"I WAS SHOOTING all these people in Bosnia," recalls Kelly Nathe. As soon as she says it, the filmmaker rewinds. "Maybe shooting isn't the best word," she admits with a chuckle. "Maybe I should say, 'connecting images.'"
You can't blame Nathe for laughing. After screening her first short film, "Rock 'N Roll Girlfriend," at Walker Art Center and on the Independent Film Channel; winning a Jerome Foundation Travel Study Grant in 1999; and using said grant to make "Hotel Hidajet," a nine-minute short that will be shown this week at the South by Southwest Film Festival (and on Wednesday, March 21 at the Walker), the Minneapolis-based filmmaker has the right to be in a good mood. But it's still surprising to learn that her sense of humor remained intact even while she was traveling war-torn Bosnia to film "Hidajet," which follows a Bosnian man's tragic story.
"The extent of destruction in Bosnia was just mind-blowing," says Nathe. "I noticed all these bullet holes everywhere--in buildings, in the streets--and I had to imagine the level of violence behind them. But the people there, because of their black humor, still have a lust for life that I think can only come from living through atrocity."
Nathe experienced such resilience firsthand during her trip to Sarajevo in 1999. Shortly after arriving there, she was filming bullet holes when she was approached by a Bosnian man. He showed her his identification card, made a few attempts at polite English conversation, and then led her back to his ramshackle house and showed her how he lost his home and family to the violence of war. The resulting footage included the single, harrowing take that now makes up the bulk of Nathe's film.
What makes "Hotel Hidajet" so effective is that it places the viewer in the same conflicted position as the filmmaker. One inevitably feels compassion toward the man onscreen, but also a fear of him and his history. Why must he smile when he talks about the most horrendous acts? Why is he being so open with a complete stranger? What interest would he have in leading a solitary American woman back to his empty house? It is precisely these questions that Nathe asked herself while filming, using her mixed feelings to explore her position as an outsider to the conflict.
"The whole time there was this weird internal dialogue going on in my mind, like, 'I'm a little afraid of this guy--where is he taking me?'" admits Nathe. "But the filmmaker side of me was thinking, 'Holy shit, this stuff is amazing.'"
Nathe, whose day job is as the director of programs at the local indie advocacy offices of IFP/North, is excited that South by Southwest and the Walker's "Women With Vision" series have allowed her the opportunity to show filmgoers a more personal side of Bosnia that they wouldn't likely see on the nightly news. She hopes that the time spent "connecting images" for "Hotel Hidajet" will help audiences to experience Bosnia from a more intimate perspective.
"I kind of validate things through my mother," Nathe says. "She used to say, 'You're screening at the Walker? You mean that big museum I drive by?' And if I had gotten accepted to Sundance, she would have said, 'Oh--Robert Redford!' I don't think she really knows that much about South by Southwest, but I'm so glad I'm doing it. Now I can watch 'Hotel Hidajet' down there and see people affected by Bosnia the way that I was. Then I can say, 'See? I wasn't making this stuff up! I actually am a filmmaker!'"