UPDATED with video: With Dara of Jasenovac, executive producer Michael Berenbaum spotlights a little-known concentration camp in Croatia, where between 75,000 and 100,000 Serb, Jewish and Roma people were killed—many of them, children. Directed by Peter “Gaga” Antonijevic, the first cinematic portrait of the Jasenovac complex follows a courageous 12-year-old, surrounded by horrific violence, as she fights to ensure the survival of her younger brother.
In making a World War II drama centered on children, Antonijevic and Berenbaum had to carefully consider both the violence they were putting on screen and the environment they were creating on set. “Gaga has a very skillful touch and could relate to these kids very nicely,” Berenbaum says during the 101 Studios film’s panel at Deadline’s Contenders International awards-season event. “He made them feel safe, while experiencing something that was overwhelmingly the opposite of safe.”
While the EP has devoted his life to the study of the Holocaust, he, too, had to safeguard his mental health while in production. “When [you] make a film like this…you go in, to face the abyss,” he explains, “and out, to make sure that the abyss doesn’t transform you.”
Although Berenbaum isn’t looking to overwhelm viewers with darkness, he does hope that the film will spark both thought and emotion. “I hope people come out understanding a little bit about Jasenovac, and also understanding the ultimate victim,” he says. “When you see Dara, hopefully you’ll come away horrified by the magnitude of evil, and committed to a little bit more human decency and dignity.”
Check out the panel video above.