BERLIN: Oscar-winning Bosnian director Danis Tanovic premiered Wednesday at the 63rd Berlinale the true story of an emergency in the life of a desperately poor Roma family, played by the real protagonists.
Tanovic, who picked up the Academy Award for his 2001 absurdist drama "No Man's Land" set during his country's vicious civil war, said a news report about a woman denied essential medical treatment after a miscarriage inspired the new film.
"An Episode in the Life of an Iron Picker", made with a budget of about 17,000 euros ($23,000) and filmed over nine days with a hand-held digital camera, retraces the story with the couple who went through the ordeal.
Nazif Mujic, the scrap metal collector of the title, scratches out a meagre existence for his family of four in a village perched near a garbage dump.
While he and other family members scavenge for steel and copper they can sell for a pittance, Nazif's pregnant partner Senada Alimanovic cooks, cleans and looks after their two young daughters.
But during one strenuous day at home, Senada suffers serious abdominal pain. Nazif rushes her to hospital where a doctor tells her that she has miscarried and is still carrying the dead five-month-old foetus.
In order to stop her bleeding and prevent septicemia, she needs an operation but the couple is uninsured and cannot afford to pay for surgery.
They plead with the hospital director and social services but are repeatedly turned away, as Senada grows weaker and Nazif gets more desperate.
Only when they borrow a relative's insurance card and pass it off at a clinic as their own -- risking arrest on fraud charges -- is she saved in the nick of time.
"I don't want anyone else to have to experience what I had to experience," Alimanovic told reporters in Berlin after a warmly received screening, explaining why she and her partner had agreed to make the film.
Mujic, a war veteran who lost a brother in the fighting, said that poverty and rampant discrimination against them as Roma in Bosnia had almost turned their story into a tragedy.
"Had we arrived two hours later then I don't want to think what would have happened to my partner, had she really died," he said.
"We can't change the colour of our skin -- we're Roma. I'm an honest man, I am living my life, I don't steal and I've never been ashamed of who I am, that I am a Roma."
Tanovic, 43, said he rang his producer after he read about their "deeply disturbing and unfair" story, which he said was symptomatic for Bosnia losing its way in its post-war recovery.
"I said this is incredible what is happening in our country -- what are we becoming?" he said.
"My country is in crisis since 25 years. The war has stopped but it never actually stopped. We have no strategy of where this country should go and slowly but surely things are falling apart."
He said it would have taken too long to get financing and make the film with professional actors so he chose what he called the risky path of shooting it on site with the actual people involved, without a screenplay.
Tanovic said he didn't know how to characterise the film. "It's a fiction and it's a documentary. Probably some critic's going to come with the name for this, I don't know myself," he said.
"An Episode in the Life of an Iron Picker" is one of 19 films vying for the Berlinale's Golden Bear top prize, to be awarded at a gala ceremony Saturday.