tragedies and collective pain.

Disturbed Earth is a co-production between Bosnia and Herzegovina, North Macedonia and Spain, by companies Atzucac Films and Pravo Ljudski, with Televisió de Catalunya as co-producer.

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