In South Eastern Europe, the Republic of Kosovo continues to struggle with its autonomy, with now seventy-seven UN states recognizing its independence since 2008. Resistance and persistence have shifted its position and shaped its cultural identity within the Balkan region – and recent war has left a mark that shapes most everything.
On July 27th, violence erupted at a Northern Kosovo border point. A number of KosovoSerbian youths set fire to a border crossing in protest against a Kosovo secret police unit instated to control the embargo placed on Serbian goods just days before. The riot resulted in the shooting and killing of an Albanian officer. Down south, in the picturesque town of Prizren, rows of unassuming guests and filmmakers celebrated the documentary form in a country all too familiar with politically motivated violence. Several Kosovar filmmakers and journalists attending the festival were hardly fazed by the shooting, but rather exhausted from the continuing clashes between ethnic Albanians, Kosovo-Serbs and their respective governments. And tensions have been on the rise again recently, bringing UN talks to the table once more. Yet tucked within the lush mountains of Prizren, seated in front of romantic outdoor projection screens beneath the stars, consuming excellent programming and local Peja beer, and witnessing the camaraderie between the cultures of cineastes, it is difficult to imagine anything less than peace.
“To speak about the contemporary aspects of documentary filmmaking in Kosovo is not an easy task,” wrote Veton Nurkollari, artistic director of DokuFest, in an essay for SEEDOX about the documentary situation in Kosovo. After Milošević reduced Kosovo’s autonomy in 1989 and applied oppression to the ethnic Albanian population, Albanian students were excluded from the state-run film school. The Albanian staff of the regional broadcaster, Radiotelevizija Prishtina, also suffered under the oppression, along with the prominent production company Kosovafilm. With documentary production halted altogether – most documentaries having been previously produced through TV and film schools – there was little room to move forward and few options in terms of crew, equipment and facilities. Thus, the demand for docs dissipated. It was not until after the Kosovo War in 1999 that film schools were ignited again. In 2000, the Department of Film Directing at the University of Prishtina was re-launched, while other private film schools sprung up in the capital and in Prizren. Kosovafilm also took another swing, along with a number of other independently run production companies forming between 2001 and 2004.
«until only a few years ago, no film funds existed in Kosovo»
Though having come a long way, Veton Nurkollari attributes the main problem to the lack of a clearly defined funding policy in his country. Until only a few years ago, no film funds existed in Kosovo. Even now, there is a tendency among the funds that do exist – like the Ministry of Culture – to bypass docs and shorts, instead gunning for a ‘feature hit’ that will put them on the map. So the majority of documentaries in post-war Kosovo are largely produced independently, with little support from national institutions or TV stations. In the past, NGOs such as UNICEF (the United Nations Children’s Fund) and UNDP (United Nations Development Programme) have, however, made up for a great deal of documentary production, particularly following the war when they commissioned films for their campaigning needs. Along with production, the NGOs have also offered workshops for regional filmmakers to instruct them on shooting techniques and story development.
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