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26 Sep 12

Travelling Film Festival Challenges Balkan Barriers

A group of activists armed with dozens of short films by young filmmakers have taken their show on the road for the third year, in an effort to build bridges between peoples in the Balkans.

Besar Likmeta
BIRN Tirana
Poster of the 2012 Balkans Beyond Borders Film Festival

After Belgrade and Athens, Tirana last weekend hosted the third edition of the Balkans Beyond Borders film festival.

Over 30 short films, centered on the topic of multilingualism and communication, were shown to a young audience at the Tirana Express Cultural Centre.

All the films selected were shot by young filmmakers under the age of 30, from the Balkan region and beyond.

This year the Belgian short fictional offering Budapest Backwards, a movie about two lovers that looks back to where their relationship took off and where it started going wrong, won first prize.

In the awards ceremony the organizers announced that the public’s favourite was the Albanian short movie Beyond the River, directed by Sabir Kanaqi.

Taking into consideration the quality of this year’s shorts at the festival, the jury gave special mentions to three other movies.

These were A Day of Clear Weather, a documentary directed by Odeta Cunaj and Alketa Ramaj from Albania, RF, directed by Stavros Liokalos from Greece, and Scrap Materials, a documentary by Stefan Ivancic from Serbia.

Stepan Altrichter, a Czech filmmaker based in Germany who selected the movies for the festival, says that although film now competes with TV, internet and video games as a mass communication medium, it has still an unparalleled ability to bring people together.

“In the selection process we were not looking for big art pieces but for short films that are thematic about the Balkans,” he said.

“Here you can find something made with a very cheap mobile camera or a very professional short film, but still you don’t know where it takes you,” he added.

The festival, which travels each year to a different city in the Balkans and is dedicated to encouraging young filmmakers to express themselves on issues relevant to their region, is the brainchild of six young professionals from five different Southeast European countries.

Adela Demetja, an Albanian curator and the art director of the festival, recalls that the idea behind the festival was launched more than three years ago, when its founders were brainstorming on how to engage young people in the region to break down stereotypes.

“Other festivals in the region are more famous… but they are difficult for young filmmakers to reach, and we knew from the beginning that we wanted to do something for young filmmakers,” Demetja said.

People involved in filmmaking in the region often complained of a lack of communication and collaboration, she added.

“So we thought of building an organization based on film as a tool to communicate and to bring people together,” she continued.

Starting from scratch was not easy, with festivals already established in the region and with most of the organizers coming from backgrounds as diverse as art and international relations, with little or no experience with the film world.  

“Although we come from different backgrounds, we are very involved in this [project] and like the idea of bringing people together to express themselves,” Veroniki Krikoni, who works for an Athens based think-tank, said.  

“We are trying to grow from festival to festival, drawing inspiration from the people that come to us and participate with their films,” she added.

Demetja says the Balkan region is well known for its culture, traditions and multilingualism, but remains burdened by stereotypes and by cultural and political boundaries.

“When we showed the films made in Tirana in Athens, everyone was surprised because very few people [there] know what the country looks like, how the people look and what problems they face, and they [now] have a completely different view of it,” Demetja recalls.  
“The riots that happened in Athens could also be seen on the news, but what you get from filmmakers is completely different, it’s something more human and personal,” she added.

Vasiliki Maltasoglou, the festival’s communication manager, agrees that the Balkans is still divided by borders, not only separating countries but also ethnicities.

“You cannot break down these borders if you don’t understand who you are,” she said, “but through the work of filmmakers people can see the truth, as they tell us a lot about our history and our neighbours.

“Once we understand this not only about ourselves but also for the others, then we have a chance to move one step further,” she concluded.

This article is funded under the BICCED project, supported by the Swiss Cultural Programme.

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