Columbia filmmakers find echoes of home in Bosnia

Thursday, September 18, 2008 | 5:01 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — Elizabeth Federici didn't expect Srebrenica, Bosnia, to bear any similarities to Columbia when she traveled there in 2005 as part of a documentary film crew.

Ten years earlier, Srebrenica was the site of a massacre that lasted for several days, leaving thousands of people dead. Mass graves filled with unidentified victims dotted the landscape.


WHAT: Premiere of “Neither Here Nor There,” the third in a trilogy about Bosnian refugees in Columbia
WHEN: 7 p.m. Saturday; 2 p.m. Sunday
WHERE: Missouri Theatre, 203 S. Ninth St.
ADMISSION: $12 Saturday; $7 Sunday

But as Federici explored downtown Srebrenica with the rest of the film crew, she was struck by echoes of home. A shoe store brimmed with inventory, but unlike its counterparts in Columbia, the Bosnian storefront was riddled with bullet holes.

Beth Pike, another filmmaker, was wary of the tense atmosphere in the still-wounded town. However, Pike was put at ease by a visual reminder of home: a photograph in the home in which she and the crew were staying of a Bosnian family in Columbia, in front of a house she recognized from her childhood. Pike said she realized "it really is a small world after all."

The trip yielded one of the most powerful moments in their film "Neither Here Nor There."

Federici, Pike, director Kerri Yost and Stephen Hudnell will show the movie, the final installment in their trilogy about a Bosnian refugee family living in Columbia, on Saturday night at the Missouri Theatre.

The story behind "Neither Here Nor There" has been 13 years in the making. The film centers on the Selimovic family, who came to Columbia after surviving the Bosnian war, including the massacre at Srebrenica in July 1995.

"Neither Here Nor There" is Yost's brainchild. As the Selimovics' case worker, she witnessed the obstacles they faced adjusting to life in the United States. She said the trilogy began with the short film "Waiting for Adnan," which showed the struggles Nermina Selimovic faced trying to bring her husband, Adnan, to America. However, the whole Selimovic family captured the hearts of the filmmakers.

The group made another short film titled "Remembering Srebrenica," which documented the family's journey to their former home. The documentary team members realized they had so many stories to share that they decided to make a full-length feature.

The group has worked on this project for five years. They started filming the Selimovic family in spring 2003 and finished filming them in summer 2007. Once they stopped filming, the filmmakers had about 100 hours of raw footage, and Federici called the two-year editing process "laborious."

Federici said making "Neither Here Nor There" was educational both from a filmmaking and a humanitarian standpoint. Not only did she and the rest of the Refugee Films team spend five years steeped in Columbia's Bosnian community, but they had to be prepared for any event. Federici said there was no such thing as an average day of filming.

"There was no script and sometimes no prep," Federici said. "It was very challenging."

Yost said planning where and what to film was often futile.

"Refugee lives are chaotic, thus the filming was very chaotic," Yost said.

In Srebrenica, the film crew saw a community still trying to recover, and they saw it through the family's eyes. Thanks to DNA testing, for example, family matriarch Fatima Selimovic found out that her father's body had been discovered in one of the mass graves in the village, and the crew documented the family's 2005 trip to rebury his body.

Pike said she was filled with anxiety when they visited Srebrenica. Bombs had been discovered in the area around the graves, putting everyone on edge. Their hearts raced, she said, and they couldn't sleep. The unease created an understanding between them all, Bosnians and Americans.

"We are all so connected in this world," Pike said.

Yost wants to show audiences that what a person has endured in the past does not dictate who they are.

"I want viewers to walk away and realize that the Selimovic family is very much like their own — that when we hear of tragedies occurring in far away places, these tragedies affect real people," Yost said. "So I hope the terms ‘genocide' and ‘war' and ‘refugee' become much less abstract and much more realistic."

According to the film's Web site, the theme of the film is that a "refugee's home is neither here nor there, but somewhere in between." However, Yost said the Selimovic family is happy in Columbia.

"The Selimovic family is really — as corny as it sounds — the American dream," Yost said. "They were forced to find a new home and start a new life. And as difficult as this has been, they have created a new life here in Columbia, Missouri, and can truly appreciate how valuable life and family are because of their past. Nermina just said to me last week, ‘I think we are living the American dream.'"




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