Zejneba Hardaga was never one to cower in the face of injustice, even within her strict Muslim community. So, when she realizes Sarajevo’s Jews are being rounded up by Nazis, putting her friend Rifka and Rifka’s family in danger, she risks everything to save them. Fifty years later, during the Bosnian War, it’s the Muslims who are being hunted down, and Rifka rescues Zejneba and her family in turn. Inspired by a true story.
About the Director
Sabina Vajrača is a Bosnian-American [AP1] film director and screenwriter who immigrated to the U.S. as a war refugee and started her career in NYC theatre. She’s best known for her critically acclaimed feature documentary Back to Bosnia (AFI Fest / Director’s Choice, Crossroads) and short drama Variables, which was nominated for 2020 HUMANITAS Prize, Student Oscars, and Student BAFTA, and won 2019 DGA SA Grand Prize and the Alfred P. Sloan grant, among other awards. Sabina is a member of Film Fatales and Alliance of Women Directors, and an alumna of Ryan Murphy Half Directing Mentorship, the Nantucket Screenwriters Colony, and the Stowe Story Labs. She’s next attached to direct For Buraz, a neo-noir crime drama set in Florida’s Bosnian Muslim immigrant community, with Prominent Productions and Annika Dawson producing. Sabina holds an M.F.A. from USC School of Cinematic Arts and is represented by Paradigm.
Before she passed, my grandma told me a story of watching Nazis take her Jewish best friend and her family away, never to be seen again. She was just a little girl, but she understood the gravity of the situation, and remembered it vividly when, 50 years later, soldiers came for our family – Muslims’ turn to be taken to the camps. One of her biggest regrets, all those years later, was that she did nothing to help her friend. Sure, she was only 10, but she could have done something, anything, she reasoned. Other Muslims helped Jews back then, she explained, and her family should have too. The same way our non-Muslim friends helped us escape this time around.
I remembered this story during the latest Israel-Palestine violence this past June. Tired of the same old Jews-and-Muslims-hate-one-another narrative, I wanted to tell a story I was more familiar with, that of us helping each other, as my grandma told me. The story of Zejneba and Rifka was the one I loved the most. Zejneba reminded me of my grandma, and I want to believe that, had she been older, she would have done just as Zejneba did.
I also loved the fact that Rifka saved Zejneba in turn, 50 years later. Not just for the wow factor (what are the odds??) but because it proves a lifelong value of mine, that of sevap, which my family has always been deeply committed to. Goodness begets goodness is a mantra I grew up hearing, and I hope with this film I can spread that message far and wide.