Americans, with notoriously short attention spans, tend to think wars are over when the fighting stops. But civilians caught in those conflicts are forever transformed. That's certainly the case for Emlaza, a 39-year-old Bosnian woman who is the protagonist of a documentary-in-the-works by Mira Niagolova, an Essex resident.
The Real Color of Hair is the planned title of a half-hour project that Niagolova, executive director of the Vermont International Film Festival, has been researching. She spent most of April in Sarajevo interviewing Emlaza for what will be "a story about surviving the winds of history."
For Emlaza, those winds have hurricane force. Her husband was killed more than a decade ago when hostilities began in the former Yugoslavia. Pregnant when she fled to Macedonia, she spent the next 11 years in a refugee camp. That's where Niagolova first met her, in 2000.
Emlaza was one of several people who appear in A Parallel World, Niagolova's entry about Kosovo refugees in last year's festival. "She had bright red hair then, her way of making a statement," says the 49-year-old filmmaker, a native of Bulgaria. "She was the only bright spot in a very murky reality. People who saw the documentary were asking me about her natural color. I thought it could be an interesting quest to go back and find her."
Easier said than done. The camp had been destroyed in yet another ethnic clash, forcing Emlaza and her two children to move on once again. New beginnings are now second nature for this family, whose future may have become even more complicated when the Muslim-born Emlaza converted to Christianity.
"I found her after about maybe 1000 phone calls. She's living in an apartment complex for refugees in the suburbs of Sarajevo, where the conditions are miserable," explains Niagolova, who hired a cameraman there to shoot the interview. "We worked on batteries. There was no electricity in her place because she couldn't pay the bill."
The journey was made possible by a $3800 script-development grant from the Vermont Arts Council. Niagolova will now do more fundraising to continue the endeavor, which should include another trip to the Balkans. She sees the title as a metaphor for loss of identity and forgetting a painful past.
Emlaza was initially reluctant to talk about her life before the war, but she opened up a bit the second time around. Such reticence is typical for people in a traumatized region, according to Niag-olova. There's also a constant sense that "things could go wrong just in one night - the way they did for her."
For a person who has endured catastrophes, appearance often is one of the few things that can be controlled. "Emlaza's hair was changed again," Niagolova acknowledges. "It's now dark brown with blonde highlights. She doesn't even remember her original color."
At the moment, Mira Niagolova's film is on the back burner as she gears up for the 14th edition of VIFF, taking place in Burlington, October 16-19, a week earlier than usual. As previously reported here, the Montréal World Film Festival has ruffled some feathers by setting its 2003 dates a week later than normal, August 27 - September 7. Now the Italian director of Venice's prestigious cinematic extravaganza - an event that has been running that week since 1932 - has denounced his Montréal counterpart as an "Al Capone," according to the trade publication Variety.
If you see cameras whirring around the state this week, it could be the crew of Vermont Tales. This documentary examines the financing hardships that face low-income people, specifically a refugee family, a maple sugar harvester, hay farmers and first-time homeowners. The venture, which New York-based Midkiff Productions is creating on behalf of the Vermont Development Credit Union, will be completed in November.
The owners of the Richmond DVD store Film Buzz are hoping to launch weekly outdoor screenings in July and August at Volunteers Green. They need help: money, sound equipment and a digital projector, for starters. If you have any of these things to spare, contact Joe or Kelly at 434-7447, or email them at firstname.lastname@example.org. Their idea is to show popular classics, such as The Conversation, Network and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Film Buzz is promising a family-friendly atmosphere suitable for picnics. For the Steven Spielberg sci-fi adventure, it's probably unwise to bring mashed potatoes.