Anibar sows the seeds for Kosovar animation

At four in the afternoon, a volunteer brings Vullnet Sanaja a plastic bag of warm burek. “I didn’t have breakfast yet,” admits the 25-year-old director of Anibar Film Festival, laughing. “The seven past days, usually I have breakfast at twelve o’clock — midnight!”

At the weekend, the festival wrapped up its sixth year and although it’s theme has been global warming and environmental protection, the opening night drew on a certain other pressing news story. Attendees at Kino Jusuf Gervalla heard two voices speaking on the phone. “[In the skit], we were electing the director or artistic director. Two people were calling each other and they were saying ‘okay I propose this name,’ names of the staff,” explains Sanaja. “I proposed Rozafa [Imami, Anibar’s producer].”

“No!” he mimics the second voice. “‘She’s not ours, I propose this one….’” The skit spoofed this month’s wiretap leaks, matching the government with their own expose on cronyism. “We tried to have the whole ceremony a bit funny, but also they have to present an issue.” The skit segued nicely from DokuFest, which finished two days earlier and dealt heavily with the issue of corruption, but showed Anibar’s lighter, cheekier tone.

While DokuFest led the way with heated debates and political analysis, Anibar’s workshops offered local youngsters a chance to think about what corruption means to them. The anti-corruption animated workshop, run by Italy’s OTTOmani Laboratori and supported by the UNDP, got participants cutting up newspapers and filming a deeply unfair game of chess for a mysterious video project of their own.

At the back of the Kino and across the road at Theatre Istref Begolli, children and teens took to all sorts of mediums in the other four workshops on offer, experimenting with charcoal, lightboxes and — at one point — a room full of balloons. Students came not just from Peja, but from all over Kosovo. Sanaja feels that the workshops are a vital part of Anibar and would like to build on them even more next year.

“For the Ottomani workshop, we had 15 applications, we accepted 15 people but every day they would have like 36 people coming to the workshop and the kids didn’t want to go away,” he says. “I think it’s because young people here don’t have a lot to do here during summer or throughout the whole year, and the things they do aren’t as creative as animation workshops. [It’s] one of the best things that can happen to a youngster’s life at that point. The most creative thing that can happen throughout the whole year.”

As for the films, there were some 2,000 that applied to take part in the festival, a number that has only been growing year on year since Anibar’s inception in 2009. Each evening, crowds gathered with beers and snacks on the steps and benches of Karagac Park to watch an impressive array of talent from around the world.

A number of people K2.0 spoke to, however, were disappointed by the poor turnout from locals. Although the dedicated cinemagoers created a little community of familiar and friendly faces that would hop from one screening to the next together, before partying the night away in the bustling Anibar parties, few of the night-time revellers made it to either the movies or talks.

Sanaja and his co-founders originally set up Anibar to rejuvenate Peja’s only cinema, and rebuild its former renowned arts culture. “Part of the problem is on a wider scale, it’s not just a problem particular to Peja,” he explains. “We only have two cinemas functioning around the whole year in Kosovo, in Prizren and in Prishtina. More cinemas in more cities, let’s get back to cinema culture and we can go on with organizing festivals and films.”

While Kino Jusuf Gervalla remains open only intermittently, the Anibar team’s mission for the coming years is to nurture and support homegrown talent. This year, masterclasses came from yet more international talents like Spanish producer Toni Maria Villa, artistic director of “Long Way North” Liane-Cho Han and Cartoon Brew’s Amid Amidi, all giving priceless insight into what it takes to get a film made.

While 12 films competed for Best Balkan Short, only two were Kosovar. “It doesn’t make any sense,” says Sanaja, “we are showing films but not producing films.” The first, “Under the Veil,” was made with the support of the DokuFest ‘Stories We Tell’ project and it brought a traditional Albanian wedding to life on what appeared to be ink and parchment. Conversely, “Alone” turned “E.T: The Extra Terrestrial” on its head by imagining how the story might play out if an alien crashed in rural Kosovo and was found by a lonely old farmer.

These two are exactly the type of thing the Anibar team would like to see more of. “It’s one of our crucial motivation points, having animated films being produced in Kosovo which are quality and can participate in our festivals,” adds Sanaja. “I believe we can do that. We have the right people in the right places, in departments from around the world supporting us, and I think it’s possible to produce more films in Kosovo.”

“It would be my personal aim to see a national competition here at Anibar,” agrees Imami. “Maybe in five or 10 years.” And if the turnout for the festival’s many workshops and the Junior Oscar ceremony is anything to go by, despite limited funding and a seeming lack of wider support and interest, she may yet succeed.

Photos: Isuf Bytyci.

Discover the hottest daily content from this year’s Anibar festival here.

Kosovo 2.0 is a print and online magazine bringing you voices unfettered and unafraid.

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