Fiorenzo Polito speaks with Mirko Pincelli, Co-Founder of London-based production company PINCH Media, about his recent work in Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Ten o’clock in the heart of Bosnia; over the Channel it’s still nine. It’s quite early, at least for an interview. I start Skype and the call begins. Mirko Pincelli and I are both sitting in our respective kitchens, although I’m in Sarajevo and he is in London, both with a coffee mug in hand. Mirko, a documentary and fiction director with a background as photographer and photojournalist, is the founder of Pinch Media, together with Enrico Tessarin, his business partner as well as writer and producer.
Mirko and Enrico have been working for quite a long time with the Post-Conflict Research Center (P-CRC). This shared story began some time ago with the full-length documentary film Uspomene 677, that collects the testimonies of three adolescents and three survivors fifteen years after the end of the Bosnian war. Mirko laughs, telling me that Velma Šarić was his last hope. He had been pondering the project for a very long time, but he had not been able to find someone to help him out. After a long besiegement of messages, e-mails and phone calls, eventually Mirko and Velma managed to set an appointment. It was the beginning of a wonderful friendship.
Pinch Media is currently working on the project Obični Heroji (“Ordinary Heroes”), a series composed of five 30-minute documentary films that explore the parallel stories of rescuers and rescued. These people, even if overwhelmed by the war events, gave each other support and understanding – with no regard to racial or ethnic differences, and thus transmitting a profound message of moral courage.
An example of this is the story of Đorđe and Salih, who have been friends for the majority of their lives, although the former is a Bosnian Serb and the latter a Bosniak (Bosnian Muslim). This kind of relationship is not commonplace in post-war Bosnia. When Salih was taken from his home and transported to the Batković concentration camp, he thought he would never make it out alive. It is thanks to his old friend that he survived. Đorđe came and took him home. During the war, Đorđe became known as a man who would risk his life to help others regardless of their ethnicity or religion.
Then there is the story of Ferid, a 40-year-old Muslim man, taken by bus to the horrors of Paklenik Pit, deep in the forest in the eastern part of Bosnia. Men were lined up and shot, and Ferid was the only one, out of 77, to make it out of those woods alive. He seized the opportunity to escape; as he sought shelter from his persecutor, only one woman stepped forward to take the risk and save his life by hiding him in her home That woman was the gentle and humble Mina, now 80 years old. Her bravery set a different example, making her an ordinary hero.
On the occasion of Mirko’s last visit in Bosnia, we had the chance to meet one another. Mirko, of mixed Italian background but raised in Tuscany (his accent is unmistakable), has developed a deep bond with this land. Life in Bosnia put a spell on him, as have its inhabitants. When I ask him about the reason that so many individuals fall in love with Sarajevo, whose charm he compares with that of an attractive woman, he explains that it’s because of the people. Bosnians have passed through so many things— they went down to the miserable bottom where they gazed into the abyss. Therefore, they discovered a new meaning of life, according to which a single smile, word, or act acquires incredible and precious value.
Mirko came to Bosnia to shoot the fourth chapter of Ordinary Heroes. “Possibly the best chapter ever shot”, he says; it was an extremely delicate procedure. The characters of these stories aren’t always keen to open themselves up immediately and share experiences so profoundly personal with someone unknown, especially if that someone is a foreigner (even Mirko’s first name, which is typically a Serb name, has been an obstacle from time to time). Before the shoot, it’s necessary to get in contact with the intevierwee, build their confidence and put them at ease so that they can communicate frankly and sincerely.
During our interview, the doorbell rings. It’s Enrico, dropping by for a coffee. It is an opportunity to ask him about their synergic work at Pinch Media. When they first met, Mirko and Enrico were working in different places, absorbed by different projects. But it was not long before they decided to give up their previous jobs and join forces to found Pinch. One of the advantages of this production company is the consolidation of roles: director, writer, producer and editor. They reveal to me how much easier it is to work as a pair. It is far simpler to harmonize two heads instead of fifteen – costs are reduced and there is much more space for individuality and initiative.
Mirko is involved in a number of diverse and ongoing projects. Among them is the feature film The Habit of Beauty produced by Pinch Media together with Orisa Produzioni. The narrative begins immediately following the Tottenham riots in London in August 2011. The central character is Ernesto, cult-photographer and mercurial provocateur, who is diagnosed with a terminal illness. He looks at himself in the mirror, only to be met with deep dissatisfaction. He decides, without regard for those he will be leaving behind, to go back to his native Italy and face the past, but his unsettled accounts are not ready to abandon him. His gallerist Stuart, his assistant photographer Ian, and his old love Milena come together and set off for Italy to find him—each for their own reasons. It will be an outer as well as an inner journey that will lead them back to one other after many years. Forced to slow down and reflect, they rediscover that their love and friendship for one another can save them from almost anything. Mirko says that with The Habit of Beauty he wanted to create a “very personal film,” to “write and produce a film about issues that were important, uncompromising and true”.
Another project Mirko is currently engaged in is a documentary film that, to a certain extent, resembles his previous work Uspomene 677. He talks warily, explaining the delicacy of the issue. Set in Syria, the documentary will give space to both sides of the conflict: Sunni and Alawite. “There will be two characters who will share their experiences of the revolution from their own points of view, which are radically different.” Those persons share a common background and are still good friends. Before the war — exactly as in Bosnia — being part of one ethnicity or another was irrelevant. It has yet to be determined how this story will end, but for now, we are impatiently awaiting the conclusion of the forth episode of Ordinary Heroes, and wishing Pinch Media the best of luck in their future endeavors.