Interview with writer/director Jazmin Dizdar
By Ross Anthony

At a Beverly Hills hotel restaurant, I slide into a booth across from the tall Jazmin Dizdar. Without a word, his disarming smile, relaxed demeanor and informal dress immediately welcome me. As I prepare myself for the interview he peeks at my questions sheet entitled: "Interview with Bosnian-Brit Filmmaker Jazmin Dizdar."

JD: "Bosnian-Brit" I like that. (Chuckles.) That's a new nationality. You know what they say in English papers? "This is the best British film made by Bosnians." (Chuckles.)

RA: What would you say?

JD: I'm a naturalized British person. I lived with my family for years there, but I grew up in Bosnia. It is a kind of mixture of culture, but you're either Bosnian or you're English. I don't think you can be Bosnian-Brit. You can say for America, that he grew up in Bosnia but is now a naturalized Brit... or or... the latest British answer to Bosnia. (Chuckles.)

RA: You know, it's like Italian-American, African-American ... How about you Fredell? (I ask the film's publicist) What would you call yourself?

FP: (Pondering.) I'm an American of Jewish heritage.

RA: So tell me Jazmin, what are your current feelings about Bosnia?

JD: My feelings about it? Like anything else they change. It's one moment you feel like this the other moment you feel like that. It's nothing I can point a finger at and say, "Oh, this is the feeling that dominates."

RA: The film brings more insight into our own little wars using the Bosnian crisis as a metaphor...

JD: (Interjecting.) As an excuse. (Chuckles.) To show that the war in your kitchen could be actually more dramatic than a physical war. It could be more important, more significant for us to learn about ourselves. ...I like doing that. People saying, "You bought the wrong shoes ... I don't like brown! ... You like brown?" This American argument in the middle of New York. Then suddenly they look at the telli [TV] and it says, "The latest on the war in Bosnia ... there's a lack of shoes ... lack of food ... please send some."

RA: Is the converse also true? Using the "shoe argument" as a metaphor for the Bosnian crisis?

JD: Absolutely, you know, the nurse says [to the Serb and Croat in the film] "You have the same size slippers. Isn't that extraordinary?" And that's put against that nationality row [feud]. So taking little things of our daily lives and throwing them against something that's bigger than life. For example, that scene where the BBC reporter comes in with the tape "leave Bosnia to me." it's a political statement set against that marriage that's kind of confusing, cracking down a bit.

RA: I liked the contrast when the doctor comes into her place and he's got all those responsibilities and she's, "Don't you think I need a little more yellow in this one over here?"

FP: Excuse me.

Fredell is called away from the table.

RA: So anyway, all this moving around from Bosnia to Prague to London prompted you to (as you said earlier) "Reinvent yourself." What did you mean by that?

JD: If you asked me ten years ago if I'd write and direct a film in English, I'd probably laugh. So I think until you try to do something you don't know exactly to what extent you can do things. You know, not only that I can do one, but I think I'm going to do another one. (Laughs.) Instead of being in a foreign country saying, "Oh, what am I doing here? Everyone is against me." I always laugh and try to turn it around in my favor. Something that looks disadvantaged and I turn it into an advantage. And that's how we did "Beautiful People." Everything was set there against me basically to fail. From parachuting into war zones to... (throws up one hand.) This idea of changing disadvantages to advantages is my idea of reinventing yourself - or (Chuckle) re-writing your own CV [resume].

RA: The press notes say you were commissioned by the BFI. Who are they and why did they commission you?

JD: The British Film Institute ... and I think that you should ask them! (Chuckles.) I was just glad. ...You know it's no big deal if they commission you, it's very little money they give you to write it. But you get a shot. And then you never know if it's gonna get made. And then I was very happy when they actually green-lighted the project to a fine production company and producer and raised the finances to make the film.

RA: I see.

JD: BFI is subsidized by government and they really give a chance to people to make film who wouldn't otherwise. Probably BBC or channel 4 would never make films like this ... or maybe they would, I don't know. But here I was a foreign person who had never made films in Britain, who would take me seriously? They just wouldn't. But BFI did take me seriously and that's all a credit to them for what we got. The film won [at the Cannes Film Festival] and was saw everywhere in the world, from Japan to Australia to here. Which is quite unusual for BFI films, usually they're just for a specific audience. This is a story that traveled around the world and still travels. We all knew that there wasn't much money in it and that it would be a lot of work. But it was going to be one of those films that you make once or twice in a lifetime. I'll always remember this about [shooting] "Beautiful People" going on the set and saying, "Oh what the heck! We're gonna go for it!"

RA: What was the budget?

JD: About 1.8 million dollars and we shot in 35 days.

RA: Yeah, that amazed me.

JD: Amazes you? (Chuckles.) I had to make it! It's just that you don't have a choice. Either you do this or you don't. To me that was great, I was trained in short filmmaking. I was running down the street and shooting pigeons and dogs and people and I knew how to make things work for me with a little camera. I didn't need to have a panavision crew and trucking shorts and cranes. I knew that I could recreate that with a camera on the shoulder or static shots. That helped. The best thing is when you make things invisible. You have a character coming into the camera, but you don't see the camera trucking in front of him.

RA: You shot on 35mm?

JD: No, no. Super 16.

RA: You're Pero (a significant character) is a non-actor. Where did you find him?

JD: Yes, he works in a bookshop and one of the actors that we casted knew him. I talked to him, I had exhausted other resources.

Just then Fredell's phone rings...

JD: Should I answer that?

RA: Sure.

JD: (Picking up the cell phone) Hello? Hello? ... She's just out. I think she's gone to the bathroom somewhere. Could you call later. In about two minutes? Okay? Bye. (Chuckles.)

RA: Who was it?

JD: I don't know, because they say "lalalala" (wiggles his tongue.) That's exactly what they say - there's a different language for cell phones. (Chuckles.) There was a long pause [when I picked it up ... they must have been thinking...] is she robbed again? (Chuckles.)

Jazmin sets the phone back on the table.

RA: Back to Pero...

JD: He came to the office and I just laughed. Everything he said made me laugh. And if I laugh, if he has such an impact on me, then why shouldn't the audience. So, I said I'd go for him. I don't think he has a clue what he's about to do, and I don't have a clue what to do with him.

RA: My favorite moment in the film is when Griffin is holding the hand of the guy getting his leg hacked off. What is your favorite moment?

JD: Hmmmm. I'm trying to remember what I said yesterday ... it was a good thing I said. (Chuckles.) I can't remember now. I don't know. I probably like ...(scratches his chin, squints.) There's so many moments I feel so strong about and close to. We have this joke when we're editing, we start talking in lines from the film. Because they're so human like and you can actually tell to each other, "Oh, thank you for your hostility .. you want some more tea?" All these lines came straight from me, so they're all so close to me. So it's hard to say why that moment is better than the other one. When he says to his father, "I had some free time, so I went to help some Bosnians." When Porshe's mother says, "I think he's rather exotic." Those moments people are trying to find out who those [other] people are. That's important ... who this person is? Just when you think you know, he gets up and plays piano.

RA: Is that what you said yesterday?

JD: No, I didn't. He [the other interviewer] might actually read your article and say, "that's better than mine!" (Chuckles.)

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Last Modified: Wednesday, 17-Mar-2004 15:36:33 PST