The Honors Keep Coming
Filmmaker Brenda Brkusic receives prestigious CINE award
By Frank Vinko Mustac
Add yet another award to the bevy of honors already garnered by Croatian-American filmmaker Brenda Brkusic.
On April 18, Brkusic was in Silver Spring, Maryland, near Washington, D.C., to receive the prestigious CINE Special Jury Award in the student category for her 2004 documentary film "Freedom From Despair."
The award ceremony was held at Discovery Communications headquarters, the parent company of cable television's Discovery Channel.
Last year the Chicago-born Brkusic, who is only in her mid 20s, received the CINE Golden Eagle Award making her eligible for both the CINE Special Jury Award and the CINE Masters Series Award, for which she was runner up.
Past CINE award winners have included luminary filmmakers George Lucas and Steven Spielberg and acclaimed documentarian Ken Burns.
"Freedom From Despair" is a feature length documentary that explores the stories of the Croatian people's struggle to overcome oppression from Communist Yugoslavia and the fight during the 1990s to win a free and independent Croatian nation.
The film, in part, chronicles the exodus from Yugoslavia of Brkusic's father Kruno Brkusic at age 17 from the village of Bogomolje on the Island of Hvar in Croatia to Italy and finally to the United States.
"This is a different sort of documentary. It's very personal," said Brkusic following the award ceremony. "It's an untold history. Nobody has every made a story about the dark side of Tito. I think the story is timeless."
"Historically it's important for future generations This can be a document for the younger generation," she said.
"Rarely in the American media do you see or hear stories about Croatia," said Brkusic, who currently lives in Los Angeles and she works at public broadcasting TV station KOCE in Orange County, California, as an assistant editor and producer on the award-winning news program called "Real Orange."
Those who have contacted her about purchasing copies of her film on DVD and VHS, she said, hopefully will be patient while she resolves issues with Croatian Television (HRT) for the official release of some stock footage she used in the documentary. When the film becomes available for purchase, it announced on her Web site www.freedomfromdespair.com .
A graduate of Chapman University in Orange, California, where on scholarship she earned a bachelor of fine arts degree, Brkusic worked on the documentary as an undergraduate student, using primarily her own funds to finance the project.
"I borrowed a lot of money," she said adding that she has also received donations from many Croatians in the Untied States, Canada and Australia.
Asked about the process of making "Freedom from Despair," Brkusic said it was no easy task.
"It was so hard," she said. "I don't know if I could ever do it again. I basically wasn't sleeping for two years, but the momentum kept me going."
"I could have probably made 10 different films from the images I captured," she said.
Although she is intimate with ever scene, seeing excerpts from documentary, Brkusic said, still makes her emotional.
"Even though I've seen the film 300 times, every time I see it, I'm affected by it," she said.
Brkusic said her immediate future plans include a trip in late April to Sydney, Australia, to screen "Freedom From Despair" at a venue called the Croatian Punchbowl.
Her more long term plans include a return to film making.
"I'm also hoping to work on more documentaries on my own," she said.
Brkusic was also insistent of acknowledging the many people who helped her with the film.
"I want to thank all of the Croatians," she said. "Without everyone's support, I couldn't do this."