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“Directing and Misogyny”: Women Directors Speak up in Femart

Film is one of those in exceptions in Kosovo wherein women have created a space to tell their stories. The number of women directors who have won awards today is substantially different from the pre-war cinematography scene, when names like Isa Qosja overshadowed everyone else.
In the discussion panel on “Directing and Misogyny”, Femart Festival has gathered film and theatre female directors in Kosovo to speak on the historical representation of women in Kosovo cinematography, and the way patriarchy is reproduced in the film industry, within and without Kosovo. Moderating was the theatre director and Femart Festival artistic director, Zana Hoxha Krasniqi. Participants were Blerta Zeqiri (Kthimi; The Return), Lendita Zeqiraj (Ballkoni; The Balcony), Kaltrina Krasniqi (Kanarinët e Dinë; The Canaries Know), More Raça (Ku është Doni; Where is Doni), and Arlinda Morina (Rrobaqepësja; The Seamstress). Hoxha Krasniqi’s first question is regarding the first moment when the panelists noticed a misogynistic approach to films produced in Kosovo. Zeqiri said that she specifically remembers a videotape where the female character automatically falls in love with the male protagonist, because it was necessary for the script. “Nobody questions her love for the man,” says Zeqiri. Morina described a film that she had seen in her second or third year of university, where the protagonist bring a second wife home: “Women are treated as worthless here, it was presented as a part of our tradition [polygyny], like ‘this is nothing’”.

Directors (from left): More Raça, Blerta Zeqiri, Lendita Zeqiraj, Zana Hoxha Krasniqi (moderator), Arlinda Morina and Kaltrina Krasniqi. Photography: Majlinda Hoxha.

Krasniqi, who studied Kosovo film production (she recently published an article on 90’s VHS films for Kosovo 2.0’s last edition), said that films in Kosovo have historically projected a fake life with fake characters. However, the way women are represented is not only stereotypical, according to Krasniqi, in many Kosovo films it seems that “the creator never had any deep sort of interaction with a woman. If they’re young, if the character is 18 years old, she is always naïve, you can fool her easily. She doesn’t want to go to school, she wants to look pretty. If she’s a woman in her 30s, she is, without exception, a servant who follows orders. If she’s old, she is the most loyal servant to the patriarchal family…This representation repeats itself in every film, no matter the director or scriptwriter, without exception women are put into these boxes”.

While Zeqiraj sees this problem as a part of the historical disinterest that the film scene has toward the real lives of women in Kosovo. “It’s true, the woman comes home from work, pulls her sleeves up, and does all the housework. We’re talking about a majority, a 90%. Film should reflect society, but when talking about earlier times, when there were [mostly] male directors, they didn’t see this as problematic…Female characters in Kosovo cinematography are historically lacking, unrealistic, and if as woman is carrying buckets as in the Bicycle Thieves, the woman still has her own personality, she is a complete character, in terms of script and film. This has been lacking in Kosovo cinematography”, said Zeqiraj.

“In KosovaFilm history,” Raça added, “so many films were produced where the woman was never moving the film along. Women are there to fill gaps or serve men, who are the main characters”. Hoxha Krasniqi points out that the issues of representation and creation of whole female characters is never discussed in the Faculty of Arts at the University of Prishtina, even though it is the main institution that produces theatre and film. As a result, future directors and screenwriters are not confronted with problems of representation and sexism in film and theatre.

Discussion Panel “Directing and Misogyny”. Photography: Majlinda Hoxha

Zeqiri then tells of her own experience in the Faculty of Arts, when she met with a professor to talk about her decision to study film. “That professor said everything he could to make sure I didn’t do it, because “it’s a male profession, you’ll be working long hours, you’ll get married tomorrow and then what? You’ve just taken some man’s spot”. Zeqiri went to study directing in France (and is now one of Kosovo’s most well-known post-war directors), but it is worth questioning how many potential female film students are discouraged because of comments and professors such as this.

According to Zeqiraj, being a woman directors requires a lot of commitment. “When I worked with Blerta [Zeqiri] in a film project, we talked to a couple of well-known male Kosovo directors, looking for moral support that we could not find. Their reactions were, “this isn’t done here, you won’t be able to achieve this…”, but we started this unsupported work, with our own tools, our own strength, and it got us all the way to Oberhausen [Festival]. This is that motivation, for those who want to work, which comes from the self first, society should be prepared but we’re still a ways from it. We have to give thrice as much to achieve what can maybe be done much more easily in the civilized world”.

A result of this perseverance is seen in the number of female directors who are rewarded with film grants. “The last time the funds from the KCC [Kosovo Cinematography Center] were awarded, 50% of the projects belonged to female directors or producers, which is a great achievement that I wouldn’t have dreamt of seeing a few years ago”, said Zeqiri. According to her, this might happen because commercial, profitable jobs are dominated by men in Kosovo, which leaves space for women feature-length filmmaking. “We were either lucky or luckless getting involved in these non-profitable initiatives”, she adds.

And as is usual when talking about equal representation for women, the old question arises: should we use affirmative action? “I don’t like the 50-50 theory when it comes to their [subsidized films] selection,” says Raça. “There should be women within the commisions, there are no heads of the [selection] board that are women, and nor in the KCC…this is a Balkan phenomenon, no women in the boards, but change can be achieved if we are represented in public institutions”.

At the end of the panel, Hoxha Krasniqi asks the panelists if they feel a responsibility to insert topics related to social justice and feminism in their work. For Raça, social justices that preoccupy her are reflected in the scripts that she writes (her next project is called “Home” and deals with inheritance rights in Kosovo).

Discussion Panel “Directing and Misogyny”. Photography: Majlinda Hoxha

“There is no way you can write, photograph, or film something and have it not be political, all those acts are political in and of themselves. Running away from political responsibility is, first of all, stupid, and then ignorant,” says Krasniqi. “I am interested in women. We do not know what Kosovo women are like, we’re women ourselves and we don’t know each other, because we haven’t been represented in the public scene. I am interested in women in every sphere of life. I have heard, seen, and celebrated stories of men, and as a principle am not interested [in them] that much…I have been raised by women, my mother, aunt, grandmother – and I was maybe 15 when I realized what goes on in my friends’ homes, where in every home there is a commander…my friends have mothers and aunts without voices, or gay or lesbian [family members] without voices of their own, living in societies where it is acceptable for them not to have a voice…We should be careful who we write to, to ensure that we don’t justify to men the freedom that we deserve,” she adds. Krasniqi’s next project reflect this creative ethic. Her protagonist is a 64-year-old woman, who decides to break up from her husband.

But is it difficult to create when there is a lack of women filmmakers in the past? How can we share stories of women now, if we don’t have representative models from the past? There is no easy answer. “One good movie from today fills that gap,” says Zeqiraj. Raça draws inspiration from films made by women in Albania, mentioning the actress Tinka Kurti and director Xhanfize Keko. Whereas Krasniqi is always in search of marks left by women creators of our culture – but she also mentions the potential for inspiration that could come from lands with similar issues to Kosovo when it comes to this lack of genuine representation of women.

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