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Tuesday
Mar272018

HEIMWEH: THE ERVIN TAHIROVIC INTERVIEW

In 1992, Ervin Tahirovic was 10 years old when his hometown of Foča was all but destroyed by invading forces during The Bosnian War. An idyllic rural existence, strong community ties and enriching family life was torn away from Tahirovic, who fled with his family, ultimately resettling in Vienna. Twenty-one years later, Ervin Tahirovic was overwhelmed with the need to reconnect with his roots and returned to Foča; his feature directorial debut Heimweh (Nostalgia) documents his quest to reconcile the fading memories of his past with the sadness of his present. As Heimweh continues its festival circuit rollout (it premiered in December at the Sarajevo International Film Festival and recently sold out two sessions at Austria’s prestigious Diagonale event), SCREEN-SPACE spoke with Ervin Tahirovic about his experience making the film, a work that is one of the most moving accounts of the complexities of a displaced person’s struggle ever filmed…

SCREEN-SPACE: Why did you need to make this journey at this point in your life? What compelled you, at an age when most young men are focused on career and adventure and romance, to re-engage with your past?

TAHIROVIC: I always had the feeling that something was holding me back and that I couldn't really progress in my life because of that. It took me 20 years to rebuild a ‘normal’ life, to have a steady job, a serious relationship with someone. I think that at this point, where I thought that everything was fixed and ‘like it should be’, I somehow realized that something was still painfully wrong. There was something deep inside me that made me so unhappy and unbalanced, so that after a while, the only thing I thought about anymore was the question "what the hell is wrong with me?". In my mind, there was no serious space for a career, girls, or anything else that ‘normal’ people do, I couldn't enjoy these things at all. There was just this pain in my soul and recurring nightmares about Foča, and I just had to find out if and how these two are connected to each other.

SCREEN-SPACE: What aspect of your journey back into your homeland proved most warmly familiar? 

TAHIROVIC: Everything there was familiar, and everything was still so deeply engraved in my heart and gave me this feeling of coming home, that I have forgotten so long ago. As soon as I saw my mountains, my river and as I heard that certain dialect the people speak in the region around Foča, I was blown away. So many emotions came back at once, that I simply wasn't able to process them cognitively, they just threw me back into being a child again, and for the first time in 20 years I felt that everything is going to be alright. I somehow felt a calm and knew that from this point on everything will change in my life. (Pictured, right; Tahirovic overlooking his hometown, Foča)

SCREEN-SPACE: And what, in hindsight, was the most surprising, even shocking?

TAHIROVIC: The most shocking thing was the realization that I'm really traumatized, and that that's the reason why I always felt so unhappy and wrong. It felt as if I'd awakened from a deep dream in which I lived for years, only to realize that in the meantime I have lost ‘my life’ and that I'm scarred for life. That was a hard thing to swallow. When I returned to Vienna, I got very sick because my thyroid completely broke down and I had to take some serious medicine for about three months; my heart was regularly skipping beats, which was a very scary feeling. My doctor said, “Whatever you did, you freaked out your body so much it's now trying to eat itself.”

SCREEN-SPACE: Without a horrible war to put the country in the headlines, western audiences know little about contemporary life in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Was it ever an aim of yours to convey a fresh perspective on your homeland? 

TAHIROVIC: Not really, I didn't know that much about contemporary Bosnia before I returned there. I wanted to return with the memory I had of it and let everything that has changed surprise me. The concept was to do no research but to be naive and to catch up with time by exploring the surroundings and meeting people. (Pictured, above; an emotional moment for Tahirovic, in Heimweh)

SCREEN-SPACE: While it is a deeply personal film - one man’s story, set in a specific region with specific history - it is also a narrative that embraces classic pilgrimage mythology; of returning home, rediscovering and defining oneself by seeking out a lost past. 

TAHIROVIC: I tried hard to make this film follow a classic ‘hero’s journey’ plot, It was obvious to me that it is the right format for this story, even though it is unusual to use this kind of plot in documentaries. And this kind of plot is indeed very old, because humans always used to lose their homes and had to keep telling these kinds of stories to save their identity from breaking apart. Not long ago, I read in a Bosnian newspaper that more than the half of Bosnian citizens are not in the country, but spread all around the world. They are foremost the audience I would like to reach with this film. I want every Bosnian to know about this movie, because there are so many out there who never returned to their homeland and probably never will and I would like to inform all of them how important and beautiful it can be to return home. (Pictured, above; Tahirovic rediscovering his hometown of Foča)

SCREEN-SPACE: What do you hope your film will convey about the experience of the many displaced persons in the world today?

TAHIROVIC: Of course, I would like to reach other refugees with the same problem, no matter where they are from. I think that's the realistic part of what I can hope for the film. And then there is this unrealistic part, where I hope that the people who hate refugees and blame them for everything, see this film and understand that refugees are not some kind of ‘bad tourists’, but people who have often suffered the unspeakable and now need love and all the help they can get. At this right-winged time in Europe, that would be my greatest wish.

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