"Kosovo is known more for conflict than culture, but at a film festival in the country’s prettiest town, partying and arts mix to great effect." — The Guardian.
The beautiful medieval city of Prizren shines a little more each year in the international spotlight. Tonight (Friday, August 5), the internationally acclaimed International Documentary and Short Film Festival — DokuFest, launches its ‘jubilee’ 15th edition. The opening film will be the documentary “Behemoth” by Chinese filmmaker and artist Zhao Liang.
Tonight also sees the opening of DokuNights, with acclaimed Omar Souleyman taking to the stage at the Andrra stage in the city’s Marashi Park to conclude the opening night in style.
Over the next nine days, the city will see the arrival of numerous artists, journalists, academics and film amateurs from Kosovo, the Balkan region, Western Europe and the entire world. The theme of the 15th edition is corruption.
“It is a very important theme and one which has plagued not only Kosovo, but the whole Balkans,” DokuFest Artistic Director, Veton Nurkollari explained to K2.0. “This is a good platform to start a discussion around this theme and maybe help fighting it.” The festival’s specially curated film program “Corruption, Power and Lies” will explore the social context and consequences of corruption, as well as its local and global dimensions. But Nurkollari emphasizes that the theme will permeate the festival “in many different aspects, not only through films, but also through panel discussions, talks and the visual campaign of DokuFest.”
Since its modest beginnings in 2002 as three days of documentary screenings in an old disused open-air cinema, the event has grown beyond recognition and is one of Kosovo’s greatest post-war success stories. “Twenty years ago, Prizren was Kosovo’s cultural capital, and it was very normal for us to go to a film,” Nurkollari told The Guardian in 2014. “And then, in 1999, the war happened. We just thought that if we put on some screenings, it might trigger someone to restart the cinema.”
The festival has gone from strength to strength over the years, with more than 15,000 visitors attending last year’s event, firmly cementing DokuFest’s position as the most significant cultural event in the country.
Film, film, film
This year, DokuFest will feature a total of 238 films from 57 different countries including national and international premieres. It hosts six competition categories — Balkan Dox, International Dox, Human Rights Dox, Green Dox, International Shorts and National — and 19 noncompetitive special programmes.
“DokuFest is celebrating its 15th birthday with yet another eclectic selection of films,” Nurkollari writes on the festival’s official website. “We hope they will amaze, move and surprise you as much as they did us. We are delighted to be able to present works of such high quality, both from emerging filmmakers and masters of the craft in this anniversary edition.”
There is plenty of home-grown talent on offer this year. Festival attendees will get to watch the UK/Kosovo oscar-nominated short film “Shok,” as well as other high quality Kosovar productions or co-productions such as the European Film Academy Award nominated “Home” and the premieres of Kosovar films Drums of Resistance and “Ferdonija.”
Part of this year’s special programme is British Director Simon Ellis’s self-curated retrospective in which he will present nine of his short movies. In a career that has been littered with numerous awards, Ellis notably won the International Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival in 2008 for his short film “Soft.”
This year, DokuFest will also pay homage to two major icons of cinema who passed away during the last year: pioneering feminist cineaste Chantal Akerman and Iranian master Abbas Kiarostami.
Akerman’s masterpiece “Jeanne Dielman, 23 Commerce Quay, 1018 Brussels” will be screened in its restored version along with her final film “No Home Movie.” “Jeanne Dielman” is about the repetitive housework of a widowed housewife taking care of her son, sprinkled with her occasional occupation as a prostitute. “No Home Movie,” filmed a year before her death, is an intimate collection of conversations between Akerman and her mother. An interview with Akerman filmed by Bosnian artist and filmmaker Ibro Hasanovic only months before her death will also be shown.
Kiarostami will be represented through two films: the screening of his seminal film “Taste of Cherry,” portraying a suicidal man driving around searching for someone willing to bury him after he takes his own life, as well as “Close Up,” about a young man posing as the great film director Makhmalbaf in order to impress the family of his beloved.
