Jolie left reeling after Bosnia interrupts her directorial debut

It was beginning to look like film interrupted for Oscar-winning actress Angelina Jolie last night as she embarked on an emergency charm campaign to persuade the authorities in Bosnia to change their minds after they withdrew permission for her to shoot scenes for a war-time romance set in the Balkans.

The glitch has struck Ms Jolie in the middle of production on the new project, her first in the director's chair. It has no name yet, but the script follows a love affair between a Bosnian woman and a Serb at the onset of the 1991-95 Bosnian conflict and break-up of the former Yugoslavia.

Everything had been going well with her directorial debut, with shooting already under way in Budapest, Hungary. But suddenly, the outgoing culture and sports minister of Bosnia's Muslim-Croat federation, Gavrilo Grahovac, abruptly cancelled permission for the shooting planned for Bosnia.

Mr Grahovac cited incomplete paperwork, saying Ms Jolie's production company had failed to submit a screenplay for review by his office. However, the move coincided with protests from a women's war victims association claiming that the love interest is between a woman and a Serbian who rapes her.

"They no longer have the authorisation to shoot in Bosnia. They will have it if they send us the script with a story which will be different from what we have been told by people who read it," Mr Grahovac told Bosnian radio.

Making the complaint has been Bakira Hasecic, president of the Women Victims of War association, who said that "in the film, a victim is really falling in love with her torturer". There should be no shooting in Bosnia, she added, "because of the script which offends a female war victim and distorts the truth about what that woman has suffered in a detention camp".

For Ms Jolie, who earned an Oscar for her supporting role in the film Girl, Interrupted (1999), the hiccup may seem ironic. She is a goodwill ambassador for the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, UNHCR, and was in Bosnia in August to help resolve population displacement issues lingering from the war. She has also made sure to employ local Bosnian actors and actresses for the film.

"Is this how we thank Angelina Jolie... for treating a Bosnian tragedy that has already been forgotten by the world... for hiring five or six Bosnian actors in her movie?" Emir Hadzihafizbegovic, the culture minister for Sarajevo canton and a well-known actor himself, told the daily Oslobodjenje newspaper yesterday.

The Jolie camp was meanwhile swinging into action to overcome the Bosnian objections. Ms Jolie wrote a letter that was read to the women's group by the local envoy of the UNHCR, Naveed Hussain. "Don't judge me before you see the film," Jolie said in the missive.

Indeed it is not clear that the group has actually seen a script and representatives for Ms Jolie in Bosnia said that the characterisation of the story being about a rapist is incorrect. "Of course I deny that. It is not in the script," said Edin Skakic of Sarajevo-based Scout Films, which has been in charge of pre-production for Ms Jolie in Bosnia.

The actual screenplay has now been handed to the minister. "I brought them the script and I am waiting for a positive response as soon as possible, I hope even today," Mr Skakic said.

Only confirmation that rape does not feature in any form in the narrative is likely to soothe Ms Hasecic, however. "Among thousands of testimonies by women raped during the war, there is not a single one that tells of a love story between a victim and her rapist," she insisted. "We will not allow anyone to falsify our pain."

In 2001, the UN court convicted three former Bosnian Serb soldiers of war crimes and crimes against humanity after being found guilty of rape and forced prostitution. It was the first time that rape had qualified as a war crime.