Danis Tanovic captures an intimate episode among a Roma family in Bosnia.


Danis Tanovic’s AN EPISODE IN THE LIFE OF AN IRON PICKER (EPIZODA U ZIVOTU BERACA ZELJEZA, Bosnia and Herzegovina) is a frank drama that transcends its swift production with an extraordinary sense of urgency. The true story concerns Bosnian Roma couple Nazif and Sanada as they struggle to get health care after Sanada suffers a life threatening miscarriage. Tanovic casts the real couple and their two small daughters to portray the tale, which looks at the hopelessness of marginalisation and poverty in the case of an emergency.

The film’s production is a remarkable story in itself. In December 2011 director Tanovic read a newspaper article covering the story. Opting not to wait to secure a conventional budget Tanovic and his producer Amra Baksic Camo decided to assemble a tiny, yet highly proficient crew, along with the non-actors and locations. The crew doubled up on their responsibilities, with the surefooted Tanovic handling 2nd camera and continuity. By February 2012 the film had been shot and was in post-production.

Tanovic’s work with Nazif and Sanada creates unusual, but compelling performances. Though Nazif and Sanada appear somewhat camera shy (often facing slightly away from the camera), they radiate an unequivocal amount of emotion. An asset to the realism (though probably a production challenge) is the presence of two young girls, who lend an inverse humour by energetically bouncing around their parents. Tanovic directs the film as if it is a family event; Nazif, Sanada and their daughters thrive on this.

Since the film was selected for the Berlinale, cinematographer Erol Zubcevic was reportedly frustrated with the budgetary need to shoot on Digital SLR cameras. However, the film has a distinct and raw aesthetic built out of the juxtaposition of the snow covered Bosnian countryside, an abundance of scrap and the otherworldly industrial chimneys that power the local area. The backdrop makes the unappealing job of collecting and selling scrap iron an epic task, as Nazif is dwarfed by his surroundings.

The film runs at 75 minutes and feels like it could be cut shorter, yet the vitality of the storytelling allows the experience to endure. In close proximity with the lifestyle of its characters, the film’s modest style creates an authentic feeling of dignity. AN EPISODE IN THE LIFE OF AN IRON PICKER finds a rare humanity and intimacy among an often misunderstood group of people.