DokuFest is not only about movies — through the DokuTalks program, it also presents a wide selection of panel discussions, workshops and masterclasses.
Visitors can for example take part in a drone imaging workshop with renowned RIT Kosovo (AUK) professor Agon Nimani, or attend a talk by award winning journalist Diarmuid Jeffreys, Al Jazeera’s Head of Investigative Programmes who is responsible for their “People & Power” investigative strand and “Africa Investigates” series.
Talks will also be given by Simon Ellis, photographer Seamus Murphy and Albanian contemporary artist Anri Sala, who represented France at the Venice Biennale in 2013.
It is also through the panel discussions that this year’s festival theme of “Power, Corruption and Lies” really comes out: From learning about the activist beginnings of DokuFest to civil resistance and the role of women in politics, participants are invited to attend a number of different debates and perspectives. An assortiment of 13 different panel discussions are open to the public and will take place either at Hammam or the historic League of Prizren.
Those who feel the need to break from the constantly moving pictures can head to the stasis of a photography exhibition by Irish Seamus Murphy. Murphy will be the highlight of DokuPhoto — which opened yesterday, August 4 — the photographic element of the festival. His exhibition will feature photographs from his publication “The Hollow of the Hand,” the result of a joint effort with poet-musician PJ Harvey. Both artists have been collaborating with DokuFest since its 10th edition in 2011.
DokuPhoto will also showcase the work of world class photographers for both participants and passersby to appreciate in the city’s Sheshi i Deshmoreve (Deshmoreve Square).
For the more technologically inclined, the two-day tech festival called DokuTech is organized on August 6-7, under the umbrella of DokuFest.
DokuTech will provide free events ranging from keynote talks to masterclasses with an impressive line-up featuring Peter Sunde from The Pirate Bay, Mike Butcher from TechCrunch and Croatian innovator and entrepreneur Josipa Majic.
For K2.0’s full preview of DokuTech, click here.
As in previous years the festival has also prepared a small but varied programme for children. DokuKids includes a ballet workshop, a neon painting workshop and the possibility to experiment with animation through painting.
There will also be an entire week of activities around the theme “I am a superhero,” a game encouraging kids to develop a superhero alter ego and “playfully discover the relationship between their real self and their alternative personality.” Children are promised an opportunity to explore their own strengths and weaknesses through an exciting introspective adventure.
Each night, when the other activities draw to a close, it’s time to party as high profile musicians from Kosovo and the world bring the entertainment at DokuNights.
Omar Souleyman, hailing from northeastern Syria has the honor of opening the festival. The unlikely indie cult star who built his career as a wedding singer has now wooed the west with his universal love songs infused with positivity and romanticism. The very last festival night will feature trip-hop/electronica musician and singer Yasmine Hamdan from Lebanon, considered an icon in the Arabic underground music world.
Every night of the festival, the Andrra stage in Marashi Park will be hosting different musicians from the region and the world to keep the party going into the early hours. And in a new addition to DokuNights this year, a Sunset Stage in the city’s medieval fortress will offer the chance to chill out each evening from 18:00 with some carefully selected artists, while enjoying stunning views over the city.
K2.0 @ DokuFest 2016
K2.0 will be bringing you the hottest content every day from around the festival. Check out our website each morning for our “K2.0 Hot Doku Picks,” where we’ll highlight our top tips on what not to miss.
We’ll also bring you features on film, Q&As with top directors and producers, news from DokuTech and a roundup of all the best discussions and masterclasses as well as blogs from around the festival. Also, look out for our brand new “Prizren People” series that we’ll be running throughout the nine days of DokuFest, zooming in on the city’s permanent, and temporary, residents.
Kosovo 2.0 is a print and online magazine bringing you voices unfettered and unafraid.
Our complete collection of print magazines will be available from our stand in Shadervan, Prizren throughout DokuFest, including our latest ’90s Issue. You can also purchase all of our magazines online here.
Kosovo 2.0 is DokuFest’s official media partner.