The first edition of the PriFilmFest in 2009 was opened by Hollywood legend Vanessa Redgrave with the type of glitz and glamour normally associated with the grandest cinematic soirées. What subsequently emerged over the next few days was an exciting feeling that something truly special had been realised in Kosovo. The slogan of the first festival was aptly, ‘the beginning’.
For a country which has historically borne the brunt of war and prolonged ethnic conflict, the festival is an important step towards stripping Kosovo of the connotations of tragedy. As the festival’s director Vjosa Berisha is keen to point out, ‘the best promotion of a country is through its culture’. Essentially, PriFilmFest is a chance to present the world with Kosovo’s new and inclusive international brand.
It’s not only overseas perceptions that the festival is concerned with. The cinematic watershed also looks to ignite cultural life on its home soil. One of the ways the festival and its organisers hope to achieve this is by developing local talent and enhancing the growth of the country’s own industry. However, as with the birth of any new nation this is not going to be accomplished overnight.
One of the main problems is the difficulty in promoting an industry which hardly exists. In the festival’s first year, only one feature film produced in Kosovo was able to be shown – Across the Road, directed by Yll Citaku. Indeed most of those films shown at the festival are international offerings, with the majority made up of films from surrounding Balkan and Eastern European countries. Snow and On the Path – both Bosnian endeavours – took home the Best Film gongs in 2009 and 2010 respectively.
It is clear that grass roots interest has to be built from the ground up. For one thing there are very few places in Kosovo that actually hold screenings on a regular basis. The city of Ferizaj (Uroševac) for example has a population of over 100,000 but not a single cinema. The country is also rife with pirated DVD’s which ultimately provide a much cheaper and more accessible alternative.
The PriFilmFest hopes to foster interest and help it grow. A similar event, Dokufest, held in the quaint town of Prizern – another cinemaless zone – is an example that shows enthusiasm is alive and well. Since 2002 Kosovo’s largest documentary, shorts, and animation festival has received impressive attendance figures and is gaining in numbers each year.
In terms of native feature films, progress is being made. In 2010 Donkey’s of the Border was the first Kosovo feature to pick up an award at the festival and also received recognition at the Festival of Eastern Europe in Paris in 2011. The film itself was made using a 250,000 Euro grant from the country’s only financial distributor for film, The Kosovo Cinematography Centre.
The Cinematography Centre’s annual budget of roughly 400,000 Euros makes it clearly evident that a number of obstacles halting the country’s cinematic creativity include a lack of resources and government support. It usually means the organisation only contributes one feature film each year. Former director of the body Artan Minarolli has pushed for a larger budget but also agrees with the PriFilmFest’s model that focus on past political troubles should be reduced; ‘almost all the movies made in Kosovo in the last twelve years have been about the war….we should look at other topics because the public needs change.’
PriFilmFest and Dokufest are events which catalyse and highlight the Kosovar industry’s potential as well as providing an essential cultural service to a public whose interest grows year on year. International cooperation and lobbying for increased funding appears crucial but so does a movement away from previous political material. The next step needs to see filmmakers capture a contemporary Kosovo through their camera lenses; and in doing so promote a new domestic identity that the both the Kosovar public and international audiences can find stimulating.