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January 6, 2012

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HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, JANUARY 6, 2012 Filmmaker Jolie feels PAGE 17A By Naomi Pfefferman Arts & entertainment editor Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles Angelina Jolie set aside plans for a surprise birth- day present for her partner Brad Pitt's 48th birthday as she stood to greet me with a smile: "I'm Arrgie." Poised and approach- able, and clad all in black, the Oscar-winning actress was at the Roosevelt Hotel in Hollywood to discuss her directorial debut, "In the Land of Blood and Honey," which follows the relation- ship between a Bosnian woman and a Serbian of- ficer amid ethnic cleansing in the former Yugoslavia. That genocide took place in the 1990s, five decades after the Holocaust. "Two months ago, I visited Aus- chwitz for the first time," Jolie said early in the conversation. "When Brad was filming 'World War Z' in Budapest, I flew up and spent the day, as I feel everyone should; the sheer scale of it had never before hit me. The organization was what was so infuriat- ing," she added. "This was not a crime of passion but a very planned, organized effort. And then 50 years after we said, 'Never again,' there it was, in the former Yugoslavia, just 40 miles from Italy. It made me afigry." Jolie's same anger fueled "In the Land of Blood and Honey," which was shot in four larLguages and unflinchingly depicts the Balkan genocide through H/ Wikipedia Angelina Jolie the lens of a love story. The Bosnian Ajla (Zana Marjanovic), an artist, and Serbian Danijel (Goran Kostic), a police officer, are, in Jolie's words, "a couple in the thrall of early dating, at the beginning of all that good love and lust." But as they dance intimately at a nightclub, the war literally implodes their relationship. Later, Ajla is shocked to discover that Danijel is the com- manding officer in an in- ternment camp where she and other women are being held prisoner and sexually abused. The way their affair resumes and transforms becomes Jolie,s meditation on how an emotional and sexual landscape can be twisted by war. "They say write what you know," Jolie explained of why she chose to tell the story through a love affair. "The film in some ways is my mind separated into different characters, pain in making 'Blood and Honey' and of course my clos- with, and in the process, I of men is machine-gunned est relationship is to the man that I love. What if tomorrow I was told that we were different and we were separated somehow? I couldn't possibly imag- ine Brad ever becoming my enemy. So I tried to construct a relationship where in the beginning that seems impossible. But in the end; you understand that's where it naturally went." Jolie, 36, began working on the film in a decidedly domestic setting: She was at home but separated from her six children because she had the flu, when she began thinking back on her visits to conflict zones as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refu- gees' goodwill ambassador. "During my first few years of traveling, all I did was cry," she said. Eventu- ally, Jolie immersed herself in the nuts and bolts of activism: "I had written journals and op-ed pieces about it," she said, "but nothing ever in script form." On that day as she was fighting the flu, she decided to try a screenplay "just as a personal medita- tion, not something the world would ever see." She began the project not long before July 2010, the 15th anniversary of the massacre of 8,000 men and boys at Srebrenica, and Jolie found herself reflect- ing on how little she knew about that disturbingly recent genocide. "I cre- ated this world in my head of people I could identify gave myself an education," she said. "And then I was sitting with this script that I didn't show anybody, until Brad read it and said, 'You know, honey, this is kind of good.' " Joiie was terri- fied that, as an outsider, she wouldn't get the story right. "So ! sent the script without my name on it to people who had been on all sides of the war," she said. She proceeded only after they said she had it right, shooting the film over just 42 days during a freezing winter last year. Jolie's cast are all actors from the various sides of the brutal ethnic conflict in Bosnia-Herzegovina, and they, too, did much to vet the script as well as, through a process of improvisation, adding parts of their own lives to the story. "It was very important to make people understand how recent this was," Jolie said, "and that this wasn't World War II, but 1992." Thus her movie opens with a rock 'n' roll song, and the cinematography and set design, at least early in the film, are vibrant and modern. "I wanted