Well before Milosevic’s trial actually started, Team Productions had approached the UN International Criminal Tribunal in The Hague to ask for permission to film, but the Tribunal declined. The tribunal had received numerous applications from other filmmakers and the only way into the well-protected UN system was persistent lobbying.

Mette Heide (producer): “Milosevic’s trial is a major chapter in history and naturally we wanted to document it. In 2001 we contacted the tribunal again and wrote that we were interested in making a classic documentary about the trial for as many years as it would last. They said no, but we nurtured our contacts with Christian Chartier who was in charge of press relations for the Tribunal.

The prosecutors were not at all interested in collaborating so things didn’t look good, but we kept coming back. Quite early in the project we found out that it might be a good idea to build a historical archive based on the material we would shoot, and when we presented that idea to the tribunal it sparked some interest. The fact that our director, Michael Christoffersen, had made Genocide: The Judgment in 1999, a documentary about the UN Trial in Rwanda, also helped to open doors.”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3zH2DzV8bHU

Mette Hoffmann Meyer-of TV2 Denmark at the time-and Nick Fraser, from BBC, backed the project early on, and eleven other broadcasters got on board when Heide and Christoffersen pitched the project at an EBU pitching session in Amsterdam.

Mette Heide: “At the pitching we kind of indicated that we had the necessary permission to shoot even though we didn’t have a contract yet, and then a crowd of hands from broadcasters interested in participating in the project went up.”

That kind of support made things a lot easier, and when the production company contacted the Tribunal again, they were much more positive, especially knowing that the estimated number of television viewers would be several million.

The filmmakers contacted the various people involved in the trial: the prosecutors, Milosevic’s defence team, and the two counsellors or ‘amicus curiae’ (Steven Kay and Gillian Higgins) who had been appointed by the court to support Milosevic who insisted on defending himself.

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Mette Heide

Mette Heide: “The counsellors agreed to be in the film maybe because they aren’t part of the UN system and therefore have a more relaxed relationship to the media, and to have them as characters got things moving. Also the Head of the Tribunal liked the project a lot and lobbied for us, which meant that just after the trial had started we could sign a contract that gave us full editorial freedom but required us to keep the tapes until the case was over.

We started shooting and then ran into another problem: prosecutor Carla del Ponte and the vice-prosecutor had not been informed of what we were doing. Michael and I were invited to a meeting in The Hague and were trembling with fear over what could go wrong because we had already signed the contract with the broadcasters. But it turned out to be a problem of internal communication that had nothing to do with us, and we ended up getting total access to the courtroom and behind the scenes as well.”

Preselected Characters

The court attorneys at the Hague Tribunal follow a rule never to speak to the press, so the filmmakers had to convince the attorneys that the filmmakers were not news journalists hunting for the latest developments but serious documentarians who wanted to get the full picture. The prosecutors, however, led by Geoffrey Nice, were quite reserved about appearing in the film.

Mette Heide: “Geoffrey Nice used to say that he disliked ‘fly-on-the-wall’ documentaries like the one we wanted to make, which made it a bit hard for us. He came on board in March after the case had started but didn’t start working as a character until early autumn. But that’s the kind of challenge you’re dealing with on this kind of documentary: you can’t chose your characters, they are already chosen for you and it’s up to you to make them work.”

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Michael Christoffersen

Michael Christoffersen: “It took some time to open him up, but once he had made up his mind, he cooperated willingly. As a matter of fact, I think we became indispensable to him: we were like a logbook he could confer with. He wouldn’t let us film him, though, unless he was doing something, but he eventually opened up and became one of the main characters in the film. It’s a question of building confidence.”

Hussein’s Trial

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