The Albanian Cinematheque Film Festival
RETROSPECTIVE OF AN UNKNOWN CINEMA:
I’m filmmaker Iris Elezi. In late 2017, I was named the director of the Albanian National Film Archive. For many years, this institution was regarded as nothing more than storage for my Eastern European nation’s total film heritage. Until I took the position, Albania still lacked a cinematheque and had only a few modest film festivals for its population of three million.
Even now, thirty years after the end of this closed, absolute society, we are still in a state of transition, struggling in many areas, especially culture. It is virtually impossible for young Albanian film artists to have access to restored classic films that play in major international film festivals.
In Albania, there is still precious little access to basic artistic inspiration – such as art galleries with revolving exhibits and cinemas that show classic and restored films. There is not even a proper library in the main art academy that teaches art and filmmaking. We believe that this paucity of resources is endemic has greatly contributed to the continual mass emigration of Albanian young people to areas outside of the country.
In the summer of 2018, with only three months notice, I was offered the opportunity to screen for one night a week in a very special screening space, right in the very heart of Albania’s capital city, Tirana. Here I was, atop the communist-era Soviet-designed Palace of Culture, having the rare chance to program films in a vast open air space using a wide, improvised movie screen. In a time when most Albanians are hot and dreaming of vacation, I decided to show an extensive program of every fiction film produced in my country from 1990 to 1999.
The 1990’s were an intense and unforgettable time in Albanian history. In 1991, the former communist regime collapsed. Democracy, capitalism, as well as chaos, civil unrest and war marked the next ten years of Albania’s journey. With the end of four decades of dictatorship, also brought to a close the state financing of the former socialist-era film studio. Filmmakers in this new era had to struggle to bring their visions to the big screen. Many directors were forced to use leftover or expired film stock. Many films made in Albania in the 1990’s took years to complete.
Every Tuesday for fifteen weeks, I screened the best of long and short fiction, documentary, and animation made in Albania during that tumultuous decade. All of these outdoor, rooftop movie programs were free. Even on opening night, or while football matches were happening, still the large rooftop was packed with many in the audience forced to stand as the number of seats were limited.
It gave me hope for the future of cinema since the majority of the audience were young men and women between the ages of 18 and 35, most of them born in the years that the films were made. In a way, there were seeing for the first time the films that captured the intense time of their early childhood, a time often marked by constant gunfire and dire poverty.
Before each screening, I would make an introduction with many of the film’s original directors, writers and performers sharing the microphone with me. After the film has been shown under the bright stars, an often emotional Q and A session followed. Perhaps the highlight of this memorable summer were the two weeks of hand-crafted animated works. Before computers took control of the medium in the 2000’s, a core group of Albanian animators, pure artists, created dozens of short films that had never been screened since their premieres two and a half decades earlier. One of the greatest of these animators, Stefan Taci, had given up the idea of anyone seeing his work at all. But with Taci and most of the animators in attendance, they watched as a surprised young generation looked up at the screen, enthralled at their work. During the showing of Stefan Taci’s thrilling, intricate collage titled ‘Kompozim’, many in the audience began to applaud before the film was even over. Even our culture minister gasped during Taci’s riot of colors, “It’s like Van Gogh!”
For that summer, I felt something unique about showing this chronicle of Albania’s forgotten images to our country’s cineastes and students who we need to be our next generation of expressive voices. We still have a long way to go. But I believe these screenings and the festival we propose will make a vital and necessary difference. For me, it is the main reason to pursue making this festival, which we are applying for support for, a reality.
I am filmmaker Iris Elezi. I'm not entirely sure how much you know about Albania but for half a century our country was an entirely isolated dictatorship. Even now, thirty years after the end of this closed, absolute society, we are still in a state of transition, struggling in many areas, especially culture.
I felt it was my duty to be trained by another European funded initiative: SOFA - School of Film Advancement, to develop and open Albania's very first cinematheque, screening national and international films for our country's cineastes and students who we need to be our next generation of expressive voices. We still have a long way to go. But I believe that our screenings in these past five years are making a difference.
We, the organizers of The ALBANIAN CINEMATHEQUE FILM FESTIVAL, are convinced of the relevance of this project in the location where it is to be set, the capital city of Albania, Tirana. Sadly, Albania is still one of the last countries in Europe without a regularly-working screening space where the national and international canon can be viewed by film enthusiasts. The concept behind the fest is to bring to Albanian audiences these major cinema releases shown exclusively in international festivals to an eager audience that do not have an access to see these films in any of my country's mainstream theaters.
Though there are a number of theatrical venues in the Albanian capital, the overwhelming majority show Hollywood blockbusters. We believe that this annual film event could help bring an understanding of classic European cinema by showing the most recent restorations as they were meant to be seen: on a big screen.