people to sit in the theater for two hours and be uncomfortable," added Jolie, who punctu- ated the film with scenes of random violence that are as sudden as they are shocking, A drunken sniper shoots a man and his son; gunmen blow up a truck providing humanitarian aid; a row into a waiting, mass grave. "If you're sitting in your seat saying, 'Please make this stop,' then you understand what the film is about," Jolie said. The actress credits her late mother, Marcheline Bertrand, for introducing her to issues involving human rights: "She took me to my first Amnesty International meeting when I was 9," Jolie re- called. Because Bertrand was part Native American, Jolie knew about that geno- cide from an efirly age; the Nazi Holocaust came into focus when Jolie visited the Museum of Tolerance soon after it opened, around the corner from her Los Ange- les home, in 1993. Her film work has, at times, mirrored her inter- est in real-life conflict zones, such as when she portrayed Mariane Pearl, the wife of murdered jour- nalist Daniel Pearl, in 2007's "A Mighty Heart." "The Land of Blood and Honey" already has gleaned a Golden Globe nomination for best foreign language film, though the shoot in the former Yugoslavia was not without its share of controversy. Jolie's permit to film in one area/was temporarily revoked, when the false rumor spread that the heroine was a prisoner who falls in love with her rapist, which was cleared up when Jolie submitted the script to officials and they saw the truth. Leaders of a Serbian pris- oners' group and an orga- nization for rape survivors also declared that Jolie had portrayed them callously. The filmmaker, however, was adamant that her film did not take sides--and that the rape scenes were anything but titillating. "I intentionally never showed nudity during the rapes; I wanted the camera to focus on the reactions of the victim and the people watching," she said. The most difficult se- quence to shoot, for Jolie, was based on a true story about soldiers forcing el- derly women to dance, nude, as they jeered. "I had to ask three older women to take off all their clothes in front of a bunch of people who were going to be laughing and making fun of them," she recalled. "I felt like I was torturing them, and I almost didn't do it. I kept reminding them that I was directing people to laugh at them; that I would only shoot the scene once; that there were robes around the corner and that I'm so sorry! They were doing the scene for all the women who had gone through this, but it still felt horrible." Jolie said she never in- tended to become a direc- tor. "If anything, I wanted to do less films over the next few years, to be home a lot more and be a room," she said, "but then I thoughl, I have a responsibility to my generation." And to "Never again." Win the Land ofBlood and Honey" opened in limited release on Dec. 23. By Arieh O'Sullivan The Media Line. An Israeli lawmakerwants to ban the Muslim call to prayer Before the dawn rolls in from the east, Muslim wor- shippers have already been summoned to prayer by the muezzin's call. Echoing off the stone walls of houses and apartments in Jerusa- lem, the summons is heard in Muslim, Christian and Jewish neighborhoods alike. Not everyone likes it, particularly not at four in the morning. A move by an Israeli legislator from a nationalist party to have speakers removed from mosques aims to tone down this age-old, sacred call to prayer. The lawmaker who draft- ed the bill says it's not singling out Muslims, but rather going after noise pollution. "We respect the freedom of religion, the freedom of thinking, the freedom of staying in the place they want to stay, but at the same time we need to respect the people who want to sleep at four o'clock in the morning," Anastassia Michaeli, a Knes- set (parliament) member belonging to Foreign Min- ister Avigdor Lieberman's Yisrael Beiteinu Party, told The Media Line. Silencing the muezzin A mother of eight, Mi- chaeli, 36, says she's par- ticularly concerned for the children who are wakened by the call. "This noise pollu- tion disturbs them." Embraced-by some as long overdue measure and dismissed by others as everything from racist to superfluous, Michaeli's bill has highlighted the complexities involved in coexisting in the Jewish state with a large Muslim minority in towns and cities that are becoming increas- ingly more mixed. Cities like Jaffa, Acre, Nazareth, Ramie, Lod and Jerusalem with their size- able Arab neighborhoods are particularly touched by the call, known as the adhan, which is recited five times aday. Michaeli toured these cities recently, garnering support from some of the mayors and a large chunk of the Jewish population who she says are losing tolerance for the Wail. "I hear