Opening of Rolling Film Fest
article by Kosovo 2.0
For more photos click here.
The last time I went to a film festival in Prishtina there was a red carpet, bright lights and a line at the cocktail bar. When I arrived at the premiere of Rolling Film Festival, it was quiet at first, and certainly more subtle. But then, group by group and person by person, the crowd began to grow until the lobby was overflowing onto the stairs of the National Theater. A young man told us that he had been at the first RFF premiere five years ago and there were only twenty people in the audience; now they had a full house. Attractive programs were handed out by attentive staff members, friends greeted each other excitedly and there was an apparent sense that few, if any, had come begrudgingly. The lights flashed to signal the start and the crowd was slowly ushered into the theater. Before the event my colleagues and I discussed our intrigue regarding the choice of the opening film: a silent Charlie Chaplin movie made in 1921. We were not sure why the directors chose it, but a touching justification was soon made evident.
Nearly every seat was filled, and I heard at least three different languages being spoken just in my row. There were old men, young women, locals from Prishtina, visitors from around Kosovo, friends from Plementina and internationals like me. But when the theater lights dimmed and that film started, without words or the flashy effects of modern filmmaking, the entire audience, people from all walks of life, came together for one thing: to laugh. The hysterical antics of Charlie Chaplin and his adorable child co-star in “The Kid” had captivated the crowd in irrepressible laughter, whether they were reading the subtitles in Albanian, English or Serbian. The next day when I expressed this sentiment to the Artistic Director of the festival, Sami Mustafa, he smiled and said, “That was exactly the point.”
Rolling Film Festival started in 2009 to serve as a platform for not only exposing films by and about Roma, but also as a means to express their identity as individuals rather than as the subject of research papers or generalized news stories. Sami had already been making these kinds of films and together with a fellow filmmaker from the Ashkali community, they decided to organize the first Rolling Film Festival in Prishtina.
“Watching documentary films is not a part of the culture in Kosovo,” Sami explained. “People go to the cinema to see mainstream American blockbusters.”
Despite this trend though the festival has grown in popularity over the past four editions, as evident by the crowd gathered at the National Theater for the premiere. Sami attributes the festival’s growth to the public becoming more accustomed to seeing Roma films, as well as the improved execution and marketing of the festival by it’s organizers. I personally felt very welcome and comfortable at the event, almost like I was watching a film at home with friends instead of strangers.
The slogan of this edition is “Don’t look at us, look at me”, which Sami took the time to explain to me.
“For Kosovo and for many countries in Europe, people have a clear idea when you’re talking about Roma. They say ‘Yea, I know what you’re talking about, I know them’—the ‘them’ is always coming out.”
The character driven stories of this edition are aimed at dispelling this concept of “them”, and instead bringing focus to the individual.
“Just come to see the film,” Sami emphasized. “It is not about Roma, not about Albanians, not about Serbians, it’s about getting to know that guy or the girl right there on the screen, and that’s it.”
Sami was visibly happy when expressing that the film selection for this edition managed to achieve these character-driven narratives, the ones that really show the human story rather than the international one typically seen in mainstream media.
“It’s not just the access to the films that has changed,” he said, “but the production of the films, the international directors and producers who understand there is a need for this different way to tell the story.”
RFF has also been organizing a film workshop for Kosovo youth since the second edition. Cikore Filmja took place in August this year in five different cities with 12-15 young people that produced seven films which will be screened during a section of the festival followed by an awards ceremony. The only criteria was to have a phone, as the concept was to extend the possibility of filmmaking to anyone, teaching techniques of visual storytelling along the way. Sami had come across this kind of film making with mobile phones at a film festival in Paris and thought it was a wonderful idea to bring back to Kosovo.
“You don’t need ten thousand or even one hundred euros to make a film,” Sami said. “You already have the tools in your hand, all you need is a message and to think a little bit creatively.”
The festival continues for the next two days (October 22nd & 23rd) at Oda Theater, concluding Thursday night with a live performance by Gipsy Groove, the first and only band in Kosovo to play original Roma music. Given the inviting and excited vibe I felt both at the premiere and in my interview with Sami Mustafa, I would imagine this will be a charismatic close well-worth being a part of.