Dream That Lived: Kosovo’s DokuFest Celebrates 20 Years of Triumph

Like the slogan of the 20e DokuFest Edition – Re: set, Re: mix, Re: act – clues, an important part of the festival concept is the call for activism, having started as a voluntary attempt to revive cultural life in Kosovo from after war.

“Responding is what we always do, a call for activism for a better city and state through personal engagement,” said Nukollari.

Alba Cakalli, current producer of DokuFest, who was first captivated by the festival in 2005, at only 15 years old, says: the injustices that are happening ”.

Sheltered from the August sun, sitting on the window sill of the DokuFest building, Nukollari tells BIRN that a spirit of volunteerism has permeated the creation of the festival.

“When the festival started, it started on a voluntary basis, with no monetary reward for anything,” he laughs.

For several years, the organizers had to invest their own salaries from their daily work to keep the festival alive.

“We believe in giving something to get something in return,” Nukollari explains.

Festival producer Cakalli remembers her teenage years, going door-to-door for signatures on a petition to save the Lumbardhi cinema.

The second largest open-air cinema in the former Yugoslavia opened in 1952. Before closing during the Kosovo War, it was one of the most popular cultural venues in Prizren. For a long time, this was the only cinema where films were shown at DokuFest, which now shows films in a dozen cinemas around Prizren.

In 2007, the former mayor of Prizren, Eqrem Kryeziu, attempted to demolish the cinema and turn it into a parking lot. A civilian campaign succeeded in protecting the theater until 2014, when the Kosovo Privatization Agency, PAK, began planning for its liquidation.

This time, the activists drew the attention of politicians in Kosovo and Albania, as well as 58 supporting NGOs. The PAK had to suspend the liquidation plan and the Lumbardhi were placed in the Temporary Protection section of the List of Cultural Heritage of Kosovo.

Cakalli and his peers were active in both civilian campaigns.

Unlike Nukollari and his peers, who have vivid childhood memories of the Lumbardhi, Cakalli belongs to a younger generation who did not have such an experience. Born in the 1990s, she remembers her childhood as a chaotic period in the midst of war.

“My generation didn’t have the experience of going to the movies,” she says, remembering going to the movies only twice as a child. Two things remained engraved in his memory in the cinema: Batman, the first film she saw, with her uncle, and the police.

DokuFest gave Cakalli and other young people in Prizren a chance to finally be a part of something bigger that “didn’t hurt us”.

Being a volunteer at DokuFest remains a source of pride even 20 years later. Currently, there are around 50 staff, more than half of whom were teenage volunteers.

Nukollari explains that volunteering at DokuFest is something the young people of Prizren cherish, as they don’t just volunteer in the technical film parts of the festival, but in all areas. Nukollari notes that the people in charge of the accommodation meet important filmmakers from all over the world.

“Being a volunteer at DokuFest has an extraordinary dimension,” he says.

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