By David D'Arcy
January 5, 2006 - 1:41 PM PST
What was the teaching like?
Very good. The first film we saw was Battleship Potemkin by Eisenstein. It was 1986. My reaction was that this guy is the best, greater than all the Hollywood film directors. You could see that in very shot, every frame, the guy had something to tell. We saw Chaplin, one or two films by Griffith, which were in the archives. We were four students who were admitted that year into the film school. Unfortunately, I'm the only one who's left because the three others left Albania.
Where did they go?
One is in Italy, one in France, maybe one in Canada.
What directors do you like?
Antonioni, for me he's a genius in cinema. I like Oliver Stone; Coppola, for Apocalypse Now; I like Taxi Driver, but I don't like Scorsese; Eisenstein; Vittorio De Sica; Luis Buñuel; Jacques Tati, his sense of humor that makes people laugh and think.
What was Albania like during the 1980s?
We produced twelve to fourteen features a year. The film commission received the scripts, and they decided which films to produce. It was 100 percent state-funded, with very outdated film technology. Films were noisy, since we didn't have silent cameras. We just had these old 2C Aeroflex cameras. The films were social stories, extremely censored and controlled. I soon got bored with them. I hadn't decided to make anything different, but I was bored. There were a few good films for children, some animation, and a dozen or more documentaries made.
I was very lucky to make my first short in 1988, in black and white, 35 mm, 17 minutes. The regime was already starting to collapse.
Was Enver Hoxha still alive?
He was already dead in 1985 and the regime was coming apart.
My films were banned, for their "revisionist influences." My first short was based on a short story about a sculptor who carves a tree trunk into the form of a young boy who's eating an apple in the studio, and suddenly in the forehead of the boy, he sees a black rotten spot in the wood. With his tools, he digs into the wood and pulls out small rusty bullet. There's a kind of pathetic mood there, I admit it, but such a thing was never seen at that time in Albanian cinema. You never had a socialist hero ending with that kind of bad luck. The film was criticized as "pacifist," but it was near the end of communism.
Six months later I began another short film with a friend. We tried to find an epic story from 1944 when the Nazis were here. It's about a massacre of civilians in the south. Only a one-year-old child survives. He's saved by three partisans, two men and a woman, who try to return him to a village, but don't know who he belongs to. They wander through a mountain landscape where the Germans are, without figuring out what to do with the child. The two male partisans are killed by the Germans, and the girl partisan who is left with the child does not know what to do. Without hope, when the child is crying and the Germans trying to find where the sound is coming from, she gives her breast to the child. This film was even more criticized than the first one.
Because I didn't show any dead Germans. And I dared to show a woman giving her breast to a child.
Who saw these films?
The film was shown in 1990 in the last national festival - and not received well by the nomenklatura. Most Albanian filmmakers and producers wouldn't say that they liked it, but secretly they told me that I should keep making these kinds of films. Some of them really encouraged me.
When did you make your first feature?
1993. It's called Necrology. It's a story that I wrote myself. It's a surreal story to show that, even if the dictatorship is dead, we still live in its shadow.
It's set in medieval times. A king dies in his own throne. On the king's instructions, an artist has made a huge sculpture of a horse, without a belly, to ensure that nothing can be hidden there, so it wouldn't be like the Trojan Horse. The Queen, who finds him dead, tells the artist and everyone else that he is sleeping, and she controls access to his chamber, as he rots to a skeleton, with a huge key that she always has with her. The people do not know that the king is dead, and the artist, who knows, lacks the courage to tell them. In the course of this, the Queen eats food that is prepared for two people, and turns into a monster who weighs 200 kilos.
You must have found a great actress for that role.
Oh, yes. She's also in Tirana Year Zero. It was very well-received here, but not commercially.
Who paid for the film?
Who knows? Based on the standards of the time, maybe $150,000. After Necrology, I made the documentary Alternative Head about an artist who melted down huge monuments of Lenin, Stalin and Enver Hoxha. He used to steal the metal to make his own small sculptures, which he hid underneath his bed. He had hundreds of them.
Why do you make films about art and artists?
