On the evening of August 4, the wall near the entrance of Prizren’s Kino Lumbardhi transformed. When the ladders were removed and the people who were working there dispersed, all that remained was a painted wall, black with a raised fist. Next to the familiar symbol of the fist, seen at protests around the world was written: Dokufest.
More than anything else, the painting on the wall, completed almost ceremonially, indicates that the International Documentary and Short Film Festival Dokufest is here.
The next day as the paint on the wall dried, Kino Lumbardhi hosted the opening event of the 21st edition of Dokufest. The surge of energy that this festival brings to Prizren every year is accentuated by the volunteers who wear yellow T-shirts with black text as they buzz about like bees around Dokufest’s home, the city of Prizren.
With 109 films competing, this year’s Dokufest was committed to entertaining like never before after two years of isolation and the festival being largely online due to the pandemic. On the waving flags and written throughout the city is the question, “How to survive…?”, which is the theme around which Dokufest’s activities take place this year. This edition includes exhibitions, discussions, workshops and a special program for the little ones, Dokukids.
According to the artistic director of Dokufest, Veton Nurkollari, this year the situation is alarming — the crisis of global warming, wars, violence and destruction are severe challenges for the planet. For him, Dokufest is the platform through which they want to communicate this urgency, and above all, the need for mobilization.
Nurkollari has been with Dokufest since Dokufest began. In this conversation with K2.0, as Dokufest was wrapping up, he talked about another successful edition of Dokufest and the festival’s efforts to raise questions about the issues that preoccupy the planet and its inhabitants. Nurkollari also talked about the work of Dokufest, which, despite putting Prizren on the map of cultural and cinematic events, still is not welcomed by support from the city.
K2.0: This year, in contrast to other editions, the topic is posed in the form of a question. For some, it may seem like a fatalistic question, because it does not speak beyond survival. You ask the question: How to survive…?
Veton Nurkollari: I don’t think that it is fatalistic, it is alarmist. Our intention was more to alarm because we think that the situation is alarming. And of course we intend to use the potential and platform of Dokufest, which can influence at least someone, to stop and think about what they are doing, what I need to do in order to survive. If we don’t do this then someday the question will reach a level or moment that will be fatalistic. Now it is alarmist.
I think that many people are not fully aware, or are taking for granted that “it will pass,” “it is just heat.” But we are witnesses to the fact that for at least the last 10 or 20 years it’s been getting hotter and hotter and no one is doing anything about it and if we don’t do something… Now, I don’t know what exactly needs to be done, what I do know is to try and use this thing that we have to ring an alarm. I’m happy to accept someone calling me an alarmist if that brings about something that can change behavior.
We need to change our behavior. A lot of people think that all it takes is a man up there that presses a button and it’s not hot anymore. But, in essence, it depends on many people. It depends on the behavior at home, in society, do you turn off the light when you go to sleep, consume less electricity, and so less electricity needs to be produced. Many things, the war, inflation, all these have worried us and instead of deciding on a topic that is probably not very relevant, we at one point decided, okay, we will decide on something, which we will try to answer.
With your question it seems you are leaving it open to people to decide what it is they need to survive. For example: How to survive… homophobia? People can decide what is the pressing issue they need to overcome and survive.
If you noticed, there are three dots before the question mark. it can be understood in many ways and that was the intention. It’s not like we have the answer. If we had an answer, maybe we would have put something else. Even when we saw the films — even the filmmakers are preoccupied, concerned with what is happening, especially the documentary filmmakers.
There are films from the Amazon jungle, from the war in Ukraine — small survivals, large survivals, so a certain motif of part of the program is survival, and it came naturally to us to include those. Besides there being some movies out there that are talking about different forms of survival, we as a society, this planet, are in a critical phase of survival. And if it goes on like this, I am sorry to say, things will not be good.
Do you think that the films and the festival in general are managing to really alarm people, especially those who have the power to make more radical changes about the issues that this edition of Dokufest highlights?
I’m not so optimistic that the films and the festival can reach a level that will influence or convince those in power that they need to do something. Maybe, I’m repeating myself, but the goal is for ordinary people that come to the films, debates, lectures, to understand that there is a possibility that they also be part of a circle that can make changes. The changes need to start from us, they cannot be found in the president of the United States, or Russia, or China, or India, and if even they decided to make some [change], then things would not change radically, immediately. It’s not like that.
For river pollution, we are responsible. We shouldn’t throw waste. The president of the United States cannot come and tell Aulonë or Veton “don’t litter.” There is a lot we can do. If we go on a picnic, it’s better not to leave litter there, but yet we do. There are some steps that ordinary people can take in order to benefit and not create harm, because we are harming ourselves.
Dokufest has always been known as a people’s festival. Is this edition an effort to mobilize the people you have around you every day?
The festival is a good platform. There are many ways in which you can convey something, just like you doing interviews, or in debates, lectures, film screenings, or from bringing volunteers, you can convey a certain message about what you stand for, how you see things. We cleaned the river 15 years ago, we had an initiative to clean the river. The river is ours, there is no one who cleans it. Someone can say we need a company to clean it, but that hasn’t happened, so what can you do? There are ways of civic activism that are useful and not so difficult. We often try to do such activism.
Even beyond the festival days?
We have a solar cinema. We promote clean energy with what we do. We do not manufacture solar panels, but we have a cinema with solar panels.
Kosovo is currently hosting many festivals, Manifesta is taking place, Sunny Hill, Anibar. Now Dokufest. How has this large presence of festivals and eventually, the increased presence of the public, affected Dokufest? Has there been interaction between all these festivals or initiatives?
We have been cooperating with Anibar for at least 10 years. They are our friends and cooperate and exchange. But this year, what has happened thanks to Manifesta and Sunny Hill is an increased interest from abroad about Kosovo, so there are curators, people who deal with contemporary art who came for Manifesta and continued to be in Kosovo for several days to visit Dokufest, or even from Sunnyhill I believe. But what we have noticed is an increased interest in the contemporary art scene in Dokufest because a part of our program has some connections, especially with the visual scene, visual art.
So we have a lot of experimental films, exhibitions and artists who are somewhere between visual art and film. I think that they were the reasons why some of the people who came for Manifesta came to Dokufest, but also the people who came to Dokufest went to Manifesta. I know people who have gone from here, at least for half a day or a day, to visit the Manifesta exhibitions.
In the opening speech, it was said that Dokufest is also struggling for survival. I am interested in how the institutions’ support has been this year and in the past and how Dokufest managed to hold on for so long?
I have to repeat it, things I repeat often because I am forced to do so. I must repeat that, unfortunately, the support is not fulfilling or satisfactory. This year is especially disappointing, but we still haven’t made it public that the Ministry of Culture rejected us for administrative reasons and because of technical errors in their software.