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Bosnia to America: a cutting experience

Some interviews are a challenge to edit because the interviewee provides so little to work with, or tells the story so obliquely, or pauses so often that multiple cuts are required to splice together a sentence that flows.

Not Omarska concentration camp survivor Kemal Pervanic. His interview for this short production we put together last week for the Aegis Trust was dynamite: eloquent, passionate, informed, carrying the authority of experience.

When the experience in question is what can happen to you if you find yourself on the wrong side of an autocratic regime prepared to tear a society apart through lies about violence until violence becomes a reality, that’s pretty sobering.

Kemal is experienced as an interviewee too, and that definitely helps - having been a regular contributor to news programmes about Balkan matters for perhaps a couple of decades now.

No, the biggest challenge with the edit this time was what to leave out. Attention spans are short: all of us are bombarded with information in the digital realm, 24/7. To justify a film’s demand for attention, we have to make it a richly rewarding and worthwhile experience for the viewer. And each extra minute on that runtime increases the chances that a would-be viewer decides it’s just too much of their life to spend watching. So even if the content is incredible, a ruthless edit is essential.

In the end, we made the film 4.30min. Too long for Twitter (currently 140 seconds max), and too long for the shortest bracket on YouTube (sub four minutes), but long enough, we felt, to do justice to the range and depth of Kemal’s reflections whilst still being a short film.

Would this have garnered more viewers if it was shorter? Probably. But at 66,000+ viewers on Facebook in its first week, it’s already overtaken the Aegis Trust’s next most popular video: an interview with Miss Rwanda, filmed seven years ago, with 64,000+ views on YouTube.

The most moving part of Kemal’s interview to hit the figurative cutting-room floor was a deeply personal comment on the nature of the trauma contended with, every day, by survivors of genocide and war crimes.

“That trauma never leaves you. It never goes away for the rest of your life. And when you realize that there is a possibility of ending up in detention again, for no reason whatsoever, you know, it makes you think,” he said. “We should never put any human being through this kind of experience.” Then he paused, for a long time, seemingly caught in his memories, before softly adding the last word: “Ever.”

'Bosnia to America: How lies can kill' was released by the Aegis Trust, in conjunction with STAND, Remembering Srebrenica, and Most Mira – for whom Kemal is a trustee. A transcript of the finished film follows. Full credits are included on the Aegis Trust’s YouTube upload.


"This executive order, banning people from Muslim countries from entering the States, it made me realise that once you go through a war, it doesn’t mean it’s not going to happen to you again, let alone that it may never happen again to anyone.

"My name is Kemal Pervanic, I come from Bosnia, I’m a survivor of the Omarska concentration camp.

"When I read that Donald Trump issued a statement about Holocaust Memorial Day which made no mention of the Jews, that was really, really strange. We know that the Nazis targeted Jews in particular. Most places in Bosnia had Jewish communities. In my town of Prijedor, there’s a Jewish cemetery, but there were no Jews left.

"My mother survived the Second World War, so she warned me, before my village was attacked. She warned me to leave. She knew what was going to happen, because it had happened to her before. I thought well, I’m not going to leave, we have lived here for hundreds of years, and when it happened, when my village was attacked, when I wanted to flee, I had nowhere to go.

"When we are born and raised in peacetime we actually expect that it will last. We take it for granted. But now I can see that this situation is very real. This time it’s something much [more] serious, because we are talking about the most powerful country in the world, and what we have been seeing for the last couple of weeks, it reminded me of what happened in former Yugoslavia for a couple of years before the war started.

"For example, Serb doctors would accuse their non-Serb colleagues, Muslims, Croats, of killing newborn Serb babies, and they made up these stories to create chaos. So when I read that Donald Trump’s spin doctor, Kellyanne Conway came up with this story of a massacre in Bowling Green in Kentucky, and … and it just didn’t happen. It’s mind-blowing.

"It personally reminds me of the need to employ propaganda in this way when you want something bad to happen. This was happening in my former country for some time, and then it became possible even for neighbours and friends to believe in such lies and to become enemies. And eventually, friends ended up killing friends. My schoolmates became my guards. Some schoolmates were killed. My teacher became my interrogator and my torturer. And in this kind of situation, everything is possible, and no one should feel that they are safe.

"Today, even though I’m not a citizen of one of those countries listed in Trump’s executive order, I actually don’t feel safe going to the States. What I survived in Bosnia during the war has been enough detention and trauma, not just for one but for several lives.

"This World is what we make of it, or in this situation, it could be what we don’t make of it. So it’s up to each one of us to actually become politically active. We have to hold our politicians to account every single day. In some ways, this is a wonderful opportunity for all of us to change our world for the better. If we don’t do that, soon we may find ourselves in a situation where no-one will be able to help us."

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