When Bojan Bodružić was evacuated from Sarajevo in 1992, he thought he’d only be gone for a couple of weeks.
“It was one of those things where we thought, ‘This is just a skirmish, there’s no chance a war in Bosnia will happen, it’s impossible,’” says Bodružić. “It didn’t pan out that way.”
Bodružić did not know that the violence would explode into the Bosnian War and a four-year battle now known as the Siege of Sarajevo, the longest siege of a capital city in the history of modern warfare.
In 1992, that kind of prolonged violence was unimaginable to Bodružić, then a teenager. “Sarajevo was a buzzing place, and very culturally rich,” recalls Bodružić. “Everybody was so incredibly intermixed, so for there to be a long conflict seemed entirely implausible.”
Bodružić and his sister were separated from their parents for nearly two years. Once reunited, the parents and siblings made their way to Vancouver as refugees, and they built new lives for themselves in that lonely space between safety and heartache.
“Coming to Canada on the one hand was wonderful,” says Bodružić. “You have this great sense of freedom. Finally you’re free of these political pressures and national labels, all these things that brought about the war. So it was a very liberating experience, but there’s still this absence in your life, this feeling of loss, because you didn’t choose to come. We chose to come to Canada, but we didn’t choose to leave our country.”
Bodružić never forgot where he came from. He couldn’t. He’d left too many people behind — including his grandparents. He’d glimpse images of Sarajevo in films such as Welcome to Sarajevo, “And it would tear me up,” he says. “It’s like something from deep inside would suddenly well up. You carry that absence with you.”
When Bodružić finally returned to Sarajevo in 2000 and reunited with his grandparents, he did so with a camcorder in hand.
Thus began a 15-year journey in documentary filmmaking that culminates in The Museum of Forgotten Triumphs. Bodružić’s feature-length film won the award for Best Canadian Documentary at the 2018 Vancouver International Film Festival, and it screens at Vancity Theatre April 21 and 23.
Bodružic returned to Sarajevo on several occasions between 2000 and 2012, and each time, he filmed his grandparents at home in their small flat. In some scenes, they share stories from their lives, seated together on the couch; in others, they playfully bicker over dinner. They reminisce about the wars and each other. They ruminate on the future of their family and their country.
The Museum of Forgotten Triumphsis edited together from footage collected during those trips. It’s a poignant but unsentimental tale of war, recovery, aging, love and loss through the story of Bodružić’s grandparents — and yet it’s not the film that Bodružic originally set out to make.
Originally, Bodružić’s film was going to be about, well, Bodružić. “I was editing for a while before I realized that what was most interesting about the project were my grandparents, and I felt that I could even tell my story, somewhat obliquely, through their story,” says the Vancouver filmmaker.
Although The Museum of Forgotten Triumphs includes 12 years of footage, the bulk was shot in 2011, when Bodružić returned to Sarajevo at his grandfather’s insistence.
“He wanted to commit his life stories to camera,” says Bodružić. “He kept telling me, ‘Look, you have to come.’ It was almost like he sensed that something might happen, that they might be sick. There was a sense of urgency.”
Less than a year later, Bodružić’s grandmother died. He returned for the funeral, and he and his grandfather ended up filming again.
“He wanted to bring this to a conclusion,” says Bodružić.
His grandfather passed away two weeks later.
“There was this sudden ending to the whole thing, which was simultaneously shocking and fitting,” says Bodružić. “I don’t know how the two of them would have been able to live without each other. They were so completely intertwined in their lives, the way they existed, in every little daily routine, from the way they woke up to who made breakfast and who made coffee and who did the dishes.”
Bodružić has been travelling with The Museum of Forgotten Triumphs as it screens at festivals.
“I’ve had a lot of people talk to me about their deeply emotional response to the film and how unexpected it feels, and how they didn’t expect to see something like this on film because it seems so familiar,” says Bodružić.
The Museum of Forgotten Triumphs screens April 21 and 23 at Vancity Theatre. Tickets at VIFF.org.