We also aim in our programming to focus a portion of the festival on past films that mirror the issues and concerns of our own time, be them historical and human rights docs and feature films. The organizers believe that an annual culture event such as this fest will bring a much-needed visual literacy in a country that has precious few repertory film screenings or festivals.
Albania has a very difficult and complicated history in relation to its cinema. These three decades since the collapse of the Communist system have seen an unfortunate emphasis on economic progression, while much of our cinema culture has been unfairly ignored. The cineastes and young aspiring filmmakers have few venues to see, much less study film.
As a result, Albania has lagged behind in creating a strong distinctive voice in the arena of world cinema. This coupled with the enormous isolation Albania underwent during the last century has left us lacking in having a viable filmmaking community. There’s a dire and urgent need for curated, qualitative screenings where in depth discussions, inspiring ideas and exchanges of expertise focusing on our shared European cinematic heritage, can occur.
Like many world-renowned moving image institutions such as the Netherlands EYE, the UK’s BFI, or the mobile San Francisco Cinematheque, I believe that this cinematic event can become the much needed platform through which, in a more modest scale, we can curate programming that will expand film education and exhibition, while also boosting audience development and choice.
That is why the ALBANIAN CINEMATHEQUE FILM FESTIVAL aims to develop innovative European partnerships to ensure the growth and success of the Albanian filmmakers through a series of master classes, training exchanges and Q & A screenings. We are convinced that this repertory film festival will be a vital foundation in the creation of a lasting film culture in Albania.
The ALBANIAN CINEMATHEQUE FILM FESTIVAL will be an annual showcase of the most recent national and international restorations and archival film discoveries, brought to all Albanian filmgoers after their premieres in prestigious film festivals like Berlinale, Cannes Classics and Sundance.
The focus of this yearly cultural event will be on both European fiction and documentary shorts and classic features, that imaginatively use repurposed footage, or have been restored to their original glory from the time of their first release. Special care will be made to find films that will appeal to Albanian audiences, but also that feature material from Albanian fiction and documentary.
TENTATIVE PROGRAMMING: For this first edition we intend to do a scaled-down version of what the festival will ultimately be: A showcase of the most recent national and international restorations and archival film discoveries. We intend to show five feature film presentations outdoors.
Our opening night will be a documentary titled TO THE MOON, a found footage non-fiction work. This is a special offering for Albania since it features segments from Albanian director Esat Musliu’s restored VITET E PRITJES. The doc, which premiered at Venice and Telluride, also features the poetry of the acclaimed Albanian writer Visar Zhiti who was imprisoned during Albania’s communist regime.
The second night will be a retrospective of Hungarian animation produced during the country’s communist dictatorship. Many of these highly imaginative films were subversive metaphors for the situation in Hungary including the Oscar-winning short THE FLY (1980). The third night will be a special screening of award-winning Ukrainian director Sergei Loznitsa’s STATE FUNERAL. This doc is an immersive experience of Joseph Stalin’s 1953 funeral carefully constructed from rare archival footage. Since Albania was a Stalinist country, we intend to open this film to a debate with human rights activists and historians.
The fourth night will feature the IL VARCO – ONCE MORE INTO THE BREACH, an imaginary war story constructed from archive footage loosely adapted from Second World War diaries on the Ukrainian front. IL VARCO was nominated for a European Academy Award. For this screening, we intend to invite David Walsh from Britain’s Imperial War Museum to discuss historical and ethical concerns in the use of found footage.
The final night of the screenings will feature several episodes from the latest documentary by Irish critic and cinema writer Mark Cousins. This doc titled WOMEN MAKE FILM: A NEW ROAD MOVIE THROUGH CINEMA gives a guided tour of the art and craft of movies as told by female filmmakers. This doc also features scenes from the work of the Albanian director Xhanfise Keko.
As you'll see below in our brief listing and description of the festival, we have tentatively five other films in mind, yet everything will depend on the funds we will be able to raise, since renting a DCP in Albania costs at minimum 900 euros per screening.
TARGET GROUP: Though we hope to appeal to a wide audience and cineastes of all ages, the chief target group for our project are men and women, 18 to 35. We especially feel the need to appeal to this specific group since it is virtually impossible for young Albanian film artists to have access to restored classic films that play exclusively in international film festivals.
In Albania, the young men and women in this age group have virtually no access to basic artistic inspiration – such as art galleries with revolving exhibits and cinemas that show classic and restored films. There is not even a proper library in the main art academy that teaches art and filmmaking. We believe that this paucity of resources is endemic and has led to the continual mass emigration of Albanian young people to areas outside of the country. For us it is the main reason to pursue making this festival a reality.
THE FUTURE for The ALBANIAN CINEMATHEQUE FILM FESTIVAL is to create a lasting, annual event. After our first 2022 edition, it is our intention to expand the screenings and theatrical venues. We are convinced that in the following years we can receive support from the Tirana Municipality and the Albanian Ministry of Culture. We are also certain that our ties to the non-fiction world re-known film fest, DOKUFEST, will be a positive step in that direction. Lastly, we are optimistic that our numerous contacts in European archives, cinematheques and film museums will also guarantee support and partnerships.
