14th Tirana International Film Festival

Albania, November 3 - November 11 2016

The jury

Kaj Van Zoelen (The Netherlands), Evgeny Mayzel (Russia), Elsa Demo (Albania)

Awarded films

The 14th Tirana International Film Festival featured both a main international feature competition and many, many short competitions, both predominantly with films from Europe and the Middle East. However, the festival was beset by problems from day one. Shortly before the start of the festival, a combination of politics and financial difficulties ensured that the festival’s main screening location, a cinema with two screening rooms, would not allow the festival to screen films for a price that was even remotely feasible for the festival at such a late date. Whereas upon its foundation in 2003 the festival was still supported by both the Mayor of Tirana and the Ministry of Culture, which would’ve ensured a good price for the location, such support is sadly in short supply these days.

As a result, the festival had to be moved entirely to the conference rooms of the hotel next door, where only the opening and closing ceremony had originally been planned. This had a ripple effect throughout the entire festival, causing chaos and confusion reflective of the traffic in the Albanian capital. It all started with the fact that the equipment in the conference rooms couldn’t play DCP’s, so the festival staff had to improvise with screeners and other sources.

Sometimes the result was fine, at other times screenings had to be canceled (Cannes winner I, Daniel Blake was an early victim on the second night), had bad or no English subtitles or a huge watermark splashed across the screen. The feature competition suffered from this, while some programs fared better: at least for the Abbas Kiarostami retrospective there were Blu-Ray sources.

All the while, the staff seemed to remain remarkably stoic and calm, going with the flow, when at other festivals such problems would’ve caused a palpable negative tension. The situation came to a head, however, when the two main conference rooms used for screenings were seized/bought on the 8th of November by the American embassy, to watch the American presidential elections. A combination of lack of agreed upon pay and continuous lack of communication, both internal and external, about what was happening at the festival, led to one chief staff member to quit the festival that day.

Briefly, the festival almost seemed to fall apart, but the last few days saw a slight recovery, with improvised screenings now partly organized at a bar, although part of the program had to be canceled due to lack of screening spaces. Confusion about the change in the program continued, both among guests and the public, sadly resulting in a decrease of attendance over the week and sometimes with angry guests.

Despite all these problems, Tirana 2016 had an interesting program, including a focus on war and crime-themed films. It also provided a meeting ground and developing space for (mainly) Balkan filmmakers, by way of the TIFForum – where filmmakers would pitch a film every day, get comments and rework their pitch for the next day. Pavel Vuckovic was awarded the TIFForum Best Pitch Award for his project. Besides the aforementioned Kiarostami retrospective there was another showing several works of the also recently deceased Ettore Scola. The programming paid attention to homegrown cinema in the form of the In Albanian short film selection, and several features, including opening film Home Sweet Home.

There were many awards handed out at the festival by a great number of juries, starting at the beginning with a lifetime achievement award for Albanian director Dhimitër Anagnosti. A week later, this year’s awards for the feature selection were chosen by an international jury consisting of Darko Basheski, Visar Morina and Mehdi Abdollahzadeh. The controversial Hear the Silence by German director Ed Ehrenberg won Best Feature Film. Zymber Kelmendi was awarded Best Screenplay for the Kosovan Home Sweet Home; Best Cinematography went to the Israeli Wedding Doll and Best Editing to Emre Konuk for the Turkish The Apprentice. Italian director Claudio Caligari (deceased in 2015) won the Best Director prize for his Don’t Be Bad, which also won the Best European Feature Film. The many awards for the numerous short film sections included the Best Short Film for the Polish Adaptation by Bartosz Kruhlik, Best Film in Albanian for Lost Exile by Fisnik Maxhuni and awards for Best Video Art, Student Film, Animation, Documentary and Experimental.

Notably, the Internet Vote award was scrapped because of poll tampering on the website. It somehow seemed fitting for a chaotic festival during which this time things rarely seemed to go as planned and plans were changed daily. Arthouse and world cinema does not get screened often in Tirana, to put it mildly, despite this vibrant city housing plenty of people yearning for more. Which is why Tirana is in need of a better organized, better (government) supported festival than the 2016 edition that should of course pay its staff what was agreed upon beforehand. (Kaj Van Zoelen, edited by Steven Yates)

Tirana International Film Festival: www.tiranafilmfest.com