Map of South-Eastern Europe

By Veton Nurkollari

Overview Of The Recent Situation In Kosovo

To speak about the contemporary aspects of documentary filmmaking in Kosovo is not an easy task. The region has gone not only through war, but also through a period of virtual apartheid during the Milošević era. After the complete cancellation of Kosovo’s legal autonomy and the imposition of the state of emergency in early 1989, the Albanian students were excluded from the state-run film school, and the same fate befell the complete Albanian staff from the regional broadcaster, Radiotelevizija Prishtina, as well as the once-powerful Kosovafilm production company. The documentary production ceased almost entirely, as most of the previous year’s production came from the Prishtina-based TV, and the film school. The filmmaking community was reduced to several individuals with no equipment, and devoid of editing and post production facilities. A few independent production companies concentrated on commercial work, and hardly a documentary was produced. However, the situation changed after the end of the war.
The department of film directing at the University of Prishtina re-started its activity in 2000, while several other private film schools were founded between 2001 and 2004 in Prishtina and Prizren. Kosovafilm also re-launched its activities, but now in small offices and without the huge studio compound that it once owned. The compound was taken over by KFOR (Kosovo Force) immediately after the war, and its fate remains uncertain as it still serves as their headquarters. A number of new production companies involved in documentary filmmaking (e.g. Koperativa, INIT, Concordia Pictures, Crossing Bridges) also contributed to the overall change.
Immediately after the war, the film scene found itself in a confusing situation, with loads of homemade movies (amateur war movies, movies about martyrs, reportage-style documentaries) trying to qualify as documentaries. They slowly gave way to better-structured films with urgent topics. Strangely enough, the number of documentaries being produced today cannot compare with the postwar boom. This can partly be explained by the lessening demand from OSCE (Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe), UNMIK (United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo) as well as the United Nations agencies (UNDP [United Nations Development Programme], UNHCR [United Nations High Commissioner for Refugess]), IOM (International Organization for Migration) and many other N.G.O.’s (HandiKOS, etc), who regularly commissioned films for their campaigning needs. At the moment, the number of documentary films being produced – including the ones produced by the three Kosovo-wide TV stations – does not exceed 15.

Directors And Training

Since it is almost impossible for documentary filmmakers to make a living by filming what interests them personally, and thus remain independent, it is rather difficult to label the small number of directors as independent or dependent. Most of them either earn their living by making commercials, which still remains the safest and easiest way to support their families as well as their filmmaking, or are employed in one of the various TV stations as cameramen, editors or producers. With a few exceptions of pure documentary directors (Orhan Kerkezi, Blerta Basholli, Ilir Kabashi, Casey Cooper Johnson), they mix genres, shooting short narrative and experimental films, and temporarily enroll as assistants on feature films (e.g. Ylli Qitaku, Ylber Mehmedaliu, Edon Rizvanolli, Jeton Budima, Kaltrina Krasniqi).
Regarding the documentary directors working abroad, the most active is Eki Rahmani in London, whose two investigative documentaries FËMIJET E CABRËS / THE CHILDREN OF CABRA (Great Britain /UNMI Kosovo, 2004) and HETIMET S’VAZHDOJNË / INVESTIGATIONS DO NOT CONTINUE (Great Britain / UNMI Kosovo, 2005) had a nice festival run, the latter recently having being broadcast on the Al Jazeera TV. Nuhi de Stani, another documentary director working abroad, is based in the USA. His latest documentary, MY BLOOD MY COMPROMISE (USA, 2007) has been shown on several international festivals.
Since the creation of the Film Department of Prishtina’s Academy of Arts, students have been attending classes in documentary filmmaking and the history of documentary with the obligation of directing/producing one film per year. Sophomores commonly produce a portrait of an individual, while all students are obliged to make a film on a social subject during their graduation year. The Prizren Film Academy is more focused on documentary films, and has produced a considerable number of titles so far, e.g. Besnik Zogaj’s ZANATLIU I FUNDIT / LAST CRAFTSMANSHIP (2002) and Taulant Veselaj’s MARSHI I NJË LUFTETARI / THE MARCH OF A WARRIOR (2007). The two other film schools in Prishtina, the Charlie Chaplin Film School and the Gjon Mili School of Film and Photography, have been of no importance for documentary filmmaking. In the meantime, they both ceased their activities, while only the Charlie Chaplin School students had been able to produce several narrative short films. The curriculum of the newly formed Kosovo Institute of Journalism and Communication, which is supported by the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, includes courses on documentary filmmaking. The majority of teachers and lecturers come from abroad, including lecturers from the BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) as well as the Universities of Cardiff and Leeds. The institute is mainly dedicated to the training of journalists in media skills.


