I was 16 years old and in high school in 1991. I spent my time like most 16 year olds, worrying about my grades, girls, and acne. I had a warm house during the cold months and food on the table every night. I didn’t worry about crime in the neighborhood or any calamities other than earthquakes. Sound familiar? Same situation today, some 11 years later?
I write this not to wax poetic about the past, but to contrast my (and hopefully your) experiences with those of the millions of teenagers, adults, and children who lived in the former Yugoslavia in the early 90’s. This evening, I went to see Harrison’s Flowers at the Shoreline Theater in Mountain View. I knew beforehand that the film was about a love story centered around a very realistic depiction of the brutal strife between the Croats and Serbs. The main reason I wanted to see the film, however, was not to better understand the nature of that conflict but to see how photojournalism was depicted. The main protagonists of this fictional movie were five photojournalists living, breathing, surviving, and working within the war zone.
Many of you might recall some of the graphic scenes in Saving Private Ryan or Schindler’s List. There are plenty of similar indelibly disturbing moments in Harrison’s Flowers. It is most definitely not a date flick or black comedy. SPR and SL focused on horrific events that happened over half a century ago. What happened in former Yugoslavia should still be fresh in our minds. Yet it’s not. The traditional news media glossed over what happened using sanitized news clips and quotes. “Ethnic Cleansing” wasn’t exactly something that we could relate to, was it? Terrorist attack on the World Trade Center? With good cause, that was something to get riled up about, but we should have done more in the early 90’s.
At the risk of sounding like Rodney King, I truly wish that we as a human race can put aside our differences and live in peace. Unfortunately, the events of September 11th along with the ongoing struggle in the Middle East have shown us that it’s not happening anytime soon. I didn’t grow up in an environment where hatred, militant aggression, and death were my siblings and playmates, so it’s difficult for me to relate. On this site, I have tended to focus on the good, spinning something positive out of any depressingly negative topic I might broach. I am at a loss for words right now.
Harrison’s Flowers was dedicated to those 45 journalists killed between 1991-1995 in the former Yugoslavia. Seeing what they went through to “get the shots that nobody else would take,” I know that I couldn’t be able to stomach the life of a war photojournalist. My hat’s off to those that do. We need to see these images if we’re ever going to create a better tomorrow. My fear is that nobody wants to look.
It’s arguable that the movie was weakened by the unbelievable love story and Hollywood-like ending (despite being financed and shot by the European film industry). The sooner you get over that, the sooner you’ll see a gripping and powerful depiction of photojournalism and the horrors seen and felt in the former Yugoslavia. Alas, judging from its first week box office returns, the film doesn’t look to have a very long run at the theaters. Do yourself a favor and see this film before it disappears.