A Story From Kosovo in the ‘90s After Which it is Impossible to Remain Indifferent to Refugees

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The heartbreaking film Babai (Father in Albanian), made by the Kosovar immigrant to Germany Visar Morina, became a real discovery in European cinematography this year. Morina’s debut feature has already won him the best director award and the Europa Cinemas label’s award at the international film festival in Karlovy Vary and the One Future Prize and Young German Cinema Award at the Munich Film Festival. The storyline is this: the 10-year-old boy Nori (Val Maloku), after his mother left the family, follows his milquetoast father Gezim (Astrit Kabashi) everywhere. Nori cannot bear to be parted from his father. So the father’s decision to try to find a better place to live and to move to Germany is a pure tragedy for the kid. He refuses to stay with the rather peculiar relatives who take him in and does everything he can and more to break the system and become reunited with his parent. Youth Time had an opportunity to meet up with Visar Morina in Karlovy Vary and to talk about the background of the story.

What is the story behind the movie and the script? All previous projects of yours were connected with Germany. Why are you going back to Kosovo? 

Well it depends on the theme and depends on the interests I’m having, whether it is Kosovo or Germany. If I talk about childhood, then for me it’s much (more) natural to do something set in Kosovo, because I lived there until I turned 15. If I talk about how it is to get drunk, or to meet a girl, then it will be set in Germany, because this is the place where I learned these things.

I started with story of Babai in 2007, and since then, so many things have happened. I’m actually very influenced by Italian cinema, neorealism, and I do have a very strong relationship with my father and of course I always thought of my childhood as a very nice thing in a very romantic way, but the main part for me was the point of view of the son to the father, and losing it, and I thought of the father or mother, parents, as somebody who takes you into the world, you’re actually always copying them. Because of a very deep trust you have in them, and my question is, what if you lose it (the trust)? And that’s why, the bus station scene, when the father leaves, is a very important, key scene for me. At that point, the father doesn’t work as a figure anymore, because all the trust that was there, is lost.

What was the final message? Did the boy gain back the trust and understanding he had with his father?

I don’t know. The ending happened the way it ends in the film. Actually we had another ending, and it happened during the editing and all my heart was for this ending…(pauses) I don’t know the final meaning… I was very much trying to show the state of mind, and state of feelings, to end with the scene in the box was quite good. And all the sleeping scenes are quite important to me, because I have them very often. Sleeping is the only place where there is a little bit of peace. And the way it ends, honestly, I am not happy with many parts of the film but I like very much the beginning and the end.

The boy is very young, but he looks very impressive on the screen. Who is he, where did you find him?

Val Maloku is from Kosovo. We were looking like hell for a child. We did a commercial on TV, we saw so many kids. We went from school to school and talked to all the boys around the right age, and the ones we were interested in, we called them again and again. We found him in school finally. 

There are several parallel stories in Babai that are very hard emotionally: black market traders, desperate refugees, a woman who is trying hard to go to her husband abroad and leaves an immobilized father-in-law alone. Is this your point of view on how things actually play out in Kosovo or is there a massage here?

We are talking about a very difficult period in Kosovo. This was in the ‘90s, Milosevic came to power, the war in Bosnia was going on, and the old communist regimes broke apart, and we had all over the place, policemen and tanks and it was really a hard situation. After the war in Bosnia, there was no perspective and people lost their jobs, the schools were closed, and so that was not actually a good place to live. So many people left the country, and they supported their families very much and are still supporting their families very much. I remember from childhood that this was the main topic for a long time. So many people left in the ‘90s, and I’m glad you’re mentioning it because I wanted to create this feeling in the film. There is also another problem: if the situation in a country get worse, it gets much more expensive to leave. We are talking about 2 years after the war.

The film has already received attention in Europe. What about Kosovo, what has the reaction been there?

I was very, very afraid to shoot there because there are so many scenes with lots of people, and I didn’t know how the process would work in Kosovo, but it turned out that shooting there was actually the right decision. The Kosovo state or foundation, they supported us so much. They gave us €200,000 for this film. Compared to what they have, this a huge amount and they were very supportive. Now of course, it’s a very young country, and there’s a very small film industry and of course Babai is a good thing. They are very happy, and also the actors. In Munich, my main actors got an award for Best Actor, and I was happy like crazy.

Has the movie already appeared there (Kosovo)?

No, we will have our Kosovo premiere in September, and I’m very excited about this, because really they put so much love into this project, they made things possible. The scene with the dogs for example, I went to the guy, and I felt bad saying, “I need some fucking dogs” and then he took his car, and after 2 days he came and said, “I have your dogs”. They were at the beginning (un)professional, but they were so committed to it. It was actually much better than having some professional idiot to work with.

Would it be possible to make a film project like this, set in Kosovo, if you hadn’t moved to Germany?

I don’t think so, I don’t know. In Kosovo, there is a school. Honestly I don’t think the school is that good but now there is a new energy there, and it’s the new energy of very young filmmakers who have done so far just shorts, but really very good shorts. For example, my favorite short film that was made there was by Blerta Zeqiri, she made The Return and got the main award at Sundance, and she will be shooting this year and I am very excited to see her films. I feel like things are changing there. There is still no money, but there is such energy. Honestly for me in terms of theatre and movies, there is so much to be done. But you can have amazing concerts in Pristina. People are just doing jump sessions, and somehow the music, is very good music and very good bands. I think Federico Fellini would have this big party if he were there. I feel like you just have to turn on your camera there and you will have your movie.

What are your plans for the future? What do you expect to do now?

Yes. But it’s really just the beginning. I’m writing it. It’s like a love, sex film. It’s about a 20 year old guy, and his very good-looking mother and his girlfriend.

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