Due to the lack of clearly-defined funding programmes, the majority of documentaries in post-war Kosovo are being produced independently, with a very limited involvement of national institutions or even TV stations. So far, the only institution providing support for filmmakers has been the Ministry of Culture, which funded several feature films (KUKUMI, d.: Isa Qosja, 2005; ETJET E KOSOVËS / KOSOVA – DESPERATE SEARCH, d.: Sunaj Raca, 2006; ANATEMA, d.: Agim Sopi, 2006). No significant support for documentary films has been given by the Ministry of Culture yet.
With the passing of the Law on Cinema by the Parliament of Kosovo in 2004, the National Center for Cinema (Qendra Kombëtare e Kinematografisë) was created with the principal aim of financing film projects. Due to bureaucratic hangups over the allocation of the budget from the Ministry of Culture, it has failed to open the call for applications so far. Other institutions supporting documentary filmmaking in Kosovo are foreign cultural foundations like Pro Helvetia – the Swiss Cultural Programme, which donates small grants to filmmakers and festivals, the French Liaison Office in Prishtina, which co-organises regular workshops with French directors and producers, or the British Office in Prishtina which, for example, supported workshop projects like the Open Eyes workshop [1]  where the Irish documentary filmmaker Siobhan Cleary taught 22 young people, aged 19 to 25, from various ethnic backgrounds, in documentary filmmaking in 2004.

[1]    For more information, see and


Public Screening Situation And Public Reception

The screening situation for documentaries is probably among the worst in the region, especially on TV, as none of the national broadcasters provide a special slot for documentaries. The programming scheme is composed of reportages, often imported, and of science documentaries, with very few artistic or creative documentaries.
Thanks to the emergence of two festivals after the war – Skena Up and Dokufest – the situation is slightly better when it comes to festival screenings. The Dokufest in Prizren is the most important one, and has already gained an international reputation for its programme and high attendance. From its inception in 2002, the majority of Kosovo’s documentary production has been screened there in the framework of an international programme. The number of filmmakers and journalists attending the festival is constantly on the rise, turning the festival into a meeting place for filmmakers and industry representatives. While Dokufest is exclusively dedicated to documentary films, Skena Up in Prishtina specialises in student films, both national and from well-known European and American film schools (e.g. NFTS [National Film and Television school], Great Britain, AFI [American Film Institute], USA, Filmakademie Baden-Württemberg, Germany). It serves as a good exchange platform.
At the time, there are only two working cinemas in Kosovo, both in the capital Prishtina, which screen Hollywood blockbusters only, leaving no room for documentaries from Kosovo. Not a single documentary has been distributed theatrically yet.


After the war, there have been several coproductions in Kosovo. The first one was the series TRE HAPAT E SHPËTIMIT / THREE STEPS OF SALVATION (d.: Orhan Kerkezi , UNMI Kosovo-Serbia and Montenegro, 2003), a joint production of the Koha Vision TV (KTV) and the Belgrade B92 TV. The film was broadcast in its original length as a three-part series on the KTV, and later re-edited into a 58’ version to be eligible for festival and TV slots, and was shown on the B92 TV in its shorter version. It entered the regional documentary competition of both ZagrebDox and the Sarajevo Film Festival in 2005, and was screened at the Amnesty International Film Festival Amsterdam in March 2006.
There have been a number of coproductions that had a respectable international festival run, depicting the societal situation not only in Kosovo, but in the entire Balkans. In 2005, the BIRN (Balkan Investigative Reporting Network), produced Lode Desmet’s DOES ANYONE HAVE A PLAN? (UNMI Kosovo-Serbia and Montenegro-Macedonia, 2005) focusing on the dilemmas of seventeen ordinary people from Kosovo, Serbia, and neighboring countries in the run-up to the final status negotiations. In 2006, the coproduction group OTF (Outside the Framework) produced the UNDER CONSTRUCTION series, featuring six short documentary films reflecting on the situation in the successor states of former Yugoslavia, as seen by rock musicians, war veterans and others. The OTF is a coproduction group cooperating on documentary and television projects from Kosovo. It is made up of the Prishtina-based production company Crossing Bridges, the Albanian-based film company i's continuum and Kosovo’s public broadcaster RTK (Radio Televizioni Kosova). It made its first co-production in spring 2003 with JASHTË KORNIZAVE / OUTSIDE THE FRAMEWORK, [2] a 13-part televised film festival of socially-provocative documentaries and short independent films broadcast on the RTK. The five films finished during the Open Eyes workshop in 2004 have been coproductions between the Kosovo-based Koperativa and the British company Guava Productions.
The most recent co-production, BOLI LI? – PRVATA BALKANSKA DOGMA / DOES IT HURT – THE FIRST BALKAN DOGMA (Macedonia-Netherlands-UNMI Kosovo) involved the Kosovo-based production company Concordia Pictures. It is the first semi-fiction/documentary feature to include a European Union-based production company (NFI Producties, Netherlands) and a Macedonian company (AKA Film). The film has had its world premiere at the Rotterdam Film Festival this year, and is now touring other festivals.
In addition, there have been several other international productions shot in or about Kosovo involving mainly field producers from Kosovo, most notably VIEW FROM THE BRIDGE: STORIES FROM KOSOVO (d.: Laura Bialis, John Ealer, USA 2006), which had its world premiere in Prishtina in January 2007. It was produced by the Kosovo field producers of both Albanian and Serbian origin. Another example is JAMES BLUNT: RETURN TO KOSOVA (d.: Steven Cantor, USA 2006) which premiered at SXSW festival in Austin, Texas in March 2007.
The length of the films varies greatly, with student films almost exclusively in the 15’-30’ range. Most of the films commissioned by the UN and the N.G.O’s, as well as independent productions, are timed for the TV slots (52’-58’); so far, just two documentaries (DOES ANYONE HAVE A PLAN? and BOLI LI? - PRVATA BALKANSKA DOGMA) have been of feature length.

