The first International Summer Film Festival took place in Durres, drawing crowds from around the world.
By Marian Tutui for Southeast European Times -- 04/09/08
The first International Summer Film Festival was held from August 23rd to the 30th. [Photo courtesy of Xavier Lambours]
The Albanian town of Durres is not only one of the country's major ports, but also represents the turbulent history and changes in the country. The Durres Amphitheatre, which was constructed in the 2nd century BC and is on the UNESCO's World Heritage List, evokes the glory of ancient Dyrrachium; while King Zog's villa tells the tale of a politician ambitious enough to proclaim himself a monarch.
The communist regime has left shabby blocks of flats and hotels, while the harbour figured strongly during the regime's collapse in 1991, when 20,000 Albanians risked their lives by seizing cargo ships and leaving for Italy in search of asylum. The last ten years have brought sweeping change -- the development of Durres is visible even to foreigners. It has morphed into a resort town with many new well-equipped hotels available to tourists.
Economic development has, in turn, fostered investments in the infrastructure and culture sectors. Last weekend, the town held its first International Summer Film Festival, drawing crowds from around the world.
The 16 films -- critically-acclaimed features produced in 17 countries since 2006 -- were screened in the Aleksander Moisiu Theatre and in the ancient amphitheatre. In attendance were filmmakers in search of international recognition, as well as Czech director and Oscar winner Jiri Menzel and actors such as Italy's Michele Placido, Croatia's Rade Serbedzija and Serbia's Ljubisa Samardzic.
The main award -- The Golden Gladiator -- was presented to Menzel for his film "I Served the King of England". The film, a joint Czech Republic-Slovakia production from 2006, is a drama about a waiter who dreams of becoming a millionaire, against the backdrop of Czechoslovakia during World War II.
The Special Jury Prize was awarded to Norwegian director Marius Holst's "Mirush", a moving drama about Albanians in Kosovo and immigrants. Kosovo's Nazif Muharremi won the best actor prize for his role in the film. The jury was also impressed by the performance of young Albanian actress Ornela Kapetani in Greek director Thanos Anastopoulos' movie "Correction".
The trophy for the best Albanian movie was awarded to "Time of the Comet" -- which was co-produced with Germany and directed by Fatmir Koci. The film, an adaptation of a novel by Ismail Kadare, is a bold reconstruction of the epoch during which the Albanian state was founded.
Although not among the major works screened at the festival, the three other Albanian films shown there were interesting for their diversity of topics and approaches. "The Sorrow of Madame Schnajder", directed by Piro Milkani, is a sober but touching love story between an Albanian studying in Prague and a Czech woman during the time of Albania's isolation. Besnik Bisha's comedy "Mao Ce Dun" tells of a gypsy who succeeds in mocking communist propaganda via the name he chooses for his newborn child during Enver Hoxha's regime. "Secrets", an Albania-Kosovo joint production directed by Spartak Pecani, is an allegory of transition in Albania.
Albanian filmmakers have been hampered by a lack of funds, although the situation appears to be changing. The new festival marks a new start for Albanian cinema, opening the door for more co-productions and international visibility.