Calling the Ghosts: a Story About Rape, War and Women

1996, 63 minutes
Directors: Mandy Jacobson and Karmen Jelincic
Executive Producer: Julia Ormond
Distributed by Women Make Movies

Courtesy of Women Make Movies



This moving documentary examines the devastating impact of the war in Bosnia on women through the stories of Jadranka Cigelj and Nasreta Sival. Both professional Muslim women living in the Bosnian town of Priejdor when Serbs seized power in 1992, they were taken to the Omarska Detention Camp. They describe the systematic rape that was used as a means of humiliation and annihilation–a component of the ethnic cleansing that forced them from their homeland. While the physical violations take place mostly at night, "mental rape"–witnessing and hearing acts of torture–occurs 24 hours a day. The viewer enters the camps through chilling footage taken by journalists in 1992 and 1993.

Calling the Ghosts: a Story About Rape, War and Women - "And then slowly, the hatred I felt at the beginning began to subside, and I started to listen to the testimonies in a new way. Now I am in the role of the confessor. "
Their recollections go beyond personal confession, as the women become witnesses to the crimes that occurred. When the camps were first penetrated by journalists and discoverd by the outside world, detention camp officials quickly transported and released the women out of the prison because their captors had claimed that no women were ever held in camps. The women weigh the consequences of keeping silent versus speaking out, and divulge their experiences in part to let the world know of the atrocities that occurred, but also in memory of those who died in the camps. They strive to have their stories recognized and believed, for without the testimony of the live witness, there exists only conjecture.

The women cope with their trauma by reaching out to others who have suffered. Jadranka collects information about the atrocities for the Croatian Information Center in order to completely authenticate and document the crimes. Only then will the total numbers be known and recorded. Reflecting on interviews with female victims, she states "in order to expose the crime, you violate the witness, you don't force her of course, you beg her to speak, but you do make her live through it again," thus mirroring her own experience. Nasreta volunteers for the Association of Women of Bosnia and Herzegovina, where she aids refugees with legal matters.

Calling the Ghosts: a Story About Rape, War and Women - Jadranka Cigelj
During the course of the film the two women travel to the Netherlands to attend the International Criminal Tribunals for the Former Yugoslavia after organizing women to testify, a journey that is both a triumph of courage and survival, and a painful reminder of past trauma. Again they reflect on the importance of being believed and having their voices heard. In one intense scene, the women buy postcards to send to their former colleagues in Prijedor to "remind them of what awaits those who violate international law." One of the postcards reads: "We hope you will join us shortly in this lovely city." Though many perpetrators remain at large, the trials are historic for prosecuting crimes against women and continue today with the trial of Slobodan Milosevic. A sobering and heartrending portrayal of the physical and emotional toll of war, this film provides a personal as well as historical account.

Calling the Ghosts is not recommended for younger audiences due to graphic descriptions and photographs.


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