When producer Jeff Bowden's daughter Gracie took him to see an exhibition of photographs taken by female war photographers, he was struck by a photo of a twelve year-old in a ragged blue sweater who looked like a fifty year old. The boy's anguish at being caught in the powerlessness of the Albanian ethnic cleansing in Kosovo in the late 1990's haunted Jeff to the point where he felt compelled to locate the boy to see what had become of his life.
Jeff travels to Kosovo where he films interviews with journalists who covered the wars in the Balkins in the 1990's and who knew Alexandria Boulat, the exquisitely talented photographer who took the photo that so moved him. Alexandra was an award winning war photographer who focused not on the fightng, but on the daily suffering caused to the innocent victims of war. Her photos show people raw and ravaged by war. Her work is stunning, moving, and at once beautiful and devestating.
One of the photographers interviewed in the search for the boy in the blue sweater tells Jeff that his interest, although genuine, is emblematic of American naïveté, altruism, and humanity that are privileges. I was feeling this as the man said it. Jeff laughed and agreed, and from there the film had hooked me because the elephant in the room was exposed.
The Balkins were a very dangerous place for journalists. At the end of that conflict, more journalists had been killed than in any other war since World War II. The photographers and journalists discussed their outrage and hatred for the senseless killing and brutality in the Balkins; they give the audience a window into the stunning courage it takes to do such a job, inserting oneself into dangerous, destructive situations to document war atrocities for the world to see.
The collegues of Alexandria Boulet gave a rousing, touching tribute to her life, skills, devotion to her work, and shining personality that brightened the darkest corners of the world with her trademark, "Ooh, la la!" The mundanity of ordinary life in war is spectacle in itself, they said. The effect of the war on civilian population is more important than the spectacle of the guns. Alex shows the real effect of war.
"Bosnia was one of the most horrible moments in the European history," one says. There was massive ethnic cleansing of the entire Kosovo. "It was always evident when we were in Bosnia that the war in Kosovo would come and that Kosovo would be the endgame. There was no real good reason for that war. It was a mean, hubristic war in the end. It was a war that should never have happened."
"The horror of Kosovo," one says, "is the fact that it was so well documented." Also expressed by the journalists, "CNN asks you things such as 'How do you feel?' How the hell do you think I feel?" Then a prediction is given by Dukajin Gorani, an Albanian journalist from Kosovo, that the boy in the picture may well refuse to be acknowledged as the boy in the picture because 'we want to remember as being natural and normal contemporaries.'
In this film I learned about Adem Jashari. one of the founders of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), 'a Kosovo Albanian separatist organization which fought for the secession of Kosovo from the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, and the eventual creation of a Greater Albania.' Fifty-eight members of his family were murdered; this vile action sparked a turn in the attitude of the people, who roared back.
I also learned that citizens in Kosovo have a statue honoring Bill 'Klinton' whom they regard as a hero, and they also honor George Bush, Jr., regardless of whether the humanitarian aide came too late, or was not entirely for humanistic reasons, or the military tactics were not wise. Some citizens in Kosovo display American flags alongside portraits of both of these American presidents.
The horrors clearly depicted in this documentary spurred me to read about this period in history and to deeply ponder the necessity and moral obligation for countries of the world to intervene during - or rather to prevent - genocide.
Did they find the boy in the ragged blue sweater? I recommend that you see this film and find out.