- The Films of the Third International Human Rights Film Festival Albania, (IHRFFA), 2008
From the beginning to the end of the Cold War, Albania’s place in the geopolitical scheme was unique. The internal and foreign policies of the infamous Albanian revolutionary and totalitarian leader Enver Hoxha marked the country as the last bastion of Stalinism in Europe. Albania, once friend and ally of Tito’s Yugoslavia, the Soviet Union, and Mao’s China, embraced and then ultimately abandoned the Socialist policies it felt betrayed the true Stalinist past. For most of the later half of the twentieth century Albania sought isolation and conscientiously kept its citizenry distant from Western exposure, including the arts. Albanian’s desire to taste the cultures alien to the Hoxha regime could only be done clandestinely, at great risk to personal liberty to self and family. Albanians were physically and culturally isolated within their country’s borders, and for those who were deemed a threat to the Hoxha regime the frequent result was execution, prison, or internal exile within a country that already imprisoned its citizens from the rest of Europe.
After the fall of the Communist government, Albania’s reputation as one of the poorest of European nations was further marred by the Pyramid Crisis of 1997. Ill conceived economic policies resulted in a collapse of an already poor economy and an internal crisis, broaching near anarchy that was widely reported throughout the world; strengthening Albania’s image as a sick Balkan state. Then in 1999 with the influx of 800,000 or more of Albanian Kosovar refugees, Albania began to be perceived as a state with moral fiber. Opening their border and welcoming the asylum seekers from the horror of ethnic cleansing restored the confidence of the Albanian nation and brought increased recognition that Albania was becoming a responsible member of the European and global community.
It is through this prism that one must assess the Third Annual Human Rights Film Festival. From the ashes of an isolated past, Kujtim Çashku, award winning filmmaker and now Provost of the Academy of Film & Multimedia, “Marubi,” initiated the Festival as a means to use the filmmaking art to keep the human rights message fresh and alive among a population that with new national confidence was on the verge of forgetting the past abuses of totalitarianism. As Çashku stated in his introductory remarks to this year’s program: “The historic demons are strolling in the skies of freedom; it is the right time to escape from them in order not to be victims of our own history.”
The festival’s origins began modestly in 2005 as a result of an afternoon coffee conversation between two colleagues who had worked together along with other activists to bring human rights to the Albanian people since 1992. Kujtim and I first met when he was Vice President of the Albanian Helsinki Committee and I had come from post-Ceauşescu Romania where I served as a field lawyer for the International Human Rights Law Group. Since then I continued to work and consult with Albanian human rights activists. Çashku continued his filmmaker career and then founded the Academy of Film & Multimedia, Marubi, housed at the old Kino Film studios in Tirana, Albania’s capital. Today Marubi trains future filmmakers from the Balkans.
It was only natural that our conversation turned to how we could combine the filmmaker’s art to the pursuit of human rights. From the simple idea that film as a media could educate and encourage a [End Page 290] new generation to appreciate the value of the pursuit of human dignity via human rights principles, the Festival was born. Since then Çashku and his staff have created a broad based institution that works throughout the year to prepare and support the annual festival. With the support and active participation of IGOs, (UNICEF, OSCE, etc.), foreign embassies (France, Germany, Switzerland, US, etc.), NGOs (Helsinki Committee, International Human Rights Consortium, Albanian Media Institute, MJAFT, etc.), Educational institutions (Universiteti European i Tirana, Utica College, Universsiteti Luarsi, etc.) and local businesses, the IHRFFA is becoming an annual cultural event.
Held this year from 19...