Documentaries and Paul Haggis

in 9th Prishtina International Film Festival

by Alberto Castellano

This edition of Prishtina International Film Festival had two important sections in the program. For the first time, the documentary section has become competitive. PriDocs included 16 films, with 2 world premieres, 2 international premieres, 6 regional premieres and 6 Kosovo premieres.These films came from all different parts of the world: Germany, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Spain, Israel, Switzerland, Palestine, the Czech Republic, and France. The documentaries dealt with social themes related to war, politics, arms, environmental preservation, love, and sports. Among these films, two were the most interesting.

Intrigued by the ghosts that haunt him, Raed Andoni, the Palestinian director of the film Ghost Hunting (Istiyad Ashbah 2017), rallies an eclectic group of ex-cons to build a copy of Al- Moskobiya – the main interrogation center located at a prison in Israel, where he served time at the young age of 18. Bit by bit, day after day, through their recollections they give shape to the interrogation center, a place they all experienced. Ghost Hunting is a recreation of history. As prison walls rise, the participants’ feelings are released.

Another highlight is See You in Chechnya (Ne vedem în Cecenia 2016). The director Alexander Kvatashidze provides exclusive footage and hair-raising stories within 68 short minutes, through reporters of the infamous war in Chechnya who he met after setting off on his journey. This documentary also covers the deceased photojournalist Antonio Russo, a person many of us remember from the war in Kosovo, where he was working. Other remarkable documentaries are the Bosnian Saraj’vo (2017), the Israeli Ben-Gurion, Epilogue (2016) and the German Guns (2017).

The other event of the Festival was the tribute to director/writer/producer Paul Haggis, who received the Festival’s Golden Goddess Award. The honorary guest of the ninth edition of PriFest, Haggis participated in a full schedule of activities that enabled him to become familiar with the film industry of the Kosovo and the region first hand. He also took part in a master class for members of the film industry and the public, as well as a human rights panel. A special film program, “Tribute to Paul Haggis,” allowed the Kosovar public to see Haggis’ most successful films as a director and screenwriter.

Haggis is unique for the successes he has achieved throughout the 42 years that he has been active in the film industry, producing more than 30 films, television series, and shows, many award- winning. He is also the first screenwriter to be awarded consecutive Oscars (2005/2006). He is best known for his 2004 film Crash for which he won two Oscars in two categories – Best Motion Picture and Best Writing, Original Screenplay. For the realization of this film, Haggis worked with renowned actors Terrence Howard, Sandra Bullock and Michael Peña. He achieved further success with Million Dollar Baby, a film that Haggis wrote and produced. The film won four Oscars.

In 2006, his screenplays included the duo Clint Eastwood productions Flags of our Fathers and Letters from Iwo Jima, the latter earning him his third screenplay Oscar nomination. In 2007, Haggis wrote, directed, and produced In the Valley of Elah. The film starred Tommy Lee Jones, Charlize Theron, and Susan Sarandon, and earned Jones a Best Actor Oscar nomination for his performance. In 2010, he released his film The Next Three Days, starring Russell Crowe, Liam Neeson, and Elizabeth Banks. And in 2013 he wrote and directed the romantic, personal drama Third Person, starring Liam Neeson, Olivia Wilde, Mila Kunis, Adrien Brody, James Franco, and Kim Basinger. Most recently, Haggis directed all six episodes of the HBO mini-series Show Me A Hero, starring Oscar Isaac, Catherine Keener, Winona Ryder, James Belushi, and Alfred Molina. Currently, Haggis is co-directing a feature length documentary on the AIDS crisis in San Francisco, called Ward 5B. Equally committed to his private and social concerns, Haggis is the founder of Artists for Peace and Justice. Under this umbrella, many of his friends in the film business have come forward to build schools and a rehabilitation clinic serving the children of the slums of Haiti.

Edited by Michael Sicinski