FNE at Berlinale 2013: Competition: An Episode in the Life of an Iron Picker

    FNE at Berlinale 2013: Competition: An Episode in the Life of an Iron Picker An Episode in the Life of an Iron Picker

    BERLIN: Oscar winning Bosnian director Danis Tanovic has returned to Bosnia and Herzegovina to shoot his most successful film since No Man’s Land which won the Academy Award for Best Foreign language film in 2001. An Episode in the Life of an Iron Picker was shot in a few weeks by Tanovic after the director read about a Roma family where the wife nearly died because she was refused medical care because she had no medical insurance.

    Speaking at the press conference Tanovic said: “I just got angry when I read about this story and I asked myself, could this be true?  What kind of country are we living in.”

    While the story follows the awful true story of a mother whose baby has died and her husband who is an iron picker living from hand to mouth tries to get medical care to save her life as she will die of septicaemia if she does not have an operation immediately the theme will not come as such a shock to any Americans in Berlin.

    Personally I remember when my father was suffering from cancer and the hospital called him in for a consultation and said that there were two treatments available.  With the first option they would cut off his leg.  With the second more expensive option the leg could be saved.  The doctors asked what kind of medical insurance my father to tell him which option he would be offered.  Luckily my father had a good medical insurance policy from his union and the doctors saved his leg and he lived and walked and traveled another 20 years instead of spending the rest of his life in a wheelchair.  This is the daily reality of those without medical insurance in America.

    But for Europeans the situation in Tanovic’s film is indeed shocking.  Tanovic shot the film with a small grant of 17,000 EUR that he managed to get from the Bosnia and Herzegovina Film Fund and he decided to go ahead with the project immediately with a team of eight people and using the real Roma family instead of actors.  Tanovic operated one of the three cameras himself and he refused to give the brand of the camera when asked at the press conference because he said he had asked the camera company for their help and they refused.

    The result is a film that is impossible to categorize that lies somewhere between a documentary and a fiction film.  Tanovic had the Nazif Mujic and his wife Senada Alimanovic go through what happened to them as they desperately seek medical help to save Senada’s life and are turned away by doctors and hospitals. 

    Nazif works with fellow Roma salvaging metal from old cares and selling it as scrap to support his family.  While not making much he manages to support his wife and his two small daughters.  Nazif ahd been a soldier for four years in the Bosnian army and during the press conference he said that life was better for him during the war than it is today.  Today he still struggles to keep his family from starving although he said that because of the film six months ago when he needed a gall bladder operation the doctors did treat him because they knew about the film.

    As for the film as a film it is really impossible to separate this work from its true life story and while the “actors” do not deliver particularly great “performances” as they re-enact their ordeal as Tanovic said in the press conference, he was surprised to be in Berlin with the film and “it is what it is.” 

    What it is as a film is much more interesting than anything he has done since No Man’s Land during the ten years he spent in Hollywood and other places outside his native Bosnia and Herzegovina. 


    Director: Danis Tanovic
    Bosnia and Herzegovina, France, Slovenia 2013
    Cast: Senada Alimanovic, Nazif Mujic, Sandra Mujic, Semsa Mujic

    Production: Production: Sarajevo Center for Contemporary Art