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AQSHF
  17.01.2018
Albanian cinema Retrospective at FILM MUTATIONS: FESTIVAL OF INVISIBLE CINEMA, ZAGREB, CROATIA, January 18 - 24, 2018
Images from the Siege: Albania's Forgotten Cinema

Of all the East European countries, no nation has been as mysterious as Albania. Until the fall of the Berlin Wall, this Marxist dictatorship was as isolated as North Korea. Its absolute leader, Enver Hoxha (1908-1985), imposed a ban on organized religion, travel and even the giving of Muslim or Christian names to children. Watching a foreign film on television could result in a prison sentence for being under the ‘influence of foreign powers and propaganda’. In the 1970’s director Werner Herzog was so fascinated by Albania’s siege mentality that he walked the entire length of its closed borders.

Two and half decades after the collapse of the country’s one party system, very little is still known about Albanian cinema. During the four and half decades of communist rule, movie makers in the Soviet-built Kinostudio complex produced 232 fiction features, thousands of documentaries, newsreels and hundreds of animated films.

Though many of the films are crammed with Marxist propaganda, a number of these rarely seen motion pictures are worthy contributions to the canon of world cinema. Presented by filmmaker Iris Elezi, the recently named director of Albania’s national film archive, IMAGES FROM THE SIEGE: ALBANIA’S FORGOTTEN CINEMA offers up a selection of Kinostudio landmarks. Though Albanian audiences continue to watch these films endlessly played on television, virtually none of these works have been screened outside Albania. Iris Elezi, along with directors Thomas Logoreci and Fatmir Koci, will be on hand to offer historical insight into these images from Europe’s most forgotten survivors.

Prints and DCP’s courtesy of the Central State Film Archive of Albania, the United States Library of Congress, Ska-ndal Productions and Donika Bardha.

Program Notes:

KAPEDANI (The Patriarch) (1972)

b/w, 95 min. (35mm)
Director: Muharrem Fejzo, Fehmi Oshafi
Screenplay: Skënder Plasari
Camera: Ilia Terpini
Music: Tasim Oshafi
Cast: Albert Vërria, Nikolin Xhoja, Zagorka Shuke, Flora Mërtiri, Robert Ndrenika

No one has ever been able to explain why the Albanian dictatorship allowed a degree of artistic freedom from 1968 to 1973. But out of this brief glimmer of creative expression came the joyously comic KAPEDANI (The Patriarch). An aging partisan is driven half-mad after he travels from his village to the capital city attempting to comprehend the advances of women made under socialism. The ebullient KAPEDANI is filled with many stylistic and thematic devices uncommon to Albania’s stringent brand of socialist realism cinema. A year after it was released, this artistic permissiveness came to an abrupt halt. The dazzling promise of KAPEDANI was over.

RRUGË TË BARDHA / WHITE PATHS (1974)

color, 81 min. (35mm)
Director: Viktor Gjika
Screenplay: Vath Koreshi
Camera: Lionel Konomi
Music: Limoz Disdari
Cast: Rikard Ljarja, Elida Cangonji, Ilia Shyti, Robert Ndrenika, Minella Borova, Agim Qirjaqi

Legend has it that in the midst of the communist regime’s anti-religious drive, Viktor Gjika and screenwriter Vath Koreshi subtly wove a religious metaphor in this story of a heroic telephone repairman who sacrifices his life to restore communication to an isolated village. Four decades after its release, this much beloved drama features actor and director Rikard Ljara’s most memorable performance and was Albania’s first color fiction film.

TOMKA DHE SHOKËT E TIJ / TOMKA AND HIS FRIENDS (1977)

b/w, 74 min. (DCP) (courtesy of the US Library of Congress, the Albanian Cinema Project and Ska-ndal Productions)
Director: Xhanfize Keko
Screenplay: Nasho Jorgaqi
Camera: Faruk Basha
Music: Aleksandër Lalo
Cast: Enea Zhegu, Herion Mustafaraj, Artan Puto, Genc Mosho

Despite tight censorship control, Kinostudio editor-turned-director, Xhanfize Keko, utilized the genre of children’s films to express personal concerns not found in the work of her male contemporaries. Keko’s TOMKA DHE SHOKET R TIJ fully displays her remarkable ability to draw natural performances from her young actors, a group of boys who get revenge on the occupying German soldiers who have transformed their soccer field into a military camp.