[2]    More information on


Subject Matter And Political Issues

One can say that politics influence everything in Kosovo. The subjects of documentaries have been no exception. Most of the films still deal with politics in many ways, and even the films focusing on pop and rock groups like SHUFFLE: POLITIKË, LAKNURË DHE ROKENROLL / SHUFFLE: POLITICS, BULLSHIT AND ROCK & ROLL (d.: Edon Rizvanolli, Ylber Mehmedaliu, 2005) make no exception. Politics is also the main topic of the highly successful DOES ANYONE HAVE A PLAN?. Social issues are very common, too, e.g. in TË RRITURIT NË RRUGË / GROWING UP IN STREETS (d: Burbuqe Berisha, 2005), HERONJTË PËR NJË PËRDORIM / DISPOSABLE HEROES (d.: Iris Elezi, 2005), URBAN COWBOY (d: Jeton Budima, 2002), or TË RIJ APO TË SHKOJ / SHOULD I STAY OR SHOULD I GO (d: Ylli Citaku, 2002), to give a few examples. As mentioned earlier, student films mainly deal with personal stories. The only historical-investigative documentary film produced after the war has been GJURMËVE TË MUHAMET ALI PASHËS / THE TRAIL OF MUHAMMAD ALI PASHA (2005/2006).
There is clearly a correlation between the supporting institutions and the film’s subject matter, especially with films supported by the UN and its agencies. IOM has produced several documentaries about human trafficking and correlation between crime and drug abuse, as well as illegal immigration, where the filmmakers’ approach to the subject was clearly defined by the needs and/or guidance of the supporting institutions, like ARE WE JUST A CLICHÉ (d. Kaltrina Krasniqi, 2001 Kosovo) and THE WAR IS NOT OVER, a 33’ documentary on Kosovo made by the Italian journalist Anna Di Lellio who had been advisor to Kosovo's prime minister in 2006 and spokes person for the UN earlier.
There hasn’t been a significant use or misuse of documentary filmmaking in propaganda or misinformation by institutions or interest groups, except for several films that glorify the war or war heroes like the aforementioned GJENERALËT E HARADINAJVE / HARADINAJ’S GENERALS, or some early postwar movies with similar subjects. On the other hand, a number of documentaries still highlight a certain kind of pathos – like ËNDËRR E KEQE, ËNDËRR E MIRË / A BAD DREAM, A GOOD DREAM, d.; Fadil Hysaj, 2005), an ode to the NATO intervention in Kosovo, neither providing any background information, nor using the simplest of investigative means – or even martyrdom (IKONA E LOTËVE / ICON OF TEARS, d.:Illir Kabashi, 2005).
And, lastly, two documentaries made this year by the Crossing Bridges production company fall into the breaking-of-taboos category, seldom explored in the Kosovo documentaries. DASMAT DHE PAMPERSAT / WEDDING AND DIAPERS (d.: Casey Cooper Johnson, Antoneta Kastrati Johnson, 2007) explores, often humorously, the theme of marriage in the predominantly patriarchal society that Kosovo is, while PËRTEJ YLBERIT / BEYOND THE RAINBOW (d.: Ismet Sijarina, 2007) tackles the issue of homosexuality in Kosovo’s society.
Having in mind the enormous potential of documentaries in creating the public opinion or political discourse, it is regrettable to notice that very few of the documentaries produced in Kosovo have managed to initiate a public discussion. The majority of articles about the films is often affirmative and lack critical analysis, thus creating a false perception that everything produced is of high value. This, in turn, leaves little room for open discussion, as was the case with the latest documentary about the former Prime Minister of Kosovo, Ramush Haradinaj, and his family (GJENERALËT E HARADINAJVE / HARADINAJ’S GENERALS, 2006). Oddly enough, the film that created the biggest buzz in Kosovo was the Serbian documentary PRETTY DYANA / PRETTY DYANA (d.: Boris Mitić, Serbia and Montenegro, 2003), the winner of the main prize at Dokufest 2004. The decision of the jury to award a film from Serbia and the attempt of director Mitić to use the stage for a political speech during the award ceremony ignited many reactions in Kosovo’s newspapers. The discussion culminated in an open debate in the weekly Java between Mehmet Kraja, at that time the editor of cultural affairs of the daily Koha Ditore, and Shkelzen Maliqi, philosopher and prominent cultural figure, and Migjen Kelmendi, writer and publisher of political weekly Java, on the other side. Kraja accused the organisers of the festival of being unpatriotic by accepting the film into the festival, while Maliqi and Kelmendi were defending the decision of the jury based on the quality of the film and not on its origin.

