Founded just five years ago, the Durres International Film Summerfest has already become the most popular film festival in Albania, a country of many festivals. The reason for its success lies not only in the films in competition, but also in its numerous guests, famous in world cinema, and for the master classes they present. This festival has gained importance and prestige, both domestically and internationally, by attracting such luminaries as Francis Ford Coppola, Claudia Cardinale, Jan Harlan, Jiri Menzel, Lech Majewski, Nick Powell, Henning Lohner, Katia De Vidas and Paolo Sorrentino.
The Summerfest’s fifth edition ended without a gala event, because of a lack of funds and state support. Although Albania celebrates 100 years of independence this year, the government did not make the Durres Film Festival a part of its calendar of celebrations. The only support came from Durres City Hall.
During its five day duration, the festival’s competition presented a slice of daily life in the Balkans. Themes of family, drama, love, betrayal, human relationships and, to a lesser degree, the criminal world, offered a snapshot of our everyday reality, but the films also treated pressing contemporary global topics, such as the economic crisis that has gripped many European countries and that is most evident at the poorest level of society.
White lions, judged best Balkan film at the festival by FIPRESCI, offered a particularly compelling image of the global crisis in poorer countries, through a grotesque portrayal of its consequences. The Balkan region and its working classes in particular have been vulnerable to the crisis. Actor / filmmaker Lazar Ristovski, who has also worked outside Europe, knew that the topic he chose had a relevance that would extend well beyond the walls of the Serbian and Croatian cinema (the film is a cooperative project between the two countries, realized thanks to the support of Croatian Cinematographic Centre): it would speak not just to the Balkans, but to Europe as a whole. The public appreciated this film as much as the critics, and its final screening was packed.
Films at the Durres Summerfest enjoy a very supportive audience in general, and this year was no exception: the public flocked to screenings at the Alexander Moisiu Theater. A year ago, the festival also screened films in the city’s amphitheater, but this year’s crisis made it impossible for the directors of the festival to obtain the historic venue. They were unable to invite as many famous personalities as in the past. Also absent were the billboards and many ‘city lights’, which in previous years filled not only the city of Durres, but all national roads in the country. Despite the fact that this year’s edition of the festival was diminished in many ways, the people of Durres gained something in addition to their annual five-day film festival: motivated and inspired by this competition of cinema, and in collaboration with the Italian Institute of Culture, Wednesday has now been dubbed ‘Cinema Day in Durres: one day a week, for the whole year, the Alexander Moisiu Theater will host free screenings of the best films from neighboring countries. This new initiative is particularly welcome given the fact that for over a decade Durres has not had a purpose-built cinema.
During its five-year existence, the Durres Film Summerfest has become a prominent part of Albania’s cultural life. In spite of the challenge of this year’s financial constraints, the city of Durres has ushered in a new tradition: a day devoted to cinema, which will truly justify the festival slogan, ‘Art, my city’s surname!’
© FIPRESCI 2012