'Milosevic On Trial' (interview by Becky Garrison)
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Following is an interview with Michael Christoffersen, director of Milosevic On Trial, a documentary I watched at the Tribeca Film Festival, which demonstrates the horrors that can happen when religion becomes intermingled with empire.
What attracted you to want to follow this entire trial?
By coincidence, I did the documentary Genocide: The Judgment (1999) for BBC and SVT about a trial at the Rwanda court. I made some friends there and found out that the trial of Slobodan Milosevic was going to happen. So, while some journalists came and went, I stayed around. Eventually, I got exclusive access to the tapes and was able to secure interviews with both Milosevic's defense lawyer and the prosecution team.
Explain how you got the trust of these players, so that they would open up and talk with you.
In the beginning, nobody wanted us there. We had to convince them that we were people to be trusted. That took a while, and it wasn't until much later that we were able to get some of the interviews. It takes a lot of stubbornness and you also have to be a little naïve to some extent. It also helped that we were just a small production company. In addition, we were not affiliated with a particular group, so we were able to be seen as not having an agenda.
How did you maintain your objectivity as a filmmaker given the brutality of these crimes?
I wanted to create a historic record that reflected to a certain extent what actually happened. At the same time, film is drama. It's not just dry historic records. So, it's not a totally neutral observation but my interpretations.
Of all the footage, what was most disturbing was the scene in which the Orthodox priest blesses the Scorpions. This is followed by a montage of the brutalities committed under this elite Serbian army.
It was very disturbing. It's a well-known fact that the Serb Orthodox Church was giving their blessing to the Serbians. This proved that it was not only an ethnic war but also a religious one as well. I'm not saying the Muslims have always been innocent victims. But in this instance, the church knew about the ethnic cleansing and was giving their approval. I've had some Serbs dispute the footage, claiming that the group this priest was blessing didn't perform the shootings that followed. But it's been investigated and the Scorpions that were blessed were the ones who did those acts.
How did you obtain footage like this?
We relied on material that was used during the trial as evidence. The only time we went outside was when we interviewed some of participants.
Why do you think there was so little coverage of the trial in the United States?
Except for some Balkan journalists and my documentary crew, I seldom saw any other media covering the trial.
How did you react to the sudden death of Milosevic during the trial?
At the time, it was terrible as there was no real closure. Looking back at it, the fact that there wasn't a judgment rendered gives an opening for people to talk about the issues raised at the trial.
What are the future plans for this film?
Milosevic on Trial will be seen at the Silverdocs: AFI/Discovery Channel Documentary Festival, held June 16-23, 2008, in Washington, D.C. Also, we only used about 1 percent of the material in the documentary. So we're in the process of making an archive where people can access all of the material. We might include information about Saddam on Trial, where I served as one of the producers. For more information, log on to our Web site (www.team-productions.com).
Becky Garrison was cited by Publishers Weekly as one of "four evangelicals with fresh views," alongside Jim Wallis, Shane Claiborne, and Ron Sider