Stylistic Approaches

Filmmakers from Kosovo mainly apply the traditional means of documentary filmmaking, and their narratives are structured accordingly. The journalistic approach combined with interviews is the most common one and accounts for the majority of films. Student films, as well as the majority of those commissioned by the N.G.O.’s, also fall within this category. Very few filmmakers use verité-style techniques, thus leading to the small number of observational documentaries like GOT MILK (2004). Some works effectively use TV and archival footage (PASQYRE, PASQYRE / MIRROR, MIRROR, d.: Blerta Basholli, 2006; DOES ANYONE HAVE A PLAN?), implementing voice-over narration. Mixing fiction with non-fiction is becoming popular lately, as in HARMONIKA / THE ACCORDIONIST, the recent film by Burbuqe Berisha, while some of the student films from the Academy of Theatre, Film, Television and Radio in Prizren employ a similar approach.

Market Perspectives

In fact, the biggest drawback of the entire documentary scene has been the lack of a clearly defined funding policy. The occasional grants given by the N.G.O.’s are not enough, as they are very limited and rarely cover production or postproduction costs, the most expensive items on the budget. On the other hand, the biggest potential lies in the subjects that Kosovo can offer, taking into account the attention Kosovo has been getting lately. Both Kosovo-based filmmakers and their collegues from abroad could benefit very much. International coproductions, networking, pitching forums, workshops and student exchanges are steps that could improve the conditions of documentary filmmaking.
The reception of documentary films in the media is satisfactory, even though most of the articles lack in-depth analysis of the films, due to the scarcity of reliable or trustworthy film critics. The good overall coverage of the film festivals in the electronic and printed media brings the importance of documentaries very close to that of the feature film productions.
Market perspectives for documentaries, both in the country and abroad, are still very slim. Three Kosovo-wide TV stations and many local ones seem to be a natural market for the filmmakers to target. But the lack of dedicated slots for documentaries leads to very few acquisitions or pre-buy deals. Filmmakers and producers are left with almost no options when it comes to the distribution of their finished films. The disproportion between the price offered by main commissioners (UN, UNDP, OSCE and N.G.O.’s) and TV stations also brings confusion into the market. The extremely poor theatrical situation in Kosovo makes the other natural target, that of cinema, almost obsolete.

Veton Nurkollari Biography

Veton Nurkollari, Kosova-UNMIK, Dokufest Prizren, by profession photographer, lives in Prizren. In 2002 he founded the Dokufest in cooperation with the psycho-analyst Aliriza Arënliu. The international documentary and short film festival soon found international recognition and contacts as such with the European Film Academy, the Jan Vrijman Fond and the Copenhagen International Documentary Film Festival. The Prizren-based festival is the most prominent international film festival in Kosova-UNMIK.

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