Because art is the only thing that I trust in my country, the only thing that I can love. I was not able to love nature. I was not impressed with cars, or the economy, so-called, not even with my relationship with my family or my mother. The only place where I could find warmth was in art. I didn't do this on purpose. It came because I had nowhere else to go.
I also made Super Balkan, an art documentary, a combination of archival film and footage that I shot. The message is: Where are the artists when their country is burning? This was in 1997, when we had this pyramid scheme [of people putting all their savings into stock frauds.] Then I made Tirana Year Zero. Then, thanks to an American-Albanian producer, I made a documentary this year, The Land of Eagles. It's the most beautiful thing I've ever worked on. Any filmmaker would envy the opportunity to take from the archives and to build up a story via film footage. It's being considered for Panorama at the Berlin International Film Festival.
How complete are the Albanian film archives?
Nothing was destroyed. It's very rich, our archive. This is a treasury.
There are so many levels of censorship. At one level, things are kept from the public. On another level, things are kept out of the archives. Did that happen in Albania?
They were absolutely closed to the public, but for us, they were open. Everything was preserved. It was at the same institution during the dictatorship, where we had the film school, the kino studio and the lab.
Tell me about the new feature that you're working on.
The provisional title is The Lousy Year. It's adapted from L'Annee Noire, The Black Year, by Ismail Kadare. It's about Albania in 1914. It's about villagers in southern Albania who want to go out and find out where the war is, because they have nothing to do at home. They march to find the war, but they never find the war, because the war moves. And instead of finding the war, the main hero, who is a Muslim, sees a Catholic girl on the road, and he falls in love with her. He forgets about the war. At the time in Albania, the European powers appointed a German prince to be king, King Vid. He remained only six months in the country because the Muslim fanatics ask him to undergo circumcision, but he wouldn't. The movie is about religious tolerance and freedom of choice.
Albania is a mix, and I'm half - half Christian, half Muslim.
How did Tirana Year Zero get made?
This came at a time when everyone was trying to leave Albania. Everybody, mentally and spiritually, dreamed of being somewhere else. It's based on a true story. The girl, who was a neighbor of mine, kept telling me, "I'm leaving for Paris soon." I'd say, "Goodbye, good luck," and then a few months later, I would see her in Tirana. She's now in New York. I wrote it and rewrote it and then wrote it again with a good friend, Jens Becker, a cameraman with whom I made Alternative Head. Then we went to look for money. We got some from the Albanian Film Commission, and then from France and from Belgium.
We went to Venice, then we won the Golden Alexander in Thessaloniki, but we got serious criticism within Albania.
Because communism taught the "New Man" under communism to believe in one thing: the communist party dogma. The indoctrination of people is still going on, so people want to hide, or hide from what is bad in them. They can't accept when others say this is one side of the moon, and ask where the other side is. It's a lack of freedom to accept the real state of being that we are having.
When you look at Albania society today, what concerns you the most?
The young generation, because they are lazy. They are too much on television and materialism. This disturbs me. It will take many years until they will make the real distinction of how to build a human personality on what you are able to do, not what you are able to have, or what others are able to have. The dilemma is between to have and to be.
back to past articles >>>
"This new era cost a lot."
"The dilemma is between to have and to be."
back to past articles
Besides reviewing art and film for National Public Radio, David D'Arcy has also written for the Art Newspaper, the Economist and other publications.
February 6, 2007. Mark Savage & the D.I.Y. Aesthetic by Jeffrey M. Anderson
February 3, 2007. Seeing the Humor in Sexual Identity by Michael Guillen
January 29, 2007. Smokin' Aces with Joe Carnahan and Jeremy Piven by Sean Axmaker
January 26, 2007. Include Me Out: Interview with Farley Granger by Jonathan Marlow
January 25, 2007. Grindhouse: Chapter Four - The 1960's by Eddie Muller
January 19, 2007. Charles Mudede: Zoo Story by Andy Spletzer
January 19, 2007. Mark Becker: Merging the Personal and the Political by Sara Schieron
January 19, 2007. Micha X. Peled: The Lives of the Sweatshop Youth by Hannah Eaves
January 16, 2007. Djinn: A Taxi Driver Dreams of Perth by Jeffrey M. Anderson
January 12, 2007. Clint Eastwood: Flags and Letters From the "Good War" by Jeff Shannon
view past articles