*As we are most concerned about the continuation of the COVID-19 epidemic worldwide and in Albania, the first edition will be held entirely outdoors.
** TENTATIVE FILM LISTING:
• TO THE MOON (2020) – Found footage documentary featuring segments from Esat Musliu’s restored 1989 VITET E PRITJES and the poetry of acclaimed Albanian writer Visar Zhiti. Premiered at Venice and Telluride Film Festival - 2020.
• BEST OF HUNGARIAN ANIMATION – Selection of thirty years of acclaimed artistic animated films including the Oscar winning short THE FLY (1980). GUEST: Director of the Hungarian Film Archive, György Ráduly.
• STATE FUNERAL (2019) - An immersive experience of Joseph Stalin’s 1953 funeral carefully constructed from rare archival footage. Screened at Toronto, New York Film Festival and Dokufest, 2020.
• IL VARCO – ONCE MORE INTO THE BREACH (2019) – An imaginary war story constructed from archive footage loosely adapted from Second World War diaries on the Ukrainian front.
• WOMEN MAKE FILM: A NEW ROAD MOVIE THROUGH CINEMA (2018) Irish critic and cinema writer Mark Cousins gives a guided tour of the art and craft of movies as told by female filmmakers. Features movie clips from Albanian director Xhanfise Keko. Premiered at the Venice Film Festival, 2019.
*** FILM SCREENINGS IN A SECOND VENUE (depending on the funds raised)
• WAR REQUIEM (1979) – Restoration of radical filmmaker Derek Jarman’s anti-war drama starring Laurence Olivier.
• LIBAHUNT (1968) - Restoration of the Estonian masterpiece by woman filmmaker, Leida Laius. GUEST: Director of the Estonian Film Archive, Eva Näripea
• REPULSION (1965) – Remastering of Roman Polanski’s classic thriller.
• FACE TO FACE (1967) – Remastering of widescreen Italian western starring Gian Maria Volonte.
• LORD OF THE FLIES (1962) – Restoration of theater director Peter Brooks famed adaptation of William Golding’s novel.
TEAM: The team will be made up of filmmakers Iris Elezi and Thomas Logoreci. Former director of the Albanian Film Archive and FIAF's Executive Committee, filmmaker Iris Elezi studied film criticism, anthropology, and women's studies before completing motion picture production studies at NYU in 2001. Iris Elezi founded the Albanian Cinematheque in 2016 while her debut film, BOTA, garnered eighteen international awards and represented Albania at the 2016 Academy Awards. // Thomas Logoreci is a cinema writer and film festival programmer and selector. During the last decade and a half, Logoreci has been a cinema writer and film festival programmer and selector. Thomas has programmed for Albania’s Tirana International Film Festival and been a selector for the Sheffield and Dokufest film festivals. Both Iris Elezi and Thomas Logoreci have been the driving forces behind the Albanian Cinema Project, an initiative of international scholars, archivists and filmmakers who are dedicated to rescuing Albania’s endangered film heritage. The main activity of the Tirana Kinema Festival is to curate and then exhibit the selections for the intended audience. Both Iris Elezi and Thomas Logoreci have years of film festival experience, everything from curation, selection, obtaining rights, subtitling and catalog preparation for the highly-successful Dokufest and the International Human Rights Film Festival Albania (IHRFFA).
For additional viewing, here's the link of an essay film by the well-known Irish critic, Mark Cousins, about our ongoing fight to protect Albania's film heritage:
HERE BE DRAGONS https://vimeo.com/132278593 Password: cousinsdragons
I believe that the definition of European cultural heritage relates to the continent's large and varied mixture of artistic expressions and genres from centuries past to the present day. I am convinced that our proposal for the Albanian Cinematheque Film Festival encompasses this definition. Our Albanian festival will link with key European events and movements in that our film programs and guests will necessitate building relationships with other European cinematheques, museums, archives and alternative screening venues. In my capacity as the director of the Albanian National Film Archive, I programmed several screenings during the European Heritage Days including a selection of Macedonian restored feature films in 2019. Our European cooperation also included co-writing Irish critic, filmmaker Mark Cousins' acclaimed essay doc about Albania titled 'Here Be Dragons' - Link provided for your viewing pleasure. Furthermore, in 2021, we presented a restored Albanian film 'Vdekja e Kalit' (The Death of a Horse) (1992) through the Association of European Cinematheques (Association des Cinémathèques Européennes – ACE) as part of its 'A Season of Classic Films' series. Please see the link I prepared on this momentous occasion for our humble cinema and digitization efforts, also to have a flavour of the thorough work we do: