A Film a Week - Dubica

 previously published on Cineuropa

From a car windscreen, we see a village that still bears its scars from the war that ended 25 years ago, and the narrator, filmmaker Marina Aničić Spremo, explains her connection to the place: Dubica is only an hour-and-a-half’s drive from Zagreb, and her grandparents still live there. It is also her source of inspiration, for better or worse, for her debut feature-length documentary, simply titled Dubica, which premiered in the Factumentary section of ZagrebDox.

Hrvatska Dubica is a village on the Una river, which divides Croatia and Bosnia. In the times of the former Yugoslavia, the whole area was somewhat prosperous and offered different job opportunities. Then the war came and left its mark: while the post-war reconstruction was limited to repairing and rebuilding some of the houses, the economic transition took its toll on the number of jobs available. The nearby, bigger town of Kozarska Dubica (formerly Bosanska Dubica) remained in another country, Republika Srpska (part of Bosnia and Herzegovina), the ties were severed, and both the village and the town are stagnating with no prospect of anything changing in the near future.

After this quick intro, Aničić Spremo opens the film with a bleak testimony by a local man: the field between the main road and the river was a mass grave site and the location of a war crime. The trauma of the war is still present in the village, but no one actually talks about the conflict any more, since there are more pressing matters: depopulation, the departure of young people and families with children in search of a better life either in Zagreb or abroad, the poor economic prospects, corruption among the ranks of national politicians, and the nonsensical new laws and regulations, such as a ban on gravelling that not only limits the local population’s chances of finding work, but also results in floods that occur after winter every year. It seems that only the cats and the dogs can properly enjoy life there.

But as the film progresses, Aničić Spremo and her subjects seem more and more prone to trying to look on the brighter side of life. The people of different nationalities who remained in the village stick together and enjoy the simple rituals that are usually connected to food, like sausage-making, barbecue parties, fishing, frying and grilling their catch, and cooking goulash for the local football team. The people have forgiven their neighbours for what happened in the past, and life goes on. The kids like school, the elders are discussing how to persuade their visiting dentist to stay in the village, and some young people are even coming back to the village after their studies.

Marina Aničić Spremo’s background is in TV journalism, and she is more than capable of seeing the wider picture and putting a large amount of information into the right context. She does not hide her presence from the subjects, who are completely aware of her and quite willing to engage in conversation, but she prefers to stay behind the camera and be an observer of people’s lives. Filmed by Aničić Spremo herself, following a code of sorts that informal conversations are shot in hand-held fashion, while the fixed camera is employed in the interviews with officials, like the mayor and the school headteacher, and deftly edited by Vesna Biljan PušićDubica is a window to a forsaken place, but also a love letter providing a glimmer of hope for this village.

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