NUSJA DHE SHTETRRETHIMI / THE BRIDE AND THE CURFEW (1978)

b/w, 54 min. (35mm)
Director: Ibrahim Muçaj, Kristaq Mitro
Screenplay: Elena Kadare
Camera: Bardhyl Martiniani
Music: Kujtim Laro
Cast: Kastriot Çaushi, Raimonda Bulku, Thimi Filipi, Llazi Serbo

From the founding of the Kinostudio in 1952, the majority of Albanian films dealt with the Communist victory over the occupying Germans during the Second World War. Even after leader Enver Hoxha died in 1985, Albanian motion pictures continued to recycle this struggle often to ridiculous lengths. With a script by Elena Kadare, the wife of Albania’s famed novelist, Ismail Kadare, NUSJA DHE SHTETRRETHIMI is an striking exception. A guerilla fighter tries to escape her besieged fortress town after she assassinates a fascist official. After the town is surrounded by the Germans, the fighter joins a local wedding, disguising herself as a traditional bride. Directors Mucaj and Mitro collaborated on ten features but this film and another war tale, DIMRI I FUNDIT (The Last Winter) are their best - spare, economic black and white images that, in passages, recall Robert Bresson’s A MAN ESCSPED.

LUMI QË NUK SHTERON / THE RIVER THAT NEVER DIES (AKA BALLAD THROUGH BULLETS) (1989)


b/w, 41 min. (35mm)
Director: Fatmir Koçi, Flamur Koçi
Screenplay: Petrit Ruka
Camera: Frederik Ivanaj
Music: Dhimiter Lazri
Cast: Suela Konjari, Gjergj Lala, Myzafer Zifla, Sofia Meçi

A decade before winning the Thessaloniki film fest with his groundbreaking TIRANA YEAR ZERO, Fatmir Koçi made this haunting drama set in the final days of the Second World War. A partisan unit wanders through the brutal desolation of a rural village as the communists and Germans fight for control. Koçi creates a hypnotic atmosphere accentuated by the memorable performances of three elderly widows who quietly follow behind the chaos and destruction. After completing the film, Fatmir Koci was called up by a Kinostudio committee led by veteran director Viktor Gjika, the head of all Albanian film production. It seems the communist powers were dissatisfied that Koçi had not killed enough Germans in the black and white film. Koçi was instructed to go back and reshoot more enemy dead and to make the partisans more obviously heroic. However, the meeting took place in the days after the fall of the Berlin Wall and shortly before the death of Nicolae Ceausescu. Koçi chose to ignore Gjika’s edict and LUMI QE NUK SHTERON was released as the director originally intended.

TOKA E SHQIPONJAVE / LAND OF THE EAGLES (2007)

b/w and color, 99min. (35mm)
Producer: Donika Bardha
Director: Fatmir Koçi
Screenplay: Ismail Kadare

Director Fatmir Koçi and producer Donika Bardha gained unprecedented access to thousands of hours of film footage from the vaults of Albania’s national film archive. LAND OF THE EAGLES is an extraordinary doc look into a century of turbulent Albanian history – the hundred or so years from the collapse of the Ottoman Empire to the collapse of the Communist system. The film’s highlight, the decades of absolute rule under Enver Hoxha, is a sometimes shocking compendium of show trials, religious persecution and totalitarian absurdity, dutifully captured by the Kinostudio’s craftspeople. Underlining this eye-opening material is the telling essay narration written by Albania’s Nobel-nominated novelist Ismail Kadare.

BOTA (2014)

color, 100 min. (DCP)
Director: Iris Elezi, Thomas Logoreci
Screenplay: Iris Elezi, Thomas Logoreci
Camera: Ramiro Civita
Editor: Walter Fasano
Cast: Artur Gorishti, Flonja Kodheli, Fjoralba Kryemadhi, Tinka Kurti, Alban Ukaj

BOTA (Albanian for ‘the world’) revolves around an isolated café located at the edge of a swamp. It is the site of a triangle drama moving from present-day Albania to its dark Communist past. To this forgotten area, entire families were banished who were deemed non grata by the old regime and the swamp itself hides historic horrors. Juli, a waitress, is taking care of her dementia-stricken grandmother, who no longer knows who Juli is, confuses her with Juli’s mother Alba who mysteriously disappeared during the dictatorship. Beni, the café owner, dreams of better days with the motorway being built nearby, but is entangled in a romantic affair with his assistant Nora. Delicate and visually striking, BOTA was called ‘the best film of 2015’ by American master Monte Hellman.


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