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Dokufest or: “Mr Love Showed Up too”

At the jury deliberation on Thursday which I shared with Doug Block, AJ Schnack, Pamela Cohn, Adriatrik Kelmendi, Editor in Chief from Kosovo National TV, we remarked on what a considered and excellent programme it had been, and how lucky we felt to be part of Dokufest’s 9th edition. After a long discussion about the short and feature award for best international documentary, we celebrated (secretly) the decision until the early hours with local raki, peja (beer) and cheese gondolas. When it was getting light (it seems the bars simply remain open until the last person leaves), Pamela and I explored some other areas of Prizren with our stills cameras, among stray dogs and ghostly, battered shop mannequins.

Kosovo mannequins are different

As the festival drew to a close we were reflecting on why this festival is so special. Mike Palmieri summed it up perfectly: not only is Veton Nurkollari a smart programmer bringing a distinguished calibre of films together in an unlikely setting; somehow he has a remarkable talent in curating the people who attend (and volunteer for) the festival, too. The generous daily group dinners and parties come with warm hospitality, no pretentiousness nor any big industry focus. Dokufest is a fest where you can just “come as you are”, watch great films within the old stone walls of Prizren, and end your night with Albanian rock such as Jericho; gypsy music, or techno. We all concurred that rarely do we get to the end of one festival week and not be ready to go home. We all wanted to stay!

We met a waiter in a local restaurant who introduced himself as [Ashkan] – translated as “my love”. From then on he and his restaurant Besimi in the market square was known as Mr Love’s and contributed to our charmed existence this week… of omlettes, doners and immaculate macchiatos. And how fitting is, by the way, the fact that “doku” means “show up”?

mannequin after a heavy night

The evening screenings were always open air. One screen is literally in the river, and people can buy a ticket – or simply take a peek by sitting on the stone wall opposite, on top of the following graffiti: “capitalism is organised crime” – and watch Restrepo (US)!  What a way to see films.

Veton Nurkollari

What deepens the experience of Dokufest are of course those passionate conversations about documentary/ the meaning of life/ aspirations and frustrations, and, come dawn on the 5th consecutive night, friendships evolve within these shared connections and reflections, served with a good dollop of smiles and love. Inspiration arrives like a river, hearts are opened, light shines on darker moments, polishes us from the inside. In this kind of atmosphere, anything is possible – peace above all. What a powerful gift for Kosovo.

The Winners:

Dokufest Best Balkan Doc: THE WORLD ACCORDING TO ION B.
Dokufest Best International Feature: LA BOCCA DEL LUPO (Italy)
Dokufest Best International Short: ALBERT’S WINTER (Denmark)
Special Mention:  Intl Short: DARKNESS OF DAY (US) and THE SHUTDOWN (Scotland)
Dokufest Green Doc: GARBAGE DREAMS (US/Egypt)
Dokufest Human Rights Award: ENEMIES OF THE PEOPLE (UK)
Dokufest Audience Award: MARRIED TO THE CAMERA (Turkey)

Doug Block, Pamela Cohn, Veton, Sisse Korhonen, Khavn de la Cruz

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Dokufest: Prizren, Kosovo 31/7-7/8


After a stunning flight over the Swiss Alps, Venice and the Croatian coast, the weather turns hazy and I can see numerous farm fields on fire and it starts to rain. At Pristina airport I realise  my luggage didn’t make it through in London and that I’ll have to wait for 2 days for my suitcase. Oh well! I share a lift with filmmaker Rowland Jobson who is here with his Venice-premiered film Girl Like Me. I’ve been invited to be on the jury for the international competition, and we’re screening Peter in Radioland by Johanna Wagner, Unearthing the Pen by Carol Salter and Amy Hardie’s The Edge of Dreaming at the festival. It takes us two hours from Pristina airport to Prizren, a beautiful town in the South of Kosovo, in stop and go traffic. The sun is setting and the light is stunning, looking across the mountainous countryside – houses half-built, abandoned cars on the side of the road, a traffic accident…and we pass the German army barracks as we enter Prizren; around 2000 soldiers are still stationed here we’re told.

