Directed by John Ealer and Laura Bialis (above), View from the Bridge: Stories from Kosovo, described on the film’s official website as "the first documentary feature about post-war Kosovo," was recently screened at the Slamdance Film Festival in Park City, Utah.
The bridge in question is located in the town of Mitrovica, which has become a flashpoint in the ethno-cultural clashes between Muslim Albanians, Christian Serbs, and Roma (Gypsies). In order to portray the differences — and similarities — among those disparate groups, Ealer and Bialis opted for a personal approach to their subject matter. Thus, View from the Bridge relies on first-person accounts — "sometimes hopeful, sometimes tragic" — of the lives of those suffering the physical and emotional consequences of the politics of divisiveness.
Among others who worked on the project are American Society of Cinematographers’s Heritage Award winner Sarah Levy, Academy Award-nominated editor William Haugse (Hoop Dreams), and composer Miriam Cutler, whose credits include Ghosts of Abu Ghraib and Chris & Don. A Love Story.
Directors Ealer ("JE") and Bialis ("LB") have kindly agreed to take part in a brief q&a via e-mail, discussing the making of the documentary, the difficulties they encountered while filming in Kosovo, and the significance of View from the Bridge not only for Kosovars but also for people elsewhere.
(View from the Bridge DVDs are available for sale at www.kosovomovie.com.)
Photos: © Sirena Films
First of all, could you tell us a little about your professional background?
JE: I’m a director of photography and director of commercials, television, and documentaries; View from the Bridge is my first feature doc, it was really a passion project for me. I have a BA in Communication Studies from the University of Iowa and a MFA in Film Production from the USC School of Cinematic Arts.
LB: I went to Stanford and followed that by getting an MFA at USC as well — which is where I met John. I made my first feature doc, Tak for Alt: Survival of a Human Spirit [about civil-rights activist and Holocaust survivor Judy Meisel], while I was at USC. Simultaneously with producing View from the Bridge, I was working on another feature doc called Refusenik. That film, the first documentary to chronicle the three-decade-long grassroots struggle to free Soviet Jews, premiered in December in Jerusalem, so I’ve been busy, to say the least.
How did you become involved with View from the Bridge? What is the movie about?
JE: View from the Bridge is about what happens after the bombs stop falling. It’s an intimate, first-person look at the people of Kosovo as they try to overcome the powerful legacy of the politics of hate and division. When we started making this film, here at home there was talk of "culture war" and "red and blue states" — the US was preoccupied with what I call the politics of division. Kosovo seemed a good place to look at the extreme ramifications of such politics — at the very least, it’s a cautionary tale of where such politics can lead.
LB: I first got interested in post-war Kosovo when I met an amazing UN worker named Diane Brown. Every time she came back from Kosovo, I would talk to her and hear about its struggle — and failure — to recover both politically and societally. I think that in the West we tend to think we’ve escaped tribalism, that we’ve somehow moved beyond it. But with the disintegration of the former Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, I think we pretty clearly see that when politics fuels polarization, no society is immune to violence.