The international success of Kosovar cinematography in the last two decades cannot be separated from DokuFest and the contribution this festival has given to the building up and education of young filmmakers in the country.
And it is precisely the young Kosovar directors who are pushing the great wave of Balkan cinema, which annually wins awards and festivals around the world. Young directors such as Norika Sefa and Leart Rama, who have already established themselves as successful filmmakers with an international presence.
One of the first students of DokuFest, Norika Sefa, won an award in Rotterdam in 2021 with her first feature film "In Search of Venus".
Leart Rama participated in the DokuFest program "Cinema Cabaret" in 2014. He showed his talent when he was only 15 years old. As a young man from Rahovec, he managed to shoot two films in one year, in the DokuLab program "Future is Here" and now shares his experience with the new generation.
"Actually, I didn't start from beginning at the Documentary Film school, it was the year 2014, a workshop enabled by DokuFest. It is about a global, online platform called "Kino Cabaret" where people from all over the world register, and those admitted have to make a film in a very short time. I applied to this workshop although I had no idea what the word director meant. When I came, I didn't know anyone and I was the youngest," says Rama.
His first film went beyond the borders of Kosovo.
"The film I made at the age of 15, with the participation of the actress Fioralba Kryemadhi, participated in a film festival in New York and then directly in the Toronto Film Festival (TIFF). Following this success, the director of DokuLab, Eroll Bilibani, invited me to be part of the documentary film school and I decided that I will dedicate my whole life to film. DokuFest is my second family, I grew up here since I was 15 years old, and every year I have advanced because of DokuFest, in the way I see life, the way I watch movies, the way I dream. All this is due to DokuFest and the people behind it," tells the young director.
DokuFest is not just a festival, for 10 years now this cultural organization has also had a section with educational programs, where online learning resources that explain complex issues for school-age children and promote social development are developed. The aim of the organizers is to make the film an accessible asset for a wide audience, as well as to include it in education.
"10 years ago, we saw the lack of local production of local stories that are reflected in creative films, and the lack of documentary film in Kosovo has pushed us to start thinking about how we can create different workshop modules, where we can encourage young people to follow master classes, various workshops and be monitored by our lecturers, so that they can tell their stories, creating for students the comfort of a safe space where they can express themselves without being judged and also a space for artistic expression'' says Eroll Bilibani, director of DokuLab, and continues: "In this case the Pandemic fortunately had a positive aspect as there was enough time for the team to re-think a program which would be the most accessible by all the schools. Within the digital library, thanks to the DokuLab program, all DokuFest films can be seen by everyone even outside the territory of Kosovo, with the basic principle of DokuFest: Knowledge should be open and accessible to everyone!"
Dokufest aims to change society in Kosovo for the better, and for this reason, Eroll Bilibani says that DokuLab deals with current issues in Kosovo, such as gender equality, climate change and human rights.
"Our goal is not to push directly to have directors right away, our goal is to tell our local stories, to show the concerns of young people in an artistic way, if they then decide to continue with film, then we will stand by them. Seeing that we were lucky enough to have very promising talents like the case of Norika Sefa, Leart Rama, if every year we had such talents, then this is a success for us".
According to Bilibani, the DokuLab program in education has three directions, from education about film, and film as a form of education, to the distribution of film through traveling cinema, that is, where there is no access to alternative film programs.
"Our role as DokuFest is how students can have our support in mentoring and how to help them have access to successful international filmmakers who can teach them several different aspects of filmmaking. One element of the "Future is Here" school is that they have a lecture on research, and learn from people who have researched, for example Dea Gjinovci, the author of the films "SANS LE KOSOVO" and "WAKE UP ON MARS" before starting shooting her films she has researched for 2-3 years and she shows how important it is to research in film. Then we have the part of ethics in film, since in documentaries the filmmakers are often faced with ethical issues. Should we shoot them? Should we not? So we also teach them about ethical issues, we teach them about editing, we teach them about sound, about music in film, about photography in documentary film, these are taught by Samir Karahoda, Samir Luma who was the director of photography of "Honeyland", nominated for the Oscars. So we always try to bring the best ones to lecture them, then there is me, Blerta Zeqiri, and Leart Rama.
Leart is now mentor to the new generations and now a circle is created which is quite fruitful because we adults don't talk to them anymore but there is someone who was their age, who made a film and became a successful filmmaker and now he shares his experience with them. This is the reason why as DokuFest, we want to develop the transfer of knowledge", he concludes.
A selection of films produced through filmmaking workshops in Kosovo, North Macedonia and Serbia, such as Future is Here X, Stories from the Region and Youth Film Camp will be screened during DokuFest. On Tuesday evening from 8pm Kino Lumi will host films from Youth Film Camp and Future is Here X. Films within Stories from the Region will be screened on Wednesday at 12 in Kino Klubi.
By Pediona Dautaj