Category: Interviews

SEANEMA, A FILM FESTIVAL BORN OUT OF THE DESIRE TO BRING CINEMA BACK TO ULCINJ

SEANEMA, A FILM FESTIVAL BORN OUT OF THE DESIRE TO BRING CINEMA BACK TO ULCINJ

“Ulcinj is the proper place that may unite the different trends of the Balkans and beyond,” says Drita Llolla, the Executive Director of SEANEMA FILM FESTIVAL to Follow Business Albania.

Ambitious enough to turn this Festival into a distinguished one in Montenegro and the region, she asks for a greater cooperation of Albania in this endeavor to stimulate the art life in the small city of Ulcinj – Ulqin where Albanians make up for majority of the population.

 

Full interview below:

What is the story behind the Seanema Film Festival?

It started in 2015. At that time, mostly youngsters from Montenegro were called in a meeting with the US Ambassador to Montenegro and other representatives from this Embassy to discuss how fulfilled we were feeling professionally. Before the meeting, I was sitting with a close friend of mine at a caffee in Ulcinj city center, finally sharing the idea of starting an NGO in Ulcinj. I had a clear vision that this initiative must be a pure citizen movement in Ulcinj consisting in implementing soft projects in the art/culture but even in social field.  It had to start with a cultural shift. Ulcinj does not have a cinema and a working theatre for more than twenty years. Whereas the idea of initiating a film festival was born. After that moment, events naturally started to take place. The meeting with US Ambassador happened, there were six of us young professionals that continued the discussion after the Ambassador left. After the meeting, I invited them all to take the discussion beyond a casual gathering. I remember to post a motivational welcome letter to a Facebook group created immediately after, attaching the TED talk “How to Start a Movement” by Derek Sivers.

Then, when did you get your project approved?

Since we needed a starting capital, I then applied for an Alumni Competition Mini Grant, offered by the US Embassy in Montenegro. This grant was made available by the US State Department for projects on corruption and rule of law. Hence the first edition of the festival was called “Challenging the corrupted mind”.

By June 2015, we got our project approved.

Are you saying that the film festival and the NGO were and are inseparable?

Yes, true. I realized that we could not organize a film festival with only $3000. I got to know some important people in the cinematography field, one of them the director of International Documentary Film Festival in Belgrade, one of the most well-known in Serbia.  By origin from Montenegro, he welcomed me warmly and helped me with the contacts of various film agents and film distributors. Thus, I created an idea about the cost of a film festival. So, the establishment of an NGO was inevitable in order to generate money for the film festival.  This way, we established the NGO, called – I ACT – in July 2015.  As a conclusion, the Seanema Film Festival and “I-ACT” are inseparable.

What is the character of Seanema Film Festival?

Seanema Film Festival has several defining characteristics, but it all comes down to merging cinema and activism. First, through the power of films and active involvement of the young people, Seanema helps reframing social issues by fostering an open dialogue in an independent and depoliticized arena. Each year we tackle a trending social issue. Through Seanema Green segment we are turning lens towards the importance of preserving the nature and its habitat. We welcome partnerships with organizations that are invested in making environmental sustainability a cornerstone of the creative industries in the Western Balkans. Finally, Seanema Film Festival is set to become an important regional cultural hub. Ulcinj was always known for its willingness to accommodate the diversity of cultures, and as such is the righteous representative of the emblem of Montenegro which is multiculturalism. For this reason we invite film professionals and activists from Kosovo, Albania, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, etc. But we go beyond then that. This year we received submissions from US, Greece, Australia, etc.

Ulcinj is, indeed, the place that may unite the different trends of the Balkans and beyond.

How do you see the participation of Albanian movies in this Festival?

