Local filmmakers are stepping over the barriers and finding ways to celebrate Kosovan films.

Local filmmakers are stepping over the barriers and finding ways to celebrate Kosovan films.

Pristina has one cinema and a population of 200,000 people. In a country where sixty per cent of young people are unemployed, who can afford to go out and watch a film? Yet there is huge interest and surprising diversity in local and regional film highlighted each year by a handful of festivals that set up shop in the city’s performance spaces and communist-era cubby-holes.

The National Theatre – a forgettable off-white building on Mother Teresa Boulevard – hosts the Pristina Film Festival, the city’s only international festival. It returns this spring for its seventh outing.

“In communist times we had four cinemas,” says Fatos Berisha, co-founder and Artistic Director of PriFest. “We really wanted to give cinema back to Pristina.”

Inspired by the success of the Sarajevo Film Festival, which has helped rebrand the Bosnian capital as a cultural hub, PriFest wanted to promote creativity, bring European film to a local audience and accommodate a meeting of local and international talent. It’s also tackling regional taboos: the ‘Let It Be’ programme, run in association with Outfest in LA, is dedicated to LGBT productions.

“Our young filmmakers can’t travel to the other festivals,” says Fatos. “So we bring people and films here. People can meet other filmmakers and start collaborating.”

PriFORUM, which runs alongside the festival, helps foster this, by inviting local independent filmmakers to pitch their ideas – in the hope that it leads to the next Three Windows and a Hanging, the first Kosovan film to be submitted to the
Academy Awards.

“I sent my first letter to the Academy a few years ago. But we were refused,” he laughs. “It took us three years to convince them to let us, as a country, submit a film. It’s very exciting.”

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It’s a familiar Kosovan story. Barriers to finance, to festivals and to an international audience is an ongoing and everyday concern for the majority of Pristina’s independent filmmakers. What limited resources do exist are dished out by a small and in-part public-funded panel. Given the local government’s reputation, it’s not unfair to question intent. But it’s small steps in the right direction.

“Bearing in mind the history, the war, it all starts from scratch, from zero,” says Fatos. “There’s an energy here similar to that during the Milošević regime. We had an underground movement, an underground scene of theatre and music and video. Even in the most dangerous times we had a full theatre. This contemporary ghetto – if we can call it that – is inspiring something, too. And thankfully it isn’t violent, it’s creative.”

Last year the festival used the city’s open-air cinema for the first time in forty years. Perhaps by the time independent Kosovo celebrates its tenth anniversary in 2018, that lonely little cinema won’t have to stand alone.

This is the fourth part of our five-part Insider’s Guide to Pristina, Kosovo, which originally appeared in Huck 48 – The Origins Issue.

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After this article went to press, we learned that the 2015 edition of PriFest was cancelled after the Ministry of Culture cut its budget. It was held “in exile” in neighbouring Albania’s capital Tirana in April 2015. The organisers hope it will return to Pristina once more.