Focus: Kosovo

    The films by five Kosovar directors: Looking for Venera by Norika Sefa, The Marriage by Blerta Zeqiri, Hive by Blerta Basholli, Vera Dreams of the Sea by Kaltrina Krasniqi and The Hill Where Lionesses Roar by Luana Bajrami depict the lives of women in Kosovo: girls on the brink of womanhood, such as Venera, who want to go out on dates, rather than live the loveless lives of housewives like their mothers, young adults, Lena, Qe, Li and Jeta (The Hill Where Lionesses Roar) who take justice in an unjust society into their own hands, middle-aged women like the determined entrepreneur Fahrije (Hive), and older women, widows, mothers, grandmothers such as Vera who must fight for what should automatically belong to them. 

    If the first wave of Kosovar films that gained international visibility, most notably Three Windows and a Hanging and Father, drew its themes mainly from the Kosovo conflict of the late 1990s, these films’ heroines confront a particular (one and the same) problem: a patriarchal, misogynous and homophobic society. Older protagonists, like Vera or Fahrije, know what to expect from the society: that if, for example, they were to drive a car, even if through force of circumstances, they would provoke looks of astonishment at best and run into major problems at worst – and yet, they resolutely decide to violate unwritten social rules. Contrary to these protagonists, Venera and her slightly older peers (The Hill Where Lionesses Roar) have been raised in a digital society and, unlike their uptight and conservative families, have adopted a modern mindset, inhabiting a world that grants the freedom to explore your own sexuality and sexual orientation; but their bodies, as it turns out, are bound by the fetters of traditional social roles and, ultimately, trapped in a country virtually impossible to travel from without a visa. At first glance, Anita, an emancipated young woman living in Pristina, does not seem to have such problems – but the extremely heteronormative and homophobic society radically changes her life, even if indirectly. 

    How is it possible that in a country engendering such stories, the most successful films are made primarily by women? The director of The Marriage, Blerta Zeqiri, is the first woman to make a film in Kosovo – as late as in 2017. In an interview a year later, she stated that after the war Kosovar cinema had to develop from scratch. By way of illustration: the first film school opened just two decades ago; in 2010, the country had only one operating cinema, and one on the brink of survival at that, although almost every Kosovar town had a cinema before the war. When a film centre was established, “even the people who worked there didn't know how things worked. Now really great things are happening. The younger generation took the lead and is changing everything. The opportunity has been given to younger filmmakers. I always like to point out that, in recent years, the film centre has allocated around 50% of funds to women filmmakers,” she says.

    “As a second-class citizen, you have access to particular kinds of stories,” adds Kaltrina Krasniqi somewhat sardonically. Indeed – her subtly and proficiently directed film, Vera Dreams of the Sea, premiered in Venice, The Hill Where Lionesses Roar received its premiere at Cannes. Hive won three awards at Sundance and Looking for Venus an award in Rotterdam. Perhaps much of these films’ success lies in their being based on real-life stories of women – including the mothers of female directors or women as old as their mothers; women who have had to repeatedly fight for their basic freedoms, with varying success, in every step of their lives. The very making of these films proves that over the recent years Kosovar society has been undergoing a change – and, if nothing else, it is quite possible that the role these films have played in the process was at least a supporting one.

    Tina Poglajen