This is the second year that we include Albanian movies. Last year, we created Albanian movie night.  Since we choose an actual social topic for each film edition, last year, we stuck to gender equality mostly. So, the movies from Albania were “Koncert në Vitin 1936” and “Kapedani.”  We decided to start by screening old films of the Albanian cinema during the Kinostudio era. In my memory, when listening to stories or watching TV while growing up in the neighboring Montenegro, but never having been in Albania before 2006, the country seemed to have been hermetically sealed to foreign influences during the communist regime by Enver Hoxha and still battling with consequences. Later on, when I moved to Albania and embarked in the adventure of discovering my identity as an Albanian, I was merely astonished to find out that during 1958 – 1990, approximately 13 films were produced each year with 20,000,000 tickets sold yearly This struck my interest, to dive into Kinostudio`s reservoir of films. Understandably, one has to separate propaganda from the ones who were not influenced by communist bureaucracies, only to discover some true gems of the Albanian cinema. I theninvited respective directors, Saimir Kumbaro and Muharrem Fejzo as well as the actress, Margarita Xhepa, Manushaqe Qinami and the other Albanian director, founder of Marubi Academy of Film and Multimedia, Kujtim Çashku as special guests of the Albanian movie night, which was a true experience for us and the audience. Also, through a cooperation with Marubi AFM we screened short films of Albanian students.

This year, we cooperated for the Summer Stage Film Program involving the Cultural Center of Ulcinj as well. We invited Iris Elezi and Thomas Logoreci to present their award winning “Bota” and Erion Bubullima to present the Albanian blockbuster “7 ditë”. In the context of third edition competition programme of Seanema Film Festival, Albanians was presented with two movies – “Daybreak” by Gentian Koçi, candidate of Albania for best foreign-language film at the Oscars and and ECHO by Kosovo director, Dren Zherka, winner of Silver Zenith at Montreal World Film Festival.

We hope to consolidate previous collaborations with Albania as well as expect more Albanian representatives in the future, to join us in this endeavor, be independent film professionals or institutions. Obviously this is an event with a long-term vision. In your view, what is that?

Primarily we would like to develop and grow the film festival as we aim to turn SEANEMA in a distinguished film festival. As far as myself is concerned, I have always been keen on social activism, putting ideas forward and making tangible changes.  Besides the film festival, the next project in store is revitalizing the old cinema. In cooperation with Seagull Entertainment, a company in private sector. we have created an Art Cinema model – a digitalized art space covering everything from operas to eSports, from theatre to secret cinema and Virtual Reality. I am aware that it is an ambitious model in the context of the Balkans, but we must align with European trends if we really want to move forward regarding culture and the economy. European cinemas invested more than 1.5 billion € in digital transition to their theatres. As a result number of film released in European cinemas has almost doubled in the past 15 years. Presently in Europe, more initiatives are being undertaken to completely re imagine and reinvent cinema spaces, using the new media technologies to offer immersive experience for the audiences. Meanwhile, in Ulcinj each day we are facing the terrible sight of the old cinema, literally in ruins. There is no cultural development strategy at the local level and stuck for years in a quicksand with a de functionalized Cultural Centre. Even for us, it has been a real fight to keep our festival alive. I cannot deny the valuable support of the US Embassy in Montenegro and the Culture Minister in this endeavor. However, it is high time for stronger support, to have more actors on board and turn this initiative into a success story.

 What would you ask from the Albanian culture authorities?

From the Ministry of Culture in Albania, support for cultural programs and overall cooperation. With the establishment of the new Albanian government, there is a new post – Minister of State for Diaspora, Mr. Pandeli Majko. We hope that he would also offer his support. There is a strong basis in the Albanian Constitution for this, precisely Paragraph 3 of the Article 8 stating that the Albanian authorities should provide assistance to Albanian minorities in other countries in order to maintain and develop ties with the national cultural heritage.

I often say to my Albanian friends who live here, that if the Albanian government had its own issues in the past years and was waiting a signaling of the Albanian minorities in the region such as Montenegro, to offer their help and support – now is the right time to do it.

Interviewer: Rudina Hoxha, Editor-in-Chief for Follow Business Albania