Dinka Bonelle Dzubur on short film Little Hands

Little Hands is the first Australian film to be shot entirely in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

An intimate short story exploring the complexity of identity, loss, and the importance of human connection, Little Hands follows young tourist Mia (Dinka Bonelle Dzubur), who arrives in the post-war city of Mostar looking for her only remaining family, her little sister Sofia (Manon Bennett).

Dzubur is more than an actress – she is also the writer and executive producer of Little Hands. It was after feeling “dishearted” and “uninspired” by her acting roles in Australia – landing mainstream roles on Australian screens is particularly difficult for actors with diverse backgrounds – that she was prompted to create her own work.

“The more I stepped into the world of international cinema, I realised we were all feasting from this cultural trail mix in which there are not many stories of strong, powerful, sexy women because there are not many female writer/directors. Yet, this is now changing slowly, and I decided to be a part of this change”.

Dzubur was inspired to return to her native country of Bosnia and Herzegovina after first visiting the Cannes Film Festival in 2009. The purpose of her trip, she says, was to explore the production conditions of the region and meet the talent that Bosnia and Herzegovina had to offer. While travelling there, Dzubur was overwhelmed by the warmth, sincerity and talent of the children and youth she met in Mostar, and wanted to show this to the world.

But it wasn’t just the children of Mostar that compelled Dzubur to write Little Hands – it was the story of a lady she met in Sarajevo that lingered in her mind, later forming the starting point for the film. Back in her hotel room, Dzubur began to draft a screenplay based on these women’s stories.

“I wanted to explore what happened to the generation of Bosnian women and children who had to flee. Who left their homes, who lost family members in war, who grew up all around the world, whose identities are undefined. This wasn’t easy to do and it was important when plotting the narrative for the characters to have room for them to transform within themselves. This film is dedicated to the post-war generation and children of Bosnia and Herzegovina.”

Inspired by Claire McCarthy’s The Waiting City, which was filmed on location in India, Dzubur sent the script to the Australian director, knowing McCarthy would have the sensibilities to tell the story with an engaging, powerful, aesthetic.

Following McCarthy’s arrival in Mostar, workshops were organised to further develop the script. Rehearsals, it was decided, would simply hinder the film’s element of realism with their dull repetitiveness. A cast of 54 Bosnian children were featured in Little Hands alongside locals: Sarajevo-born Balkan actor Miraj Grbic (Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol) and actress Manon Bennett in leading roles contributing to the film’s raw, emotional energy.

“Miraj, Manon and I had great chemistry. Claire decided early on not to rehearse too much with us, we just had a similar creative process”, Dzubur recalls. “First, second take, then no more. We worked very fast and very well”.

Little Hands carries a similar visual style to The Waiting City: poetic realism. “The film takes elements of realism in an almost documentary way, but there is also a visual and narrative authority to the film’s style, tone, and approach to performance”, Dzubur says. Filmed on location, Little Hands is an exploration of Mostar city, from the ‘Egipatsko Selo’ children’s home, to its graceful medieval sites.

But Dzubur hopes Little Hands does more than just expose Bosnia and Herzegovina’s visual beauty and horrific past.

“I’m immensely proud to have realised a project that takes steps beyond cultural and religious lines”, she says. “This film brought together Bosnian, Croatian, and Australian artists together. I feel like I am making a difference. It is the first Australian project to film in Mostar city – I hope Australian audiences in particular see it and also start to be able to start relating to a new wave of Australian cinema”.

Shot on RED ONE cameras by cinematographer Denson Baker ACS, and with close to five hours of footage from filming on location in Mostar (as well as war archival footage), Dzubur began to realise the challenges of realising a post-war offshore film shoot.

“[It is important to] be simple and clear, and create an emotional arc that will resonate with the viewer”, she notes. “[Working] with director Claire McCarthy and editor Gwen Sputore was a long process and we had many test screenings to make sure we end up with a story that will portray the message we had envisioned for the film and that will be clear to an international audience.

“I’m happy where we are. It’s been an interesting year. The circle has been completed. Making Little Hands has reminded me why I am an actress and an artist and has made me fall in love with film all over again. I see the power of film and I feel this medium is to be used wisely and responsibly. I firmly believe that telling stories is a really important part of fostering understanding, compassion and healing. As long as we keep telling stories, we continue to be human.

“What I always enjoy the most about the work is the reaction from the audience. To see their faces, to see their expressions, to see how they were sitting in their chair uncomfortably, somewhere crying is a great testament to what this film can achieve”.

Dzubur is currently in Los Angeles having just wrapped work on the feature film Isabella with John Lovitz and the TV Series True Blood for HBO. Her production company, Chandelier Films based out of Sydney, has expanded with the opening of a Croatian division. Dzubur is currently involved in five feature length projects: an adaptation of a comic book, a modern fairytale, a multi-plot drama, a thriller, and a romance.

Manon Bennett and Dinka Bonelle Dzubur in
Little Hands.