The final in our series of blogs from Docs In Progress alumni and staff about how they spent their summer. We wrap-up with Erica Ginsberg, Docs In Progress Executive Director.
An International Trip Which Was Better Than a Summer Vacation
by Erica Ginsberg
Kosovo - Documentary Capital? For many, this might seem an unlikely scenario. Documentary subject perhaps, for it was a decade ago when the area heated up into a war that sealed the deal on the already-disintegrating Yugoslavia. But, no it's true. Each August, the town of Prizren in southern Kosovo (or Kosova, as is more common among the predominantly Albanian populace) hosts Dokufest. It is fast becoming one of the important documentary and short film festivals in Europe. So much so that it even has its own campground where you can camp for the whole week for the equivalent of $15 and spend time watching amazing films.
[caption id="attachment_347" align="alignleft" width="183" caption="A view over the town of Prizren where Dokufest was held."][/caption]
I had a chance to experience Dokufest firsthand this August when I was invited by its Artistic Director Veton Nurkollari to be a juror for the festival's international documentary competition. During the week-long festival, I watched 10 documentary features and 10 documentary shorts which were under consideration for awards. It was a very difficult decision, with many of the films in the competition having played top festivals around the world, including Sundance, IDFA, Tribeca, and SilverDocs. But somehow I and the other members of the jury (Oliver Sertic, a film professional from Croatia; Phil Collins, a conceptual artist from England; Ben Kempas, a filmmaker from Germany; and Xhevdet Bajraj, a poet originally from Kosovo and now living in Mexico) were able to come to a decision about the award-winners. Ultimately we gave the Best Feature to Helena Trestikova€™s Rene with special mentions to Simone El Habre€™s One Man Village and Yoav Shamir€™s Defamation. We gave the Best Short Documentary to Eva Weber€™s The Solitary Life of Cranes.
The jury experience was exciting, but far from the only highlight of the festival. While I have always loved connecting with other filmmakers from around the world at film festivals, it was a joy to do so in the middle of Prizren€™s beautiful Turkish-influenced city center. From the distinctively Balkan cafe culture to the winding streets and probably one of the most America-loving citizenry in all of Europe, Prizren proved itself to be a delightful place to spend a week€¦even in spite of the loud weddings at my hotel which went on until 3 am every night (the first night, it was a delightfully surreal experience out of a Kusturica film; by the seventh night, I didn€™t care if I ever heard another Balkan folk band ever again in my life).
Probably the highlight of the festival was seeing films at its famous open air cinemas, including one constructed over the Bistrica River which runs through the center of town. The sounds of the city €” the call to prayer, feral cats arguing, and the hubbub of the town€™s diaspora who had returned home for the summer holidays all intermingled with the screenings and added to the mystique of watching the best documentary films in fresh air.
In spite of Kosovo€™s sad recent history, it is a wonderful place to visit. And Dokufest gives film lovers a good excuse to check out this hidden gem.