(Montgomery County, Maryland)
(November 12, 1999)
Filmmaker examines life after wartime:
“Crucible of War” looks at life in the post-war Balkans
by Chris Slattery
He is a talented young filmmaker with an original idea, a Montgomery College film school background and a documentary – almost in the can – that he hopes will capture the imagination of audiences everywhere. But “Crucible of War” is no “Blair Witch Project.” And that’s just fine with Leon Gerskovic.
“This film is not a money-maker,” the 26-year-old director insists. “It’s not about creating another ‘Blair Witch Project’ and making big bucks. It’s about making people aware and saving the future. It’s about inspiring compassion.”
Born in Zagreb, Gerskovic speaks perfect English with a romantic hint of an Eastern European accent. He has lived here in Gaithersburg [Maryland] for six years now, but it was his life in the former Yugoslavia , just before his emigration, that sowed the seeds for “Crucible of War.”
“I came to the U.S. after the war in Croatia,” he recalls. “During the war, when I was 18 or 19 years old, I worked for a Western news agency as a translator and as a guide taking crews to the front lines.”
Arriving in the U.S., Gerskovic immediately noticed America’s lukewarm reaction to the war that was ripping his country apart. He says that his inspiration for the documentary came after his own war experience, during the conflict in Kosovo. When war was raging over there, all the young refugee could see over here was that people were not concerned.
“The conflict seemed like a computer game to most people here,” he observes.
“I saw images used as a political tool. I knew there was more to it, more stories than could fit into 10-second sound bites. But I wasn’t sure what to do about it.”
Enter Steven Spielberg. Gerskovic attended Montgomery College as a film student from 1995 to 1998, and his interest in the art of filmmaking led him to see Spielberg’s World War II documentary “The Last Days.” That film, created through Spielberg’s Shoah Foundation, featured survivors of the Holocaust, speaking about their personal experiences.
When he saw “The Last Days,” Gerskovic says, “I realize that common struggles could show what war really means, and that the simple struggles of everyday people cold speak as loudly as CNN. All we needed was a documentary of the common people of the Balkans to tell the story through their eyes.”
To that end he enlisted co-producer Rob Shire of Wheaton, planning a trip to the Balkans with cameras in hand. Award-winning Silver Spring filmmaker Erica Ginsberg signed on as co-producer, and the three are now sifting through their footage and continuing the fund-raising efforts they hope will bring their documentary to the American public.
“Bosnia. Serbia. Croatia. It’s confusing for people in American,” says Gerskovic. “And the news never helped solve the mystery or sort out the puzzle. You can get a much better picture listening to a real person, a survivor, than a political analyst.”
Gerskovic describes the film, which he expects will be released in February, as a look at war through the eyes of those who are living through it. The film includes people of all ages, of different ethnicities and occupations.
It’s this blanket approach that makes Gerskovic’s film unique, as it dares to suggest the prospect of peace in a region many have written off as intractable.
Gerskovic believes that Americans don’t see the real face of the Balkans
“Yes, of course there are negative aspects, but there are positives too,” he says. “Even thought there has been war and devastation, people want to live. They want to rebuild and make a better future. Lives continue.
“There has been fear and manipulation, but there is also hope. There is a generation of people who don’t want these borders. A generation that has been through war – and is willing to work for peace.”
Discussing his documentary, Gerskovic, who cites Montgomery College film professor Don Smith as an inspiration, says he tried to focus on the positive symbols he found amid the devastation. He spoke of children learning photograph and taking pictures in the aftermath of war. He described a troupe of young musicians in Sarajevo known as “Little Africans” because they started drumming when a United Nations relied worker from Africa began teaching them to express their emotions through the music of his culture.
There are positive and negative changes, Gerskovic acknowledges. He speaks of refugees, forgotten and bereft, and expresses his deeply held hope that Americans will be able to see beyond the headlines.
“Our cause is noble,” says Gerskovic, referring to “Crucible of War” and the labor of love the documentary represents. “We want the audience to be aware and to understand the truth about war through the eyes of the people who experienced it.
“That’s the only way,” he says, “to keep hatred from continuing.”
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