Controversy over Bosnian Film

"Go West" – A Story about Romeo and Romeo

A Bosnian film director has received death threats after making a movie that depicts the love and struggle of two gay men – a Muslims and a Serb – during the ethnic conflict. From Sarajevo, Malcolm Brabant reports

photo: Deutsche Welle
Sarajevo's Otokay Mosque - Homosexuality is generally considered to be a taboo issue among Muslim communities

​​Homosexuality remains one of the great taboos of Bosnian society, and the film, called "Go West ", which has not yet been released, has been attacked for belittling the issues at stake during the country's three year long ethnic war.

Film director Ahmed Imamovic slips a rough cut of his new movie "Go West" out of its DVD cover and into a player as he prepares to show his work to a small group of friends at Sarajevo's French Cultural Centre.

Death threats against the director and his son

Imamovic has gone underground since a conservative magazine called Walter splashed its front page with a caricature of his face on top of a pile of naked writhing men's bodies.

The homophobic issue precipitated a series of death threats against Imamovic and his nine-year-old son. Now the director refuses to talk to the media.

I watched "Go West" and thought it was a highly original, dark work of art that ought to help Sarajevo re-establish its pre-war reputation as a major cultural centre.

It is a sensitive movie that tells the story of a gay couple – a Muslim and a Serb – who flee the ethnic cleansing by pretending to be a married heterosexual couple.

It follows their harrowing existence on the Serb side of the lines. And it shows a very tender and human side of gay love, and there are no explicit scenes to upset those who are squeamish about the physical nature of homosexuality.

Svetlana Djurkovic runs the "Q Association", the first lesbian and gay pressure group in Sarajevo and says that opposition against homosexual in Bosnian society is violent, but Imamovic has the organisations full support, Djurkovic adds.

But the film's producer Samir Smajic does not feel as worried as the director about talking in public about the movie.

"We like to joke that it's a film about Romeo and Romeo – without the Juliet," he says.

"But we hope the film will encourage people to be more tolerant."

Criticism from the Muslim community

More than ever, Sarajevo is now a predominantly Muslim city, and as Islam generally regards homosexuality as a sin, much of the criticism levelled against the film has come from the mosques.

Kenan Efendic is a 19-year-old student at the medrassa, or religious school, opposite Sarajevo's main mosque.

"It's wrong to show homosexuality as a primary subject in Bosnia," Efendic says, openly not hiding his repudiation of the film.

Enver Causevic is editor of Walter magazine which carried the homophobic front page and inflammatory article that preceded the death threats against the director.

"The film mixes up the issues of nationality and homosexuality. And that is wrong," says Causevic.

"By addressing the issue of homosexuality in a film about the Bosnian War, it belittles the real issues at stake during the conflict."

Before the break-up of Yugoslavia, gays faced imprisonment. But after the war, homosexuality was officially decriminalized in Bosnia.

Yet gays face persecution in what is very much a macho society.

Mirsad is a 21-year-old closeted homosexual who works in the media which ought to be one of the country's most tolerant industries. He sees the violence against homosexual in the tradition of violence has ravaged the country in the course of the 20th century.

But Mirsad is too scared to come out for fear of being completely excluded from society.

The producers of "Go West" hope that it will be premiered at this year's Cannes Film Festival followed by screenings at the Sarajevo film festival in the summer.

They are hoping that international acclaim will make it easier to show their ground-breaking movie at home.

But in this business a little controversy is always good for business.

Malcolm Brabant

© DEUTSCHE WELLE/DW-WORLD.DE 2005

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