DokuTalks tackled the need to have closure and a better understanding of the conflictual past. Blerta Basholli, Jeton Neziraj, Marija Ristic and Bekim Balaj held a truthful public talk reflecting on how they have portrayed bits and pieces of the past in their work. Discussing the ability to have artistic freedom and the liberty to discuss openly difficult themes which still feel like open wounds, seems to be a necessary discussion raising the stakes of any cultural medium, journalism, and activism.
Bekim Balaj, the moderator of this event expressed how his work as an activist for transitional justice is a solid contribution to deal with the past in terms of building policies. He asked the journalist Marija Ristic, about her documentary ‘The Unidentified’, a project aiming to map mass graves and taking to perpetrators and victims’, years after the 1999’s war.
Ristić said: “We did this project as a multimedia page on the largest mass graves in former Yugoslavia. The idea basically behind that because we speak a lot in politicized terms around dealing in the past. Our idea was born in Bosnia because we were trying to find one mass grave for the documentary we were doing and then we realised that only people who work in the Institute of Missing Person or the International Tribunal of ex-Yugoslavia know where the exact location is. We thought why we do not try to map all the mass graves in former Yugoslavia, and we have been talking about this topic for years and still we did not have an idea that there are 1,600 mass graves. Then we started to work with the largest mass grave, we mapped 60 of them”.
When asked about the reception of the documentary Ristić had this to say: “I think it did have an impact in terms of the people that it reached out. My basic idea behind it was to affect the prosecution side because I was following the trial. The reason I did it was to share with everyone to know about this story. Everyone needs to know about the situation in Kosovo.”
Part of this multidisciplinary talk was also Jeton Neziraj, a playwright, whose work in theatre always sparks debates and aids in having a direct approach to delicate matters. His view on the need to speak truth to power through theatre is an impactful and courageous way to stand the ground on matters of dealing with the past. His most notorious works related to this topic like “The Return of Karl May” and “In Five Seasons: An Enemy of the People” have stirred conversations regarding politics, the guts to remain impartial and fair in tense times and denouncing corruption.
“To briefly explain my approach to theatre. There are artist plots who prefer to choose a comfortable position and this and it enables them not to get involved in these sensitive political themes of society that happened for various reasons because they do not want trouble, and often because these themes are dangerous or have been of land for a period and deal with the subject of other justice”, says Neziraj.
Then Neziraj explained his views on how an artist with a political stand can have their say no matter what.
“It is an aesthetic and ethical choice to remain impartial because that is how they follow a line that is dominant to seek and follow the government in power. In some cases, these artists do not believe in the notion of political art. According to them, if the theatre deals with current problems, it becomes a kind of political pamphlet. By thinking like this, they reduce the purpose of theatere. I belong to the other side of artists that are not few. I appreciate this kind of theatre because it causes commotion and people are confronted everyday with problems and why not show this in theatre. There have often been backsplashes and people might have felt frustrated. Theatre aspires to change but is different from activism because theatre wants to make change for a long term. And this is the moment to heal these painful wounds. And theatre can help do just that”, expresses furthermore Neziraj.
Blerta Basholli, a renown Kosovar director, spoke about her experience while shooting ‘Hive’, the movie, which won several prizes at Sundance, explains more her perspective on the matter.
“Some of my future projects have to do with our past and present because they are things that interest me, motivate me to work and I am honest while I work with these kinds of projects because I have gone through these things. You do not have to experience these things, but that’s how it works. It’s a lot easier for me to relate to something I’ve been through, and I hope to make other films about things I have never experienced, but I believe I relate to the same things I did. It all depends on why you make art and what is your motivation as an artist to make a kind of art”, says Basholli.
Having different sets of view of dealing with the past only makes it easier and more manageable to tackle this topic. Most people after the war periods in the Balkans still cope with loss. Missing loved ones. Never finding them. While this talk went to its end with proposing a more open and generative discourse while stressing the need of many parties to partake in this process to tell the truth and make peace with the past.
Right after this talk, at Shani Efendi was shown a project done in collaboration with DokuFest and Slobodna Zona, supported by the EU, named “How do I see You?”
The audience got to see open conversations of youngster’s form Kosovo and Serbia on how they perceive each other. This visual representation of people who have different set of narratives build up culturally and historically in their mindset face each other while trying to understand how they will proceed in the future.
This presentation was a perfect extension to the previous talk assembling the ideas that opening wound all over to heal them completely not only takes time, but firstly it takes effort and will to accept one another.