A Conversation with the Creative Director of DokuFest, This Summer’s Most Exciting Activist Film Festival

DokuFest is an activist film festival that takes place every summer in Prizren, Kosovo. This summer’s festival runs from August 5th through 13th.

Drugstore Beograd and FABRIKA in Belgrade will be hosting a DokuFest Short Movie Screening with DJ Brka on July 15th. In advance of this Friday’s event in Belgrade, Balkanist asked DokuFest’s creative director, Veton Nurkollari, to tell us all about the most innovative activist and film event in the Balkans.

DokuFest has made a name for itself as a brave, critical and frontier-expanding festival. What are the difficulties of achieving this in the Balkans, but specifically in Kosovo?

Being brave, critical and forward thinking is not that easy in the Balkans and especially not in Kosovo, but those were some of our credo from the very beginning and we refused stubbornly to give up on them. There were many difficulties along the way, from the nearly utopian idea of starting a film festival in a city with no functioning cinema at that time and with frequent power shortages, to the challenge of bringing back an audience despite a gap of nearly a decade of no cinema attendance in the city. Lack of cultural policies, both at the local and governmental level, easily translates into little or no support for events such as DokuFest, and was, and unfortunately still is, a major difficulty.  

Last year, DokuFest decided to tackle the theme of refugees and migration. What determines the topics you choose to devote your editions to, and how do the themes shape the program?

We at DokuFest choose themes very carefully and after a long process that involves our whole team retreating to the countryside for brainstorming. Hours of discussions on important topics, relevant as much to us as to others, often accompanied by heated and passionate debates, is what in the end brings us to the final theme. Migration last year was somewhat of an obvious choice as it was happening right in front of us as well as around us. Having a theme does shape the program in the sense that we try to find and include films dealing with that theme. And not only films since there are many other side bar activities, like panel discussions and workshops that also get designed around the theme. Our choice of power, corruption and lies as a theme of the festival this year once again reflects our determination to address some pressing issues that our society is facing at the moment, and to touch upon and hopefully open up a debate on yet another taboo or phenomena!

DokuFest celebrates its 15th edition this year. What achievements would you single out over the years?

I can single out many; it’s been quite some time now with 14 years to look back! We are very proud with what we have achieved over the years and here I’d mention the efforts, both ours and of our friends in saving the only remaining cinema in Prizren, first from its physical destruction and later from it being privatized. We are proud of launching several filmmaking programs that have resulted in more than 50 films being made so far, and for putting Prizren on the map — not only as a center of documentary cinema when it comes to the festival, but also as a place where documentary and short films are being actually produced and made. Plus there are some other things we’ve done and that I would like to single out, such as a spirit of volunteerism that we’ve cultivated and shared. 

DokuFest has not shied away from taking political stances – you have had a special category of Armenian films, a category on radical and alternative films from the US (Uncharted States of America), and so forth. How does this influence your standing amongst the international presence in the country? 

I wouldn’t necessarily call it taking a political stance when featuring film programs, such as the selection of Armenian films or looking at the American independent or alternative documentary scene; it is more our wish to further explore filmmaking experiences of these or other countries or parts of the world. We’ve done Poland and Palestine, as well as all five Nordic countries. Croatia also. We’re primarily a documentary festival and many documentaries are in one way or another political, so one can not shy away from it really. We’re not sure if and how this influences our standing among the international presence in our country; we like to believe that the quality of our program, both that of film and music and some other stuff we do, is what matters most.

The documentary form in itself allows for a more raw and unfiltered view of society – and your festival focuses heavily on documentaries. How has this shaped your position as organizers, and how do you think it has shaped the views of those who see the films at your festival?

The documentary form does indeed allow for the views of society that you’re mentioning, in addition to many more and that’s probably why we like documentaries so much and why we like to share them with our audience. Since documentaries can sometimes really change something we hope they shape the views of many who watch them at our festival and beyond.

DokuFest has a strong music program – both including musical acts and music-themed documentaries. How is this shaped and what importance do you place on the role of music and musicians in shaping society?

Well, as a festival that was devoted to the theme of Punk and Protest one year and as a festival with many different music freaks, we need to have a strong music program, don’t we? 🙂 But don’t think that role of the music and musicians in shaping society is that important here!

The “Balkan Dox” category is the only of its kind amongst festivals in the Balkans. What led to the creation of this category, and what do you hope to promote?

Indeed, the Balkan Dox competition section is probably the only one like it among the festivals in the Balkans. It was a logical move when we decided to start it and was also a result of our increasing interest in the filmmaking of neighboring countries with whom we have a shared history, often troubled.

We’re trying to promote the best in documentary film in the Balkans and to encourage collaboration between filmmakers and producers from the entire region.

Do you think that festivals like yours, and the following and support they receive, can generate sustainable change in society?

I think that festivals like DokuFest can help generate change in society, as small as it may be at the moment. I also think that cultural events like DokuFest should receive much more support from institutions and that institutions should embrace events that can generate change. Change is nothing to be afraid of.

DokuFest, International Documentary and Short Film Festival, is the largest film festival in Kosovo. Each year the festival fills the cinemas and improvised screening venues around historic city center of Prizren with a selection of more than 200 hand picked films from around the world. The festival is known for its lively atmosphere, the amazing enthusiasm that grasps the city and its people and also for more than 150 volunteers working for the festival. Documentary photo exhibitions, debates, master classes and lively music events are also part of the festival.

Cover photo credit: Katarina/flickr/some rights reserved
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Balkanist is an experimental, occasionally bilingual platform featuring politics, analysis, culture, and criticism for a smart international audience underwhelmed by what is currently on offer. Our aim is to provide bold, uncompromising coverage of the Balkan region and everything to its East.