Filming a story of survival

A local artist documents a Columbia family that lived through genocide in a Bosnian town
Friday, February 25, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 12:22 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

After six years teaching English to Bosnian refugees in Columbia, Kerri Yost took what, for her, was the next logical step: making a film about them. And then another film. And then one more.

Mass Graves featured in "Waiting for Adnan"

The second of Yost’s trilogy is a four-minute documentary entitled “Waiting for Adnan,” which will be screened Sunday at the Missouri Theatre as part of the True/False Film Festival.

“Waiting for Adnan” tells the story of Nermina Selimovic and her husband, Adnan Halilovic. Not long after marrying, Selimovic, who was 19 at the time, left Bosnia for the United States in late 2003.

“I came here because I didn’t have a house left in Bosnia,” Selimovic says in the film. “Serbians destroyed everything.”

Halilovic, who was 23, was forced to remain in Srebrenica, where many Bosnians suffered hardship and death. The film is a continuation of Yost’s first short, “Selimovic,” which was presented at last year’s True/False festival. “Waiting for Adnan” juxtaposes photos of the Selimovic family in happier times with footage of mass graves from the Bosnian genocide in 1995.

While “Selimovic” ended with Halilovic still in Srebrenica, by the end of “Waiting for Adnan” he has moved to the United States to be with his wife and son, Alen, who was born in 2004. The family lives in Columbia.

Yost described the film as “kind of experimental.” Selimovic was filmed in front of a green screen, with photographs and scenes superimposed on the background. Although Selimovic can speak some English, Yost wanted the film to be in Bosnian with English subtitles.

“It’s hard to express yourself in a foreign language,” said Jasmina McNutt, the film’s translator who also fled Bosnia during the war.

Yost becomes family with the Bosnian refugee community in Columbia

Yost has a personal relationship with the local Bosnian refugee community. She is especially close to the Selimovic family, to whom she taught English. “Now we call each other family,” Yost said. “Every documentary I’ve worked on has been built from a pretty real personal relationship.”

Yost said the family is proud of the film but uncomfortable being in the spotlight.

“To be honest,” she said, “they participated out of friendship with me.”

Both “Waiting for Adnan” and “Selimovic” were taken from Yost’s full-length documentary on the refugees. That film, entitled “Neither Here Nor There,” is still a work in progress. The two shorts and the full-length movie were directed and produced with help from three other local filmmakers: Beth Pike, Elizabeth Federici and Stephen Hudnell.

Senad Music, a caseworker and office manager at the Refugee and Immigration Center in Columbia, is featured in “Neither Here Nor There.” A former refugee who is now a U.S. citizen, Music helped the Selimovic family when they came to Columbia and said he is grateful for the opportunity to help others.

“I cannot pay back, but I can help them by working here,” Music said. “This job has really given me what I’ve always dreamed about.”

Expecting "Neither Here Nor There" in Summer

Filming for “Neither Here Nor There” should end this summer when Yost, Pike and a group of local Bosnians will visit Srebrenica. Many Bosnians are returning to bury family members whose remains were only recently identified. Pike said at least 8,000 Muslim men were killed during one week in July 1995.

Ultimately, “Neither Here Nor There” is about the challenges the Selimovic family has overcome, both in Bosnia and the United States.

“They’ve got every obstacle in the way, but they persevere and pull together,” Yost said. “As a viewer, you can’t help but root for the family. It’s kind of an American dream.” “Neither Here Nor There” is funded in part by a grant that the Missouri Arts Council gave to Ragtag Cinemacafe. Yost also received funding from Women Make Movies, a national nonprofit group supporting films made by women.

Yost also got financial backing from Columbia’s Refugee and Immigration Center and the Adult Learning Center, where she taught English to non-native speakers.

Sunday’s showing of “Waiting for Adnan,” at 5 p.m. at the Missouri Theater, is the film’s premiere. It will be screened along with “Little Peace of Mine” and “God Sleeps in Rwanda.” In order to ensure that a large number of refugees could attend the screening, True/False gave out 100 free tickets through the Adult Learning Center and the Refugee and Immigration Center.

Yost said she hopes to give a human face to Columbia’s Bosnian population, which Music estimates at 400 to 500 people.

“I really want Columbians to know this population,” Yost said. “And vice-versa.”

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