Noticias Festival
Official Section Interviews: Una Gunjak, director of ‘Excursion’

«The most important thing is that a woman has a choice, but not every choice is a feminist one»

From Bosnia and Herzegovina comes ‘Excursion’, a feature film by filmmaker Una Gunjak that received a special mention at the last Locarno Festival for its reflection on the meaning and implications of becoming a woman in the post-truth era. It is the story of how an innocent lie little by little becomes a major problem within the protagonist’s social environment. To gain social validation, a secondary school student at a high school in Sarajevo claims that she has had sexual relations. Caught in her own delusion, she invents a pregnancy and becomes the center of a controversy over which she loses control.

– What exactly in the newspaper report about an atypical situation – the pregnancy of seven girls during an excursion – played the key role in the creation of your first feature film?

-I came across the information on a news portal. At the time, producer Amra Bakšić Čamo and I were working on another project. I asked her what she thought of the news and told her that, for me, it was a film. The media frenzy surrounding that event was terrible. Everyone was asking questions that had no connection to the essence of the matter, avoiding to address the «hole» in which these young girls found themselves. They are trapped between the extreme sexualization of the female body and the dogmatism and conservatism that prevail in posttransitional Bosnian society. This is difficult to understand when you’re an outsider.

-In this example, we see how successful and perpetual is the communication between patriarchy and capitalism, how they are indeed brothers in arms. Systems in which women and girls will always suffer. Why is female sexuality such a taboo in our society? I believe this story was very important to you personally, after all, you can see that from the film.

-It is only logical that it’s personal. When I read the comments under the news article, along the lines of «what kind of girls are they, are they whores, what kind of parents do they have», I was enraged. Enraged that everything is still the same. I thought that maybe some things had changed due to the personal broadening of my horizons and re-evaluating my own feminism. I had the impression that society had progressed, and then, because of that article, I returned to school desks and realized that children today are under immense pressure.

This pressure is not only the result of social norms; they are bombarded by hormones, pressured by school… With girls, this is much more pronounced due to the evident changes in their bodies. And I just couldn’t help but wonder how they were feeling. Having gone through these experiences myself, it was difficult for me to navigate my feelings in a different country, as well as to realize that girls are beings in whom sexuality is born.

I don’t just mean sex as an act, but all the definitions of sexuality applied in society. How does one become a woman, according to society’s definition? What is expected of her, and what is forbidden?

-Although your experience of growing up outside of Bosnia and Herzegovina is surely different, there appears to exist also a resurgence of traditionalism and the imposition of abortion bans in developed parts of the world. How possible is it for you, as a filmmaker, to influence a wider audience, sending some sort of warning, so to speak?

-I am not the type of artist who reacts to reality with the intention of saying, «Let me show you something.» I simply want to raise questions and try to influence people to question things themselves. I did not want to create a victim out of the character I developed. Not at all.

She is someone you would embrace, but also someone you would scorn because you can’t believe her actions. She is a complete person, with all her flaws, whom you judge but towards whom you maintain this human connection. And thanks to her, you also ask yourself Could my children find themselves in a similar situation?

I was interested in whether the audience wonders how young girls experience their sexuality today in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

You give your main character power, presumably to protect her. She is the one who does not deny what is being said about her. She keeps some kind of control over the situation.

I give her power because I want to empower young girls, but at the same time, I want to show that power also comes with responsibility. She must learn that she can be perceived differently and know the illusory power that extreme sexuality offers. That, too, is one of capitalism’s sweets. The fact that a woman, especially a young woman, has a choice, remains the most important thing.

But not every choice is a feminist one. That’s something we need to remember. This doesn’t mean we have to condemn these choices. That’s why feminism is not just a label. Being aware of that has become the essence of my life. So has re-evaluating my own relationship with feminism. It’s essential for me to learn how other women perceive their reality. That’s why I cannot dictate to someone in another country what feminism is and how it should be applied. I can only listen.

-How would you define your own feminism? I know it’s not a simple question, and I’m still trying to find an answer myself. In my case, it might be an increased awareness of my own privileges.

-I have to admit I’ve never really thought about defining it, and it’s hard for me to give a complete answer. Of course, we have to think about having equal opportunities and privileges as men, about the chance to go to school, choose a profession… I think the biggest challenge of my feminism lies in my relationships with men, especially in romantic heterosexual relationships. But we are fighting for equality in a world that is patriarchal. We are starting out as losers, not from zero, and that’s a great frustration.

So, if I can make a difference somewhere, I want to do it. If, through my work, I can encourage someone, help someone, tell a young actress that she is the centre of the world, that’s feminism to me. That she is not «the other» that her existence doesn’t come down to a simple role – that of a mother, daughter, muse, beauty…

-We mentioned the post-transitional circumstances at the beginning. How much do they affect your characters, how much are they defined by transgenerational trauma – living in the delusion of a peace still clouded by the war?

– That’s what caused everything that happened to them. They are the great victims of the current social order.

Their parents are still suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. Their reality is solely about becoming famous and rich or leaving Bosnia and Herzegovina. Their values are confined to TikTok. This is certainly a global phenomenon, but we feel the repercussions more due to being a small community. These young people are so intelligent and creative, but they were born into this world with mobile phones.

I saw you mentioned in an interview how much the selfie culture defined their lives.They don’t have photos like we had.

My house is full of photos where we all look awkward. Some of them are from my fifth birthday, the last one before the war. I look like a disgusting child who, for some reason, loathes her own celebration. We deeply cherish all these photos, despite someone picking their nose in them. The young generation today doesn’t have that. It was a huge challenge for me to work with them on the film and create a relationship where they can be themselves, joke around, relax, and laugh… This allowed us to make the film work. The selfie culture makes them insecure. They are very young but already know they are anxious and depressed. They self-diagnose various issues through the internet, social media, and bar psychology.

The posed photos are just a consequence of technological development, and perhaps not the biggest problem we’re facing here. I have the impression that the entire life of young people in the film happens through the lens of a phone camera.

Their perception excludes any direct contact with reality; everything happens through their phone – the ultimate mediator

Those who find it harder to communicate in regular social situations are becoming more and more alienated and choose social media and the phone. Real friendship – like say we’re friends now and you meet someone new and start spending more time with her, so you don’t call me to play hide-and-seek and I’m a little jealous – I’m not sure it still exists. In the film itself, I didn’t want to touch too much on the topic of the online world, that’s a whole other universe on its own. But these kids live in their own WhatsApp groups, where they are set against each other, and their romantic relationships are built therein. They correspond but never speak in person. I am afraid of how everything they are exposed to affects an individual’s growth overall. Can empathy really develop in such circumstances? Because empathy is not something we are born with, but something we receive from society. I’m especially worried about young girls, and the selfie image asking questions such as: “How do I look?”, “How do others see me?”.

-Putting aside the burden that young people are exposed to today, how much of a challenge was it to work with so many young people on the film “Excursion», who had no previous experience of making a film?

– A huge challenge. I didn’t know what I was getting myself into. Although I was never afraid of them. It was sometimes extremely hard, but as much as they «take» from you, the young people I worked with give you back the same amount. It was important to me that through the workshops that preceded the filming, they learn how to build a scene, but also that they enjoy the process.

When Mediha Musliović came to the set for the first time, which was their first meeting with a professional actress, their reaction was incredible. Her way of working also suited them very well. They started improvising. It was important to me that in such situations everything went in the direction of the scene, that the part in which they invent can be shortened, and that the part in which they pronounce the original lines, thanks to the atmosphere that preceded it, is as it should be. I am proud of these children, of the whole team. The last morning of filming ended with farewell tears