The dream of a group of enthusiasts to revitalize the cinema in the old city by initiating a festival of documentary and short films not only is fulfilled, but 20 years later celebrates the undeniable influence on the local cinematography and its success internationally. Alongside its qualitative programming, for 20 years DokuFest, has not just inspired younger generations of filmmakers, but also has integrated films in the education system and has helped creating and producing films that have gained immediate recognition from the most renowned film festivals around world.
“If I talk about the success of Kosovar films lately, especially this year, I think that DokuFest’s influence is enormous. I do not know if I can imagine Kosovo without DokuFest, especially with this kind of success. Sometimes it seems illusive to try imagining it, because DokuFest has done a lot to promote film culture, filmmaking and making dreams come true for many youngsters who wanted to get involved in filmmaking and their materialization. DokuFest has brought a lot of films and filmmakers from all around the world, it has created a healthy environment to make films and to a certain point this success must be credited to DokuFest’’, says Veton Nurkollari, the artistic director of DokuFest. According to him, this 20 years long journey has been challenging and remains such to this day.
“We should not forget that we make happen a film festival, in a place where many things are absent, like the infrastructure, the organizational structure which makes events like this happen, a lot of voluntary work; a fair part of the festival happens thanks to volunteers who help, and without their energy, without their dedication, it would be hard to achieve this much. Often, it’s talked about a phenomenon such as DokuFest, how is it possible it can happen in a place where many components lack, in a place where to this day it is difficult to travel from, but on the other side many people come and they inspire others. Of course, it has been challenging, but it is also a pleasure to confront challenges and overcome them. This is one of the main motifs of DokuFest that no matter what kind of challenges we face, we have to go through it, and in a way this has motivated and pushed us forward,” he says.
Nurkollari adds that the quality of the program, created without compromises, has paved the path towards current success. “The quality of the program for a long time has helped us to step up to these kinds of achievements we are witnessing now. It’s more about the success of young filmmakers than of the festival, because in Prizren and DokuFest it has been possible for a long time, and it is still possible to watch almost the best productions of the time. There is one thing we haven’t compromised with, the quality of program. We work hard and invest a lot of time and the compilation of program is possible due to involvement of many people. Our program has been enriched step by step, it has been specified, structured and has become a trademark of this festival. Nowadays in Prizren, you can watch the best films made every year. Consequently, it inspires young filmmakers because they can get a real update on what’s new on the international film stage, which films are screened here, and in many cases thanks to this inspiration they make films and win important awards up to the Oscars. I cannot name where can someone get faster and better inspired then in DokuFest, of course if they aim to become filmmakers. But it is not just about filmmakers; because many ordinary people come to DokuFest just to see good films and new films. I think this is an added value to the program of the festival, which many people work hard for“, claims Nurkollari.
Samir Karahoda, the selector of short and national film programs acknowledges the influence of DokuFest during these past two decades as multidisciplinary.
"The impact is immediate on the current success of Kosovar cinemas well, because DokuFest was the institution that promoted Kosovar cinema in the first years after the war", says Karahoda, mentioning the partnerships and exchanges with festivals, film selectors and filmmakers from around the world. He recalls that in the first years of the festival there were no separate categories of films, and that the programs were introduced from the 5th edition, increasing the quality of both the national competition and the short film program. "In terms of short film there has been a gradual increase, and I can say that the whole program is one of the best, as this has been noted by film critics and selectors of other festivals, so we should be proud of it ", stresses Karahoda.
Recently, Karahoda's film "Pa Vend" had its world premiere at the Cannes Film Festival, which is also a great achievement of the local cinema. "I have been dealing with the selection of films for 20 years and I have seen anything from all over the world. This is also a completely different school, based on experience. This has influenced me to develop myself, to see different shapes, different styles from different countries and it has pushed me to do something that others have not done yet. I think that this has been an advantage to me, in terms of perception of the visual story, which has pushed me to become a director with a work concept completely different from the conventional one ", says Karahoda.
Whereas the head of DokuLab within DokuFest, Eroll Bilibani claims that bringing qualitative films and filmmakers over the years has influenced strengthening the film culture, which potential has been implemented by this organization.
“DokuFest in 2008 has started using film in schools, with the creation of several cinema clubs in some schools of Kosova, where film screenings and discussions were organized. After that, with the first project with the EU we saw the possibility to create the Documentary Film Factory - Stories from the margins of Kosova, where the first production took place in Kosova, where we had new participants, who have created films that have participated in various film festivals. With this program we saw our potential to influence young people to make films. This is how the idea for the Future is Here program was born, an idea of regional cooperation, which then was turned to the local level, where for 9 years now, after a training process students learn how to address social topics through creative documentary film ", says Bilibani.
According to him, the support of NED has helped in the establishment of the school for the creation of young talents, as well as the cooperation with 4 countries in the region, where the regional film school called Active has been established. "The combination of these two schools has produced many film talents, where I would pick out Norika Sefa and Leart Rama, who have been affirmed as successful filmmakers with an international presence." According to him, all this has increased the number of such workshops, in order to provide young people with the opportunity to address various social topics through film. "To date, over 130 films have been produced", he declares, while adding that the next step has been the connection of the film with the educational system, which has created the need for restructuring the organization.
"This is how our education department, DokuLab,was born, to use these films produced by students from Kosova in the educational process, where a series of trainings have been conducted for teachers on how to relate the film to the Kosova curricular framework, which has provided a new approach to improving the quality of education ", says Bilibani, mentioning the creation of the first digital library for teachers, where teachers have created didactic materials for films created by the DokuLab program, which will continue its activity with education on film and education through film, and the accreditation by the MEST will increase the focus on creating new generations of filmmakers. "This is because we have seen that the film is one of the best ambassadors for the promotion of our country. In recent years, it has been proven that this wave of young filmmakers from Kosova, brings some new social stories, but they just need a little courage and a little direction, which is enabled by our tutor Blerta Zeqiri together with our team ", claims Bilibani , while talking enthusiastically about the 6 films created this year, where 3 of them bring the topic of dealing with the past.
"Until today, as DokuFest, we have shown that we know how to program films, we know how to use film in education, but we also know how to make very good films", says Bilibani.
The artistic director, Veton Nurkollari continues to be optimistic for the further development of local cinematography, with the call for increased investment in film and culture.
"I do not know if this is the peak of our cinematography. I hope it isn't, and I hope it is just the foundation for more culminating achievements. But I also have my worries, seeing what has happened after the successes of similar small, new cinemas; which is maintaining the success and what the society needs to do to enable success' continuation. I think we can achieve even greater success, but at the same time there is a risk of rapid decline if we do not invest, or if we do not react for this success to be followed by other successes. If I compare it to judo, with Majlinda's success in Rio Olympics, there were also two extraordinary successes in Tokyo Olympics. But we know more or less how it came to this, that all that was invested was a small group of people and a great will. Film and culture need to be invested in, because successes in culture are an extraordinary promoter of this country. With a little investment, much can be achieved. But, I remain optimistic as in the past ", concludes Nurkollari.