We make it just in time to go to the opening night film, Into Eternity by Danish director Michael Madsen, which deals with a unique solution for nuclear waste: how about we bury it 500 metres deep in the north-west of Finland for 100,000 years, in a “permanent depository”? But how do we prevent future generations from thinking they have found mystical burial grounds, a hidden treasure? How do we communicate the “invisible” danger of radioactivity to future humans who will not share the same signage as we do now? The film provokes and meditates on these issues and plays with the notions of time well beyond the human imagination. The audience is captive, the screening is open air and around 10pm the local mosques’ call to prayer add to the film’s powerful soundtrack. Slightly surreal!

Prizren is buzzing – it is holiday and wedding season, and scores of young people (and a vast majority of men) are out and about and partying until late at night. Tomorrow I pick up my pass and start watching films.



Today I had breakfast with the lovely Pamela Cohn (check out her documentary blog still in motion) and tackle the first films in the afternoon – Day of Darkness by Jay Rosenblatt, a moving film about suicide told through found b/w footage, and The Mouth of the Wolf, the most talked about documentary coming out of Italy right now, which chronicles the relationship between a macho ex-con and his lover, a transsexual former junkie. Afterwards we meander along the river towards a festival dinner with local food on the menu and meet October Country director Mike Palmieri, and Doug Block, who is here with his film The Kid’s Grow Up.  Just as the sun is setting over Prizren, Mike and I head up to the castle walls, where one of the three open air screens towers high above the city.

An appropriate film to watch from above: David Needs to Fly by David Sieveking (produced by Lichtblick Film) – is an unconventional expose film about David Lynch and Transcendental Meditation, or “TM” (made famous through The Beatles and Donovan in the late 60’s), centred around the director’s search for his own “truth”, as Lynch suggests to him early on. Little does he know quite what the truth will reveal, besides a hefty charge for his own initiation into TM. With many twists and turns, the film keeps surprising the viewer in its increasingly epic scale. Perhaps only a German filmmaker could have made this film – and it rightly opened the Berlinale Panorama/Dokumente section this year. I salute the first festival in the US to programme the film…


Today I used the small but fine videotheque to catch up on some films and chased my suitcase, the first delivery of which was thwarted due to an incomplete address (and a brandnew hotel which hasn’t even opened its doors officially yet), thus the luggage had travelled back to Pristina one more time. We had an official invitation from the municipality today and were escorted to the mayor’s “white house” for a reception, apparently a first in the 9 editions of the festival! We walk past plenty of bridal shops and clothes stores full of festive wear and shake ten officials’ hands upon entering the gardens. The tables are heavy with food, wine, cheese and the media is on standby with cameras. (The media sponsor prints and distributes a daily festival newspaper in English every day during Dokufest.) The mayor suggests the fest is well on its way of becoming the “new Cannes” and announces his pride in the increasingly international reputation of the festival. We eat plenty of food and mingle. I speak to Sven from A Wall is A Screen who is preparing for his screening programme in the centre of Prizren tomorrow evening. With more than 500 shorts in their archive they select interesting and relevant locations to project short films onto walls as part of guided city tours of a different kind. This is the first “performance” in Kosovo, and there have been quite a few technical difficulties.

View from Castle

The nightlife in Prizren is astonishing. With an average age of 25, Kosovo bears the Saatchi and Saatchi marketing strapline of “The Young Europeans” (a fancy ad campaign tells us before every film). Since Kosovo’s independence has not been declared illegal last week, the passport situation has actually become worse for “normal” Kosova people – until general visa restrictions are lifted, especially in those countries which have acknowledged Kosovo (including UK and Germany for example). So for the moment Kosovo finds itself in an interesting situation: Somewhat independent, but also locked into their own region; lots of young people trying to get out to make a living. The population in the summertime rises by about 1 million Kosova who come back for an extended holiday, a Swiss-Kosovo-Albanian tells me.

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