Submarine Channel

Srebrenica Today: A Town Ruled By Animals

This July, the world is remembering what happened in Srebrenica 25 years ago.

Many documentaries, news items and op-eds appeared about Srebrenica and the Bosnian War, the ethnically rooted conflict which took place during the breakup of Yugoslavia, from 1992 to 1995.

25 years later, Srebrenica is still facing many issues and people are leaving. Who stays behind? Some strong individuals, citizens who still believe in Srebrenica, and…the stray cats and dogs. Town Ruled by Animals is an upcoming short film that portrays Srebrenica’s current situation as told by the voices that echo through the streets. The animals metaphorically act on the stage of beautiful but often empty Srebrenica.

Submarine Channel co-produced Town Ruled by Animals as part of De Ontmoeting, a Dutch initiative connecting up-and-coming filmmakers with the film industry. The short film is currently touring (online) festivals around the world.

We caught up with Prisca van der Mullen and asked her about the genesis of Town Ruled by Animals, the message she wanted to convey and what the situation is in Srebrenica today.

“I’ve been doubting whether to make this film or not for a long time. The people of Srebrenica are rightfully fed up with whoever shows up holding a camera,” she commented. But, in the end, she decided to make the film because she had a strong feeling to tell the story of Srebrenica from this perspective.

“Walking down Srebrenica streets in the evening, I noticed that there were only—and many—dogs and cats outside. It seemed as if they were ruling the streets. Remembering all the stories that I heard of people living here, I realized that this was all very symbolic,” said van der Mullen.

“The voices you hear in Town Ruled by Animals are like endless echoes to me. I don’t know if they’re true, I can only say that I’ve been hearing them over and over again,” explained van der Mullen who spent years in Srebrenica. “If they are not all facts, at least they reflect the feeling and perceived problems of living in Srebrenica.”

Asked about what the situation in Srebrenica is today, the young director answered that “on the surface, it looks like a very peaceful city. It’s very beautiful actually. The beauty of the old days is slowly coming back. You know, Srebrenica used to be a very classy, touristic city.” But, she added, “living there, you can feel some tension. You feel that something is not right. What that is, is very difficult to explain, if you’re not familiar with the aftermath of the Bosnian war.”

Even though Town Ruled by Animals is a very short portrait, van der Mullen tried to convey the current situation, which she thinks is still very disturbing, worrying and underexposed. Therefore, she is currently working on a longer version of the short film.

Movies about Srebrenica and the Bosnian War

Contrary to most documentaries about the area, Town Ruled by Animals is a short film about Srebrenica’s present, not its past. We then asked Prisca van der Mullen whether she wanted to recommend any fiction films and documentaries about the Bosnian War.

This is what she answered: “Although I think it’s important that everyone is aware of the cruelties that took place in the past, I have decided to keep my focus on the present (and future) of Srebrenica. In that respect I recommend people to do their own research and see that there are many different aspects, perspectives and open wounds.”