This review is written by young Bosnian film critic Arman Fatic, who I met in connection with the Sarajevo Film Festival.
Two Bosnian directors, Nejra Latić-Hulusić and Sabrina Begović Ćorić, with their film production company „Hava“, have been working for the last five years on women’s affirmation in culture, education of young filmmakers and they have promoted diversity and human rights in film. Their second directorial collaboration „Undercovered“, a documentary short, had its premiere at the 23rd Sarajevo Film Festival, where it got huge ovations with a Q & A session that almost overlapped the start of the forthcoming film, due to audience interest.
The film opens with the introduction to the history of the city, where the film takes place. They show us Sarajevo occupied by the Ottoman Empire, by the Austrian-Hungarian Empire, then as part of Yugoslavia and of course Sarajevo today. By giving us the context of the city, not to the East, not to the West, not spiritually lost, not occupied by consumerism – Sarajevo appears to be a fertile ground for “miracles,” or perhaps better, a great place for diversity, understanding and progression.
In this environment, Nejra and Sabrina chose six successful women to
present their everyday life, and what they do: art, photography, design, karate, taxi driving and scientific research. Each of them tells their interesting life story, sitting in front of an anti-fascist monument in the Vrace settlement (Sarajevo). What is common to these women – and why they are gathered in this film – is their specific way of expressing freedom, through clothes. Their clothes are considered a taboo in the twenty-first century, and because of their life choices, the West is shaken by them living in stereotypes, thinking that these woman are either terorists or poor creatures enslaved by their husbands!
Of course, as Sarajevo is the city of “miracles”, these six miraculous women are impossible to cram into the stereotype of the hijab that governs the world. Listening to the individual stories of each of them, we find that “veil” is a personal choice, something that each one of them has decided to wear, without any pressure from the family, friends or others. The directors, by asking girls questions about their “hijab”, at the same time are educating the audience about what is happening behind the veil and also pushing the girls to answer questions they have probably never asked themselves
“Educating the audience” part gets really interesting with Tesni Karišik, teenage photographer who decides not to answer questions, like the other girls but to take a camera and show her life which does not differ in any way from the life of any other curios teenager. One of the more emotionally strong moments of film might be when director Nejra asks one of the girls (Lejla) how did her family react to her decision to wear hijab. After explaining the struggle she had with her family to convince them that hijab is a good choice for her, Lejla bursts into tears and asks the director “Nejra, why those questions?”
The film has a precisely targeted audience: people living with the stereotypes of the hijab. Those who are a little bit more familiar with the theme will admit that the film looks quite sterile, cleaned off any external influences. Putting these six girls under the glass bell and asking them questions gets a bit one-sided. It could be rather interesting if we had a chance to see how girls interact with the rest of the world -with the citizens of Sarajevo.
All in all “Undercovered” is a very successful documentary showing the ideal of the second generation of feminism through the prism of Islam. This is a film that will surely help to some people to get rid of the stereotypes the world has created about the Islamic world and it just might open eyes to some people to better understanding freedom of expression.
Bosnia & Herzegovina, 2017, 53 mins.