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Exclusive interview with EAVE graduates Valon Bajgora and Besnik Krapi

About the small film industry in Kosovo and the recent big success in festivals

Films from Kosovo have been very successful lately with Hive by Blerta Basholli harvesting three main prizes at Sundance and Looking For Venera by Norika Sefa sharing the Special Jury Award in the Tiger Competition at Rotterdam or with Visar Morina’s Exile. What are the reasons for this success?

BK: This is something that we have been talking a lot about lately and trying to analyse it. And I think that one of the reasons is, that these new filmmakers love cinema, they love film. We are a small industry with micro-low budgets, but still we are making such successful films. It’s really about loving and being dedicated to our work, as well as having a good education and talent. Looking back 2-3 years and having 6-7 films directed by female directors from Kosovo at A-festivals, as well as some films by male directors, it is just amazing. That’s why I think that love and passion are the reasons for our success.

 

How would you describe the situation for the filmmakers in Kosovo?

BK: It has been a very important decade, this last one, because after having changed the board and the head of the film centre, we made many steps forward. (NB: EAVE graduate) Arben Zharku as Director of the Kosovo Cinematography Centre has introduced a scheme to support co-productions, which we didn’t have before. He also introduced a support scheme for education, so that our filmmakers could start attending workshops abroad, like EAVE, which I could attend in 2017 due to this support, and also MAIA Workshops, FAMU, etc. I think this was the biggest step in our education. This has helped the knowledge of filmmaking and the talent from Kosovo to rise very fast. But on the other hand we are facing a bad situation in the industry. With the success we had, we should be able to raise the number of co-productions, but we don’t have tax incentives or a cinema network, which is the biggest challenge we have. What keeps us going is the love and passion of our directors, and the support of our film centre, but eventually people would also need some stability. We need a lot of investment from the government and the attention from the parliament, so it would be important to work on the tax incentives law.

 

How do you manage to finance films in Kosovo?

BK: Our main financier is the Kosovo Cinematography Centre. We also have some smaller financing sources such as municipalities and private sources. Due to Kosovo’s political situation, not being recognised by 6 EU countries, Kosovo is not part of Eurimages and MEDIA Programme, which creates many challenges for us. But we co-produce a lot on the regional level; we have minority co-productions with Albania, North Macedonia and Montenegro. Co-productions between Kosovo and North Macedonia are very usual. When you get funding in Kosovo, it’s quite usual to get it in Albania and North Macedonia.

VB: We are very creative how we finance our films. Kosovo has only 3 co-production treaties with North Macedonia, Albania and Turkey, which was ratified only a month ago. Our project Hive is the first official co-production with Switzerland (NB: with EAVE+ graduate Britta Rindelaub). We have managed to do this through two other partners who are part of the European Cultural Convention, and therefore we could be part of the official co-production as a third partner.

 

Do you think you will have more co-productions with Switzerland, or Germany?

VB: Actually, we did a co-production with Germany last year with Exile by Visar Morina. The film premiered at Sundance and was shown in the Panorama section of last year’s Berlinale. The co-production with Germany was difficult mostly due to the German policy of how to spend money for a co-production. It was a bit easier with Switzerland because they have a different policy. Also, there is a diaspora from Kosovo in Switzerland, so a lot of actors and crew members could be counted as Swiss expenses. On the project Hive the Swiss TV has joined as a co-producer. We are now shooting our new project with Switzerland, The Land Within Me by Fisnik Maxhuni, which will be shot in Kosovo. So now a co-production between Kosovo and Switzerland has started to be more common, because of the workflow and the diaspora. The market potential in Switzerland is also much bigger than in Kosovo.

 

HIVE © Ikone-Studio, Industria Film, Alva Film Production, photo: Alex Bloom

 

How is it to co-produce with Germany?

VB: The market is almost the same, but it’s difficult to co-produce with Germany. It’s hard because we are not part of the European Cultural Convention, so we have to find other ways. In Germany, you can apply for regional film funds and our German co-producer will apply for one of our projects, but you have to have TV involved. We have different problems from our European colleagues, but one of the sentences of my professor is that for the Balkan producers the following applies: “Give me a problem and I’ll find you a solution”.

