x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

A lucky break for a new face in cinema

Oscar winner Denis Tanovic made An Episode in the Life of an Iron Picker, screening at the Abu Dhabi Film Fesival, when he read an article about an injustice that made him angry - so he sought out the man at the centre of the story and convinced him to be in the film.

Nazif Mujic (left) and Senanda Alimanovic star as themselves. Courtesy Danis Tanovic
Nazif Mujic (left) and Senanda Alimanovic star as themselves. Courtesy Danis Tanovic

When Nazif Mujic picked up the Best Actor prize at the Berlin Film Festival, his director, the Bosnian Oscar-winner Denis Tanovic (No Man’s Land), had a surprising ­reaction.

“I laughed,” he says. “During the festival I had seen Matt Damon and Jude Law on the red carpet and all the cameras clicking. ­Nazif winning Best Actor was just ­brilliant.”

Mujic is not an actor by trade. Indeed, the title of the film, An Episode in the Life of an Iron Picker, describes him perfectly. For Mujic is playing himself.

The film is a re-creation of a story that Tanovic came across in a newspaper one morning, which detailed how Mujic and his wife Senada (Senada Alimanovic) both Romani gipsies, were denied hospital treatment in Srebrenica because they had no medical insurance. Neither did they have the money enough to pay for the lifesaving operation that was needed when Senanda miscarried and was at risk of septicaemia.

“I was angry,” says Tanovic. “Being angry is never good, but I tend to do things when I’m angry. I was thinking: how can this happen? She almost died, for God’s sake. The doctor who eventually operated said: ‘What were you waiting for? She could have died!’

“I was thinking about this guy more than her. I’m a father and have children. I was thinking about how I would feel if my wife was dying, and she didn’t have cancer or anything and it’s an operation that can be done in every hospital and yet because I have no money she dies. What do you do?”

Tanovic went to see the couple. “They are both great, natural people,” says the director. “When I entered their house is the moment that I decided to make the film. He is madly in love with his wife, the way she cooks, everything. I asked them to make the film and at first they said no. I said: ‘Let’s at least try’. I asked them to tell me exactly what happened. We would go and shoot it. There was a maximum of two takes, because after that they would start acting.”

The film, which took just nine days to shoot at a cost of US$30,000 (Dh110,159), also won the Silver Bear, the Jury prize at the Berlin festival. Tanovic says he was fortunate to have discovered the story: “It just so happened that it was a day that I opened the newspaper. If that day I’d arranged to meet a friend for coffee maybe I would never have read it. I don’t know, is it coincidence or destiny?”

• An Episode in the Life of an Iron Picker screens on Friday at 7pm in Marina Mall Vox 5 and on Sunday at 3.45pm in Vox 6. For more information, visit www.abudhabifilmfestival.ae

artslife@thenational.ae