June 29, 2017 | Thursday

Cinema as an agent of change

When in 2016 Ken Loach did his speech for the Palme d’Or in Cannes film festival for his movie I, Daniel Blake, he reminded us how cinema has a social tradition and how important it is as a medium of counter-power. A tool to place human matters in their social, political and historical context.

The second part of the 20th century has raised the question of how central the testimony of the witness of a historical event is to our way of perceiving history. Either through fiction or documentary, cinema has played a major role to testify, denounce and remember. The camera has served as a filter in order to transmit.

Recently, searching in my memories, trying to recall the first movie I ever saw, I concluded that it was a documentary about the Second World War called From Nuremberg to Nuremberg. I was ten. I remember watching and watching again. Repeating the gesture of introducing the VHS in the video-player, again and again. Moved and fascinated by the horror humans can create. Later at school, those images became contextualized, and were given perspective by my history teacher.

Twenty five years later, freshly arrived in Pristina, I wanted to learn more about my new home, looking for testimonies and video documents of the country’s history, more specifically about the years leading up to the events of 1999. I was struck by the absence of such documents. The political realities of the 90s had not been framed by cinema. I did come across one videotape, a home video, shot in 1991. It featured a bunch of little girls dancing in their room to the tune of a Serbo-Croatian song. What the home video didn’t tell was that those little girls were Albanian, and should have been in school. This is what triggered the process of creating Drums of Resistance.

Pulling on that first thread, I uncovered a wealth of home videos that had never reached into the mainstream, and that documented the untold political, social and human struggle of families, parents, children, teachers throughout the 90s. I also realized that no one ever watched these images, including those who had shot them. Simply put, I discovered that Kosovo was poorly documented, and the shooting of Drums of Resistance confirmed how little the young Albanian Kosovars actually know about this period.

Our movie attempts at filling that void by gathering accounts that give context to each other. And hopefully, this dialogue between witnesses can also start a new conversation.

As one of the characters, Abdyl, says in the movie: “If we try to impose a singular, absolute truth about what happened, then we’ll never be able to capture the spirit of the time, or the events. Our experiences all come together in a mosaic that more closely resembles reality.”