 

Which role does EAVE play for you in Kosovo?

VB: For me EAVE has opened my eyes to be able to co-produce with Europe and helped me to understand the opportunities of working with European partners. Normally we are co-producing with our region, and at EAVE I learned the ways and the possibilities of how to co-produce with other European countries. At EAVE we have been developing our project Silence of Sirens and we have learned how important it is to focus on the development of the project. We understood how important it is to go to a workshop and to work with a scrip consultant, and within your group you can open your project to an international audience, your B2B audience. Working with my EAVE group has opened many doors and opportunities, and I have now different tools in my hands to be a better producer.   

I participated at EAVE thanks to a scholarship funded by the German regional fund MDM (Mitteldeutsche Medienförderung). The generous financial contribution of MDM to my participation has provided me the occasion to be part of this program, without which I couldn’t have access to. Continuation of this fund will enable future producers like me to become part of the European film producing community.

On my new project that I’m co-producing we’ve had different difficulties in the financing and pre-production phase, but this time I could call my EAVE colleagues and my group leader and the other group leaders to ask them for advice. Their support is my new tool, especially since I’m coming from such a small market. We have now signed the contract with a sales agent – an opportunity we didn’t have before. I called my group leader Diana Elbaum and she advised me what to do and explained what I need to be careful about when signing an agreement with a sales agent. She really helped me. I think that being part of EAVE is like being a part of a big family. When you need some advice, you can call someone who will listen to you and give you a good advice, and this makes me as a producer much more confident when going to the market. Now I have EAVE tools and I’m using them, so EAVE has really helped me a lot. It also helped my project a lot because it has put my project on a map. Now I can work with different sales agents and distributors. And EAVE has put me as a producer on a map as well. It gave me the backup of having experienced producers as colleagues who are there when I need some advice. 

 

What do you say Besnik? What role has EAVE played for you?

BK: I agree with what Valon has said. Workshops like EAVE are very important for producers coming from such a small industry as Kosovo, because we can get a lot of knowledge. Besides that, you become a part of the EAVE network, and as a producer you need a network. Most beautiful thing in EAVE is, because they have a very tough selection, that you are selected among 50 producers who become a part of your network. As I was saying, the most important thing is the network - the people that EAVE chooses and their collaboration. As Valon said, you can call your EAVE colleagues anytime.

 

LOOKING FOR VENERA © Circle Production

 

Which challenges did your films have to face during the process from the idea to being shown in Rotterdam or Sundance? Which steps did you have to take with your films?

BK: I think the challenges and the struggles are the same for all filmmakers from Kosovo. The most difficult thing is to finance films. You can find yourself delivering DCP with a huge gap in financing. We would need to invest in Kosovo, so we don’t have to spend the most of our energy on financing films. Now the film industry knows that Kosovo has potential because of the success we had recently. But as I mentioned before, we don’t have treaties with many other countries, so if you want to co-produce, you are still facing troubles all the time. Of course, we are trying to make every stage of the production as everyone else does; we develop an idea into a script, hire a script consultant... but our struggle with the financing is the biggest issue in our productions.

 

Coming back to your films with women fighting for their rights in a patriarchal society, which is the topic of both of your films. Is this especially relevant in Kosovo and the Balkans? Why do you think is this topic very successful at the moment?

BK: There are a lot of productions that are dealing with the patriarchal topic. But in Looking For Venera, I don’t know if it’s exactly the patriarchal thing or it’s more life heritage, because it’s a thin line here. In some Kosovo families young people live the same way as their grandparents did who are 70 years old. Because there is some kind of moral code in a family, and you keep doing it. So sometimes it’s not a patriarchal thing, but some kind of life heritage, which we always have at the back of our head. It’s a topic in many productions, and it’s part of Balkan lifestyle and history.

VB: To be honest, in the past ten years all the good films that had success and that were recognised on the festivals and the international market, were made by women directors. And I’m very proud of that. Actually, they are better linked and they are fighting against the fact that they are not recognised by men as equals in our society. And I find that very inspiring for everyone. 

Page published 25 February 2021. Updated 1 March 2021.


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