Situated in the heart of Europe, yet locked into an astonishingly lonely existence, Kosovo remains unknown for many. At times, there is depressing news from the country such as the occasional shootings between Serbs and Albanians, staggering unemployment rates exceeding 50% or corruption. This only reaffirms the not-yet-healed image that Kosovo has carved into the psyche of the international community.
Despite the gloom, however, there is one bright spot that has almost single-handedly succeeded in dispelling some of the pessimism that shadows the country: Dokufest. Kosovo’s most prominent event and an internationally acclaimed documentary and short film festival, Dokufest has, in just eleven years, developed into an inspiring model for the documentary world. The festival has a holistic approach towards what constitutes a festival experience that goes far beyond the mandate of strong programming. Indeed, it provides a stunning example of what documentary can accomplish in terms of bringing healing to a society, holding up a mirror to its people, and putting a country on the map.
“We still don’t have a functioning cinema.”
With its genesis in the aftermath of the Kosovo War (1998-99), Dokufest arrived at a time of recovery with a very simple idea: to resurrect the cinema heritage of Prizren. Despite being Kosovo’s second biggest city and a cultural capital that had survived relatively unscathed over the centuries, Prizren had been unable to enjoy a renaissance of its film culture after the war due to neglect by government authorities, who had deprived the city of cinema.
Asked about his own part in the Kosovo War, Veton, who finds it crucial to confront history, responds: “What did I do in the war? I didn’t fight. I had no chance. But I worked in a refugee camp with children. I was trying to be of any kind of use.”
“It’s so easy to be useless in a war because you don’t know what to do. I was able to cross to Macedonia, stayed with relatives, and since I couldn’t imagine being of no use, I sought help from my relatives to get me into the refugee camp in Macedonia. When the war was over, I entered the city the day the NATO troops entered; I came with the first convoy,” he explains, “the horror of war motivates me to do whatever I can do so that I don’t witness war anymore. One of the worst things you experience is war. People become crazy. I could do anything to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
“Would I ever use a gun if I have to? I don’t want to use a gun. As long as I can use cultural tools I would use them. But you ask me if I would take a gun and protect; yes… I’ve been in situations where I wished I had a gun to be able to protect myself,” he says.
Still, cinema can be a more powerful weapon than mere guns, and it is to cinema that Veton turns as a tool to ensure that he never has to witness war again: “Cinema is one of the most powerful mediums.”
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