Jack Kent Cooke Scholars come from all parts of this country—and sometimes from all parts of the world. They rise above their challenged backgrounds to raise the bar in everything they do.
Consider, for instance, Harun Mehmedinovic. As a young boy, he survived the four-year-long Siege of Sarajevo in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Artillery shells rained down daily on the city; snipers shot pedestrians as they tried to move through the city streets.
When the war finally ended, he came to the United States at the tender age of 13 as a refugee in 1996. At that time he had never even touched a computer, and only a few years later he was studying film at UCLA. There he worked as a photographer, cinematographer, and director on more than 30 short films.
Harun became a Jack Kent Cooke Scholar in 2003 as an Undergraduate Transfer Scholar at UCLA. He went on to become a Graduate Scholar in 2005 as well and studied at the American Film Institute. Soon he was making a film called “In The Name of the Son” set first during the war and later in present-day Los Angeles. Though not autobiographical, it addresses the breakdown of normal societal ties that everyone in Bosnia witnessed and that, as Harun explained in an interview, he could not have written about without his experiences during the war that had torn his native country apart. It premiered at the Telluride Film Festival, was featured at other film festivals too numerous to mention, and won over 30 international awards including at the Shanghai, Savannah, and Cleveland film festivals. It was the first live action short film to receive an exclusive screening for members of the United States Congress on Capitol Hill. In 2006 Harun received the Richard P. Rogers Spirit of Excellence Award in Directing and the Bridges/Larson Award in Screenwriting.
Harun now teaches film and photography at Northern Arizona University, has presented and lectured all over the United States and in Europe, and has received numerous awards. A restless spirit, he continues to branch out into other artistic realms. He has, for instance, begun a photography project called Bloodhoney*. He notes that this is a literal translation of the Turkish word “Balkans,” the term we use to describe the geographic area in whose very center sits his native country, Bosnia and Herzegovina. The word well reflects the bittersweet nature of his native land and of his upbringing.
This is, he says, a project that should produce a series of books about his photography. As part of this project, Harun has traveled across the U.S. taking pictures of individuals, including several other Jack Kent Cooke Scholars, landscapes, and skies. He is raising money for it on Kickstarter, which enabled him to fund his first book in this series, Séance. That first campaign became one of the top ten most successful Kickstarter photography campaigns to date. His second book, which he is currently raising funds for through another Kickstarter campaign, is called Persona.
Harun’s Bloodhoney* photographs have been exhibited internationally and have been featured by numerous publications including Vogue Italia and the Los Angeles Times. He has even presented a TED talk about the project.
What a long way to come for someone who grew up in a city under siege in a time of terrible war. We’re glad he came to the U.S. and glad he found us. He has touched many lives already—and will surely touch many more in the future—with his art and with his inspiring life story.