Freedom From Despair - 88 minute tour de force
Written by Derek Horne
Brenda Brkusic has been traveling to Croatia alot lately, not to enjoy
the revived tourism industry, but to screen her political feature film
documentary Freedom from Despair. The 88 minute tour de force has news
reel footage from Croatia's tormented past, interviews with various
family members, historians, and political activists and dramatic
recreations of their escapes from the country. All of this is
accompanied by a haunting score by award-winning composer Nenad Bach and
narrated by actors Michael York, John Savage, and Beata Pozniak.
In order to add authenticity to the dramatizations as well as conduct
some crucial interviews, Brenda traveled to Croatia last summer to film
on location in Hvar (her father's hometown), Otok Murter (her mother's
hometown), and various other historical sites.
"I knew that I was going to be interviewing Marko Dizdar (President of
"Political Prisoners under Communism") while in Croatia," said Brenda.
"Marko is a Croatian who was persecuted by the Communist Yugoslav
government for speaking his beliefs. He spent 11 years in Lepoglava
Prison and was named an Amnesty International Prisoner of Conscience. I
went to Amnesty to see if they could provide any documents for the film
regarding Marko's case, and they did." Brenda took Marko Dizdar back to
Lepoglava Prison to re-visit his old solitary confinement cell and to
have him play himself in the narrative recreations inside the prison.
Freedom from Despair had its world premiere in May at the Amnesty
International Film Festival at the Director's Guild in Hollywood. "In
making the film, I strove to represent issues of war and peace, human
rights and justice, culture and tolerance," she said. "I was proud that
an organization such as Amnesty International not only felt that I
represented those issues well and were willing to program the film under
their name, but also that they recognized the artistic value of the film
and accepted it to screen in a program with professional documentaries."
Freedom from Despair was the only student film chosen for the festival.
In attendance for the screening were actor Michael York and his wife
Patricia York, actress Beata Pozniak, and the Croatian Consulate General
of Los Angeles. Also in attendance was Academy Award-Winner David Ward,
who served as a mentor to Brenda during his tenure at Chapman as
"Receiving the Marion Knott Scholarship and getting to work with David
Ward was an invaluable experience for me," said Brenda. "I had to mix
interviews, stock footage, and narrative recreations that I shot in
Croatia into a coherent and captivating historical piece. Every week I
would bring David new edits of the film until finally I had a 95 minute
film. David would watch each shot very carefully and help me to perfect
that mixture. He also gave me great advice about staying true to my
belief and standing my ground when trying to accomplish what I want."
Brenda also appreciated the experience of getting to work with actors
Michael York, John Savage and Beata Pozniak on the film. "They all
really believed in me and knowing that I was a student they helped me
out of their own generosity," she said. "Each of them had a different
way of approaching the recording session and their individual
Brenda had a long-distance working relationship with Nenad Bach who was
composing the score in New York. "One day he called me to play a sample
of the score to me on the piano," she said. "As soon as he played the
first few notes, I started to cry - it was that beautiful. It was at
that moment that I realized, 'My God, this person created this beautiful
piece of music to help me translate my emotions in the film and that is
so special to me! I realized that the film also meant a lot to Nenad."
Freedom from Despair had its Croatian premiere at the Dubrovnik Film
Festival in May. Brenda's film includes footage of the Serb forces
bombing the ancient city of Dubrovnik which is now protected by UNESCO
as a world heritage site. "I felt it an important event to screen the
film in Dubrovnik last May because it gave the people an opportunity to
see that someone has documented the injustice that occurred in their
city, in turn bringing them the only justice they may ever know," said
Brenda, whose own extended family came from all over Croatia to see the
film. During the closing ceremony a juror from the festival got on stage
and gave the film a special recognition saying "In a time when there are
a lot of films made about nothing, Freedom from Despair is a film about
something very important. It is a film that reminds us that there are
still things in this world worthy of our tears. Some films feel as if
they have to be made, and this is one."
Brenda was invited back to Croatia in July for the Pula Film Festival
where it screened alongside such high profile documentaries as Farenheit
911, Capturing the Friedmans, and The Revolution Will Not Be Televised!
While there, Brenda was interviewed by four television stations, spoke
to Branko Lustig (producer of Schindler's List and Gladiator) and met
with the President of Croatia. Croatian Television has expressed
interest in airing the documentary as well as PBS.
Recently Brenda was able to gain fiscal sponsorship from a non-profit
charitable organization called the Croatian National Foundation. This
will allow people the opportunity to give tax deductible contributions
to the film. To make a donation or to read more about the film, visit
her website www.freedomfromdespair.com