Bosnian Roma couple re-enact struggle to get treatment in film by Oscar-winning director

BERLIN - A Bosnian Roma couple re-enact their personal struggle to get treatment after their baby died in the womb, in a tiny-budget movie by an Oscar-winning director that's competing for the top prize at the Berlin film festival.

Director Danis Tanovic discovered the story of the couple, Senada Alimanovic and Nazif Mujic, in a newspaper in late 2011. He says he went to meet the family several times and had the "crazy idea" of having the couple play themselves to avoid a long planning process.

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Tanovic made the movie, "An Episode In the Life of an Iron Picker," with €17,000 ($23,000) from a Bosnian film fund. It has its premiere Wednesday at the Berlin festival, where it's one of 17 movies competing for the Golden Bear award.

The movie re-creates several days in which Mujic, who tried to make ends meet at the time by collecting scrap metal, fought to get emergency treatment for Alimanovic after her baby died while she was still carrying it.

The couple didn't have public health insurance, and a hospital denied them the surgery when they were unable to meet its demands to pay €500 — a huge sum for them. Roma, also known as Gypsies, suffer from poverty and discrimination across Europe, particularly in the continent's east.

"They were reluctant at first" to play themselves in the movie, said Tanovic, whose "No Man's Land" won the Oscar for best foreign-language film in 2002. "They were a little bit afraid to tell the story. They didn't know me, they didn't know what I wanted to do."

He said their story is "deeply disturbing and unfair, (and) I think the best way for me to fight these things is to show them, to talk about them."

Tanovic worked without a screenplay and the film features no professional actors; two doctors, one who refused to treat Alimanovic and another who did treat her, are played by other doctors who are friends of the director.

Mujic said he still has no regular job or health insurance and is "living from hand to mouth," though he's now involved with an organization that seeks to improve Gypsy children's education — but, with the film project under way, he was able to get gall bladder treatment last year.

He was joined at the Berlin festival by Alimanovic.

"It was painful," she said of the episode the film depicts. "I don't want anyone else to experience what I had to experience."

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