the call to prayer at night and it bothers me and the kids. They have raised the idea about lowering the volume of the speakers but nothing has ever been done. It continues," says Motti Gabai, a resident of Jerusalem's Gilo neighbor- hood whose house borders the Arab neighborhood of Beit Safafa. Michaeli says attempts in the past to get the mu- ezzin to lower the volume have failed. She bemoans the failure by officials to enforce existing noise pol- lution codes, saying police have complained they don't have adequate meters for determining noise level. Michaeli proposes using new, less intrusive, elec- tronic forms of summoning the devout to prayer such as Internet alarms and per- sonalized radio broadcasts. Michaeli says that many town mayors, lawmakers and ministers, including Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, support her legislation, but that it is caught up now in commit- tee. Some officials, how- ever, fear it could agitate Muslims. Israeli President Shimon Peres has said he opposes the bill. "This is simply a march of folly... I am personally ashamed there are attempts being made to pass such laws... Israel doesn't have to raise the ire of all the Muslims in the Arab world against us," Peres said. Michaeli first came up with her bill months ago, but it is only now receiv- ing media attention. She assumes it has attracted increased attention be- cause it fits into a pattern of legislation initiated by right-wing lawmakers over the past two years that crit- ics say strike a blow to civil liberties. These include reining in the power of the Supreme Court, plac- ing ceilings on financial assistance to non-profits by foreign governments and limits on Palestinian commemoration of Israeli Independence Day as the Nakba (catastrophe). Reaction to Michaeli's bill has been vocal and thousands of Israeli Ar- abs have protested in the streets against it. "I think that they make all the demonstrations only because they don't un- derstand what it is about. The bill isnot against their religion. I know that they have to pray five times a day" and ! respect that. Let them pray but not at a [noise] level that disturbs others," Michaeli says. Meeting in her Knesset office, which was taken over by some of her chil- dren during the Chanukah holiday, Michaeli shows research on how other countries have dealt with the adhan. She says that in Austria it can be used to call to prayer only once a week on Fridays and that in France it is totally banned. Even Egypt and Saudi Arabia, she notes, have put a four-speaker limit on minarets and those must be directed inward. "In Israel there is no limit on the number of speakers that can be placed on a mosque and the speak- ers are directed in all direc- tions," Michaeli says. In Beit Safafa, the call to prayer is heard far and wide, and some say silenc- ing it amounts to religious discrimination. The owner of a hardware store in the same building as the village mosque hears the call to prayer at all hours. He says he is not religiou and doesn't want to talk about it, but he does get incensed by Jews trying to stop Muslim traditions. "When I go to Tel Aviv at night I hear these dis- cotheques making all their loud noise in the middle of the night. It's the'same thing," says the man, who asked not to be named. Rami Mashhad, a con- tractor, is adamantly against the legislation and warns it could ignite the normally peaceful re- lationship with his Jewish neighbors. "I think this is awrong de- cision at this time because... it will escalate the violence and the misunderstandings between the Israelis and the Arabs so I think they should rethink it," he says. But even he, too, admits that maybe, perhaps, there was room to adjust the volume a bit. "I do understand if the prayer is annoying to other people but for me it is not an- noying," he says. "Maybe the suggestion should be t.o make the speakers a little bit lower but not to remove them at ally Michaeli's bill hasa long way to go before it becomes law. It must first be ap- proved by a ministerial law committee and then pre- pared for the first of three readings, a procedure that could bog down. But this doesn't deter the first-term legislator, who says half the battle was getting the issue on the public agenda. "It doesn't matter if the bill exists or not. That is the purpose. The most important result for me is that at 4 o'clock in the morning people want to sleep and not to wake up because of other people who would like to go to pray," she says. Some people, like Motti Gabai in Jerusalem, don't believe the call to prayer is necessary at all. "They  don't have to re- move the speakers, just lower the volume," Gabai says. "But believe me, anyone who wants to come and pray will come without calling them on the speaker."