Film by Chapman University Alumnus, Brkusic, Now Channel Manager for KOCE-TV’s OC Channel, Uncovers

the History of Suppression Suffered by the Croatian People as They Struggled for Independence 


HUNTINGTON BEACH, Calif. (December 20, 2007) – From Chapman University, to the Halls of Congress, to the European Union, and back to KOCE-TV, 26-year-old Brenda Brkusic's student film makes headlines around the world. Freedom from Despair has its public television debut on KOCE-TV Thursday, Jan. 24, 2008 at 9:00 p.m. with an encore presentation Sunday, Jan. 27 at 12:30 p.m. The 90-minute film uncovers the long history of suppression and abuse of the Croatian people and their struggle for independence from Tito’s Yugoslavia, using as its focus the dramatized true story of Kruno Brkusic, Brenda’s father, who risked his life to escape the regime. The film is narrated by celebrated actors Michael York (Cabaret, Austin Powers), John Savage (The Deer Hunter, The Thin Red Line), and Beata Pozniak (JFK) and includes interviews with U.S. Representative Dennis Kucinich.

 “[Freedom from Despair] creatively portrays the power of the human spirit and the tenets of democracy, without preaching or the use of propaganda,” said Congressman Kucinich for the Congressional Record. Brkusic’s work to promote human rights has been recognized and honored by the U.S. House of Representatives. Congressman Kucinich continued, “Brenda is a courageous and hardworking young woman who has been identified as a visionary in the Croatian community.”

Brkusic joined KOCE-TV in 2006 as an associate producer on the Emmy Award-winning nightly news program Real Orange, and is currently production manager, producer and channel manager spearheading KOCE-TV's new OC Channel. Since graduating from Chapman University with a degree in film and television, she has toured the world showcasing her documentary. Brkusic has gained a reputation as an important new voice in the documentary field and was nominated in 2005 for the International Documentary Association’s (IDA) Jacqueline Donnet Emerging Documentary Filmmaker Award.

"I see this broadcast as a great opportunity for the struggles and perseverance of the Croatian people to be widely appreciated – something the community has truly deserved, but never thought they'd actually see,” said Brkusic. “By watching the film, the audience will be making real the dream of an entire generation – the dream of finally being understood." 

Freedom from Despair screened in October for members of the European Parliament in Brussels, Belgium for the Fourth Annual International Summit on Economic Growth: The Future of Transatlantic Relations. It will receive a Screen Actors Guild screening followed by Q & A at the Fine Arts Theater in January prior to the KOCE-TV broadcast. The film has been featured in 15 national and international festivals, has completed a 50-city tour throughout the United States, Canada and Australia, and has garnered a dozen notable awards including:

         CINE Golden Eagle Award (previously awarded to Steven Spielberg and George Lucas)

         CINE Special Jury Award

         Nominee — International Documentary Association (IDA) David L. Wolper Distinguished Documentary Achievement Award

         Best Documentary — New York International Independent Film and Video Festival

         Remi Award, World Peace and Understanding — WorldFest Houston International Film Festival

         Viewer's Voice Award — Cinequest Film Festival

         Recognized by Amnesty International and the Anti-Defamation League

Freedom from Despair uses first-hand interviews, stock footage, news reels and narrative recreations shot in the United States and Croatia to reveal the atrocities committed and hidden by the communist government of Yugoslavia and its allies —piecing together a shocking truth that lay silenced for 60 years. The film follows the journey of Kruno Brkusic, a Croatian Catholic who was repeatedly jailed by communists and who managed to escape the country on foot with nothing more than a book of matches and a compass at age 17, later becoming a pro-Croatian activist in the United States. We watch as Kruno and thousands of Croatian-Americans demonstrate on Capitol Hill during the dissolution of Yugoslavia in 1991, pushing George H.W. Bush to recognize Croatia while the nation watched the carnage on television. Film interviewees include an Amnesty International Prisoner of Conscience, U.S. Congressmen, a priest, a concentration camp survivor, authors on Croatian history, as well as Kruno, his childhood friends, and his family.

“I had filmed in Croatia during the Balkan War (Gospa),and had been made aware of the issues that [Brkusic] deals with in her extraordinary documentary at first hand,” said Michael York. “I think [the film] is a remarkable achievement.”


KOCE-TV is the sixth-most watched PBS station in America with an estimated 5.8 million viewers* monthly. KOCE’s award-winning programming offers the fifth-largest county in the nation a long-standing community hub for local news, culture and features, and broadcasts the best available national PBS programs to the entire Southern California five-county region. Known for its outstanding dedication to education, KOCE Classroom serves more than a half million K-12 students. A national Roper poll recently ranked PBS as number one in public trust for the fourth consecutive year.** The winner of hundreds of awards including Emmys and Community Service Awards, KOCE continues to be a vital community resource and connector for Southern California. For more information, please visit www.koce.org.

* Nielsen Station Index 2007

** Reported by the GfKRoper Public Affairs & Media poll (2007)