Blerta Zeqiri is an award-winning Kosovar director and screenwriter. She’s worked on a number of shorts and feature films, which have screened at many international film festivals, such as the Sundance Film Festival, the Oberhausen International Short Film Festival or the Bradford Film Festival, winning prizes at a number of them. Her debut feature film, “The Marriage,” that premiered at the 2017 Black Nights Film Festival and toured the festival circuit quite successfully.
Ahead of the European Film Promotion and Sydney Film Festival’s initiative “Europe! Voices of Women in Film,” Tara Karajica talks to Blerta Zeqiri about women in Film and her debut feature that explores an impending marriage jeopardised by the arrival of a former lover, and that will screen at the festival.
How did The Marriage come about?
Blerta Zeqiri: A friend of mine was married to a guy and realized that he was gay only after giving birth to her second child. Another close friend of mine, a quite liberal kosovar gay friend was struggling so hard with the society pressure to get married and settle down that he was forced to leave the country. Seeing closely the pain of my friends, it was clear to me that I must make a film on this subject. Love, the most beautiful and divine feeling that we can have, was not allowed because of some kind of societal “moral norm”. I just couldn’t accept how normal this absurd situation was being perceived by most people. So, basically, everything started from those two situations. But then, in order to build the two couples in a hyper realistic light, we (Keka Kreshnik Berisha, the co-writer and my life partner and I) did a research, by ourselves, on all the loves of our lives. At the end, the writing process felt like we were editing our own memories.
It is the first LGBT film in Kosovo. Can you comment on that?
B.Z.: It’s truly sad that The Marriage is the first Kosovar and possibly even Albanian feature fiction film on queer topic. This, unfortunately, comes very late in our History maybe also because people in our country had other priorities. After the war was over, and for the first time, I gained my elementary rights and I started thinking about other minorities that are still stigmatized in our society. That’s how I started to think about queer people in Kosovo who were still fighting for their basic rights as human beings. It seemed like freedom never arrived for this community. I had to do something about it. Films are so expensive to make, and when you make it, you’d better tell something important that has a chance to move your society forward.
Would it be fair to say its message is: “Love is not a crime, but forbidding it is”?
B.Z.: Definitely. I feel this very strongly and, actually, it doesn’t make sense to me that some people justify the use of violence or hate speech to stop love from happening. It’s so absurd when you think of it and it’s just unacceptable to me!
I understand you and your cast and crew were expecting threats? Can you expand on that?
B.Z.: In 2012, there was a magazine, Kosovo 2.0, that issued a number on sexuality. While they were promoting the magazine, some extremist groups came to the promotion venue and attacked the participants. They also went to LBTQ organizations and demolished their offices and beat some activists up. After witnessing this burst of violence against people that were defending human rights, we were prepared for the worst. That’s why we kept what the film was about a secret from the media. I was afraid that if we started experiencing pressure, it would influence the way we would make the film. But during the post-production process, we started preparing for the worst. We had all planned to go away for few months after the premiere, maybe not send the kids to school for some time, just to be sure, etc. But the most amazing thing happened: during the first two weeks of screening in Kosovo, The Marriage was the most watched film in cinemas, outselling some big blockbuster films. And we didn’t receive any threats at all, we only received messages of praise. We still can’t believe what happened.
The presence of memory is an important theme in your film. Can you elaborate on that?
B.Z.: One of the first artistic decisions on this film was to try and make it feel hyper realistic. In order to achieve this and write the script and make the characters real, we looked in our memories and took inspiration from there to write a lot of situations that we had experienced in the past. In the beginning, the time was linear in our film and only by the last year we worked on the script, we inserted the flashbacks. It was clear to me, at that time, that we must tell the story without any limitation of time. If, for understanding what the character is going through, we need to tell some background story, then we should tell it. Some collaborators were skeptic about the use of fleshbacks in my film, but I believed strongly that we must use whatever works to tell the story the best way we can. Transparent is one of the TV shows that encouraged me to take this decision when I watched the way they used flashback.
In the camera movement, the film has a documentary feel that makes it seem reel and raw, but the cinematography itself makes the film warm. Why did you opt for that precise camerawork?
B.Z.: I tried to make a modern day Romeo and Juliette story in Kosovo in a hyper realistic manner. I felt that these contradictions go very well with the contradictions that Kosovar society has: for example, you can see a very modern woman, looking like she’s coming from fashion magazines, but then, she would be living in or even protecting the patriarchal order. I believe Kosovo is a weird hybrid of many cultures, with Oriental and Western cultures being the most influential of all. I felt that the picture should reflect the contradictions that are present in the Kosovar society as well as in the mind and soul of our main character. That’s why I opted for warm colours (they represent love, good feelings & fiction film) and a shaky intrusive hand-held camera, which would represent the intrusion of society in one’s life & documentary film. Contradictions drove most of my artistic choices.
Now, four or five years later, they already finance up to 50% of projects that are directed or produced by female filmmakers.
What is your opinion of the situation of women in today’s film industry? In Kosovo, the Film Center helps female filmmakers be active and make films thanks to a 50/50 funding policy …
B.Z.: Kosovo is going through some kind of renaissance in terms of its film industry. We didn’t really have an industry before the war. Everything started after the liberation of Kosovo, and real development started some eight years ago, with the new generation of leaders in the Kosovo Film Center. They increased the film budget, and therefore, financing more films and giving opportunities to the young generation of filmmakers. From financing maximum one feature a year, now they finance three features a year and a lot of short films, documentary films, animated films, script development, post-production and minority co-productions. Immediately after this change happened, woman filmmakers started to get funds for their stories. The Marriage is the first Kosovar feature made by a female director financed by the Film Center. Now, four or five years later, they already finance up to 50% of projects that are directed or produced by female filmmakers. There is no policy on State level that obliges the film fund to be gender equal. I think the changes that were made in the Kosovo Film Center helped put Kosovo and the Kosovar film industry on the map where we were almost non-existent before. I thought a lot about this situation and it was really paradoxical – as most things are in Kosovo – because we are a very patriarchal society, and it didn’t make sense that women are equal in the Kosovar Film industry. But then, I realized that, in fact, now the Film Center gives less money to more projects and that is not very interesting for Kosovar male filmmakers who were more interested in TV and advertising – where the money is.
How do you think the European Film Promotion and Sydney Film Festival’s initiative “Europe! Voices of Women in Film” will impact your career, your visibility and the promotion of European female film talent in Australia?
B.Z.: I am very honored to be a part of the festival and to have been selected for this program together with all these amazing female filmmakers from Europe. I’m happy that my work is premiering in Australia at such an important film festival as it’s the Sydney Film Festival. I’m mostly happy because I am visiting Australia for the first time and being at the Sydney Film Festival gives me the possibility to meet great minds from around the world. I’m excited!
Who is your favorite female filmmaker? And your favorite film by a female filmmaker?
B.Z.: I would say that my favorite female filmmakers are Jill Soloway, Jane Campion and Andrea Arnold. I can’t really say which is my favorite film, but I can say that I am a big fan of their work in Film (American Honey, The Piano) and TV (Transparent, I love Dick). I just enjoy myself so much when I watch their work because I see myself, my friends, or women I know in their films. They are so honest in the way they portray women and this gives me great satisfaction.
What are your next projects?
B.Z.: My project is to find my next projects!
This interview was conducted in partnership with: