By Valmir Mehmetaj/ Kosovo 2.0
Although the decade of the ’90s is a crucial part of Kosovo’s contemporary history, little has been documented or written about those years. Through their documentary “Drums of Resistance,” which had its world premiere at DokuFest on Monday, Mathieu Jouffre and K2.0 Editor-in-Chief Besa Luci illuminate elements of a period that has fundamentally shaped Kosovo.
Luci believes that the ’90s were filled with a spirit of solidarity and values that have shaped us as a society. “During that time [everyone] was trying to contribute, to give something in order to ensure a continuance of public life,” Luci told a DokuFest press conference before the launch of her film. “As I see it, it was especially stressed in the education system. People gave their houses, any kind of spaces they had only to ensure that the education would continue in some form.”
It is precisely recalling the parallel education system that Kosovar Albanians self-organized in the ’90s that forms the central theme of “Drums of Resistance.” No film can show the absolute truth, said Luci, and the film only brings one point of view, documenting a part of the ’90s in the hope of being followed by others.
“There is very little knowledge regarding this topic, be that inside Kosovo or internationally,” Luci explained. “The ’90s are limited to the period of ’97-’99, which are normally very important but there is a whole decade before that which needs to be documented and recalled more.”
French filmmaker Jouffre, Besa’s partner, is a French filmmaker who has been living in Kosovo for the past three years. He describes it as “weird” how little the younger generations know about that period of time. “The only memories they have is what they learned at school, like the war and NATO, and that’s it,” he tells K2.0. “But they don’t have any clue about Yugoslavia for example, and that for me is very interesting and also weird that we do not touch this [topic] yet.” He suggests that this movie is just one page that is waiting for people to fill it with contradictions and criticisms.
When Jouffre first came to Kosovo, he had some general knowledge about the war, but wanted to hear more about Kosovo’s history and where people are learning about it today. “Its really like the process of making a movie, you just observe and see around you,” he says. “It can be flags, statues, architecture and urbanism. For me as a cinematographer, I was asking Besa a lot of questions like, ‘Who is that?’ ‘What is this?’ ‘What is the meaning of that?’”
The idea for the documentary was conceived one day while walking with Luci around the center of Prishtina. “We were passing by a statue which is in the center of Prishtina, and I asked who is this guy and she said it’s a soldier, one of the UCK fighters,” he recalls. “But then she jumped on to other stories saying that there are a lot of other soldiers who fought during the ’90s in Kosovo, soldiers without uniforms, but we call them parallel soldiers. I asked her what she meant by that, ‘parallel soldiers.’ So then she explained this parallel system that existed through schools.”
This was enough to intrigue him into starting some research. “For me the starting point was Besa, she is a writer, my partner and she is involved with the movie and she had those archives,” he says. “Then as a starting point it was to make a collection of characters, topics, memories and to create this kind of mosaic.”
Then came the challenge of practical cinematography. What angle to take, the process of constructing this mosaic of events without being too dogmatic or historical. So they decided to tell the story from recounted memories through conversations held by different people.
“The movie in itself was a research process, a work in progress,” says Jouffre. “The whole story is told by people speaking [with each other], that’s why I say work in progress because we did not lead the interviews; we gave them some topic and it goes back and forth all the time.”
For Jouffre, when making an historical movie, it is important to do so from today’s perspective. So they started bringing together round tables, where people would have conversations with each other that delved into the memories of experiencing the repression and the parallel education.
“Those people they can have contradictions, not have the same memories, you know, to have a conversation that people really unveil really personal memories and facts,” says Jouffre.
“Drums of Resistance” also contains a range of valuable archive footage showing key moments of the repression that eventually led to the war in Kosovo, such as Milosevic’s infamous speech at Gazimestan in ’89, victims of mass school poisoning in ’90, Albanians being locked out of the schools in ’91 and student protesters being beaten by Serbian police in ’97. More personal home footage brings some light hearted moments: Luci is seen dancing at home to a Eurovision song with her best friend Nita, while one of the men in the film is seen being lightly reprimanded by his teacher as a young boy at a home school.
“[The] archives came out by themselves through people saying ‘yes I have videos,’ ‘I have old tapes,’ ‘I have this that I haven’t watched for years now,’” says Jouffre. “Or Besa had this small tape edit that a very good friend, neighbors at the time, gave her as a birthday present. It was this collection and then I needed to articulate it and put it in context.”
Part of the “Drums of Resistance”’s distinctive approach is the way in which music is interspersed throughout. Although the documentary is focused on the parallel education system, Jouffre says they wanted to also emphasize the underground cultural elements of the decade.
He called musician and friend Liburn Jupolli, who grew up in the ’90s, to try and musically transcribe those years. “I wanted to use him in the process as a mute character but also for him to share his feelings and memories that he has of this period,” says Jouffre. “But he doesn’t have the words to tell because he was not a protagonist in a way, since he was too young to understand what was going on. We used the music like that; to introduce chapters as well as to be this musical convoking of these memories.”
Kosovo may be frequently referred to as the youngest European country but Jouffre insists that history should not leap from the chapter of the Ottoman Empire to the contemporary history of the Kosovo war and its aftermath. There is a gap of half a century, he says, including the struggles to open the University of Prishtina in the ’70s, the mass protests of ’81 and the organization and resistance during the ’90s. All of these phenomena are crucial to understanding the point at which Kosovo is today, but are not being discussed or taught to the younger generations.
Kosovo 2.0 is DokuFest’s official media partner. This article is part of a series of pieces written during DokuFest 2016. Kosovo 2.0 is a print and online magazine bringing you voices unfettered and unafraid.