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The Network - 26/01/2006

 

Milazim Salihu, Kino ABC, Pristina (Kosovo)

 

The Kino ABC in Pristina is the only cinema regularly screening films in Kosovo at the moment. Milazim Salihu, chief cameraman by trade, has been its manager since it opened in 2000. He is also a distributor.
Since 2001, the cinema has received the support of Europa Cinemas for its schedules of European and French films, as part of the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs programme. Uncertainties over the status of Kosovo render it ineligible to claim Eurimages support for the time being.
The Kino ABC holds many cultural events similar to the Festival of French Film, which takes place every year. On the initiative of Pascale Delpech, the Culture and Cooperation french attachée, Claude Miller, president of Europa Cinemas, and Claude-Eric Poiroux, its general director, went there with the actress Lubna Azabal for this event last December. Exchanges of French and Kosovan professionals should follow on from that visit.
So, despite difficulties, cultural cooperation certainly does exist but the exhibitor is not satisfied with this situation and is fighting to get national and European films on his two screens, even if most of the films he shows are American productions.
How do you create a cinematographic culture in an area which is under-equipped and which has very poor production capacity? Here are some clear answers from Milazim Salihu, who has come to France to take part in particular in Journées UniFrance and the Premiers Plans festival in Angers.

How does the cinema operate now and how do you collaborate with European countries?

Kosovo now has around thirty cinemas, but these are in a very poor state. The Kino ABC is the only cinema to screen films regularly and I am the country's only distributor.
We received a lot of help from the British when we renovated the cinema. It has been running for five years, with Europa Cinemas providing its only financial support. It is not supported by the Kosovan Ministry of Culture, which has a very limited budget.
The support by Europa Cinemas is particularly helpful to us in the area of operating costs, and is significant when compared with, for example, the cost of the generator. And operating costs make our enterprise particularly difficult. We wanted another screen so we renovated a large hall, and this ran for 6 months. But it cost far too much to heat. So we made do with renovating a smaller room in the same building. The Kino ABC now comprises two screens in two separate places.
In collaboration with diplomatic representations from European countries, we offer selective events devoted to European film genres, particularly those of France and Germany. The Festival of French Film takes place every December. Next April, we are organising a week of British film, with the British Council. We are also attempting to put on events with the Greeks and the Italians. In partnership with the One World festival (Jeden Svet) in Prague, we are organising a festival of documentary films on human rights, in September. All of these festivals are very important since they provide the opportunity to introduce film genres that I could not introduce as part of normal distribution.
Furthermore, I should like to offer a festival of European films, like those which have taken place in Belgrade and Skopje. The festival would travel to Tirana. I should stress that the area has a fairly large Albanian-speaking population: between Kosovo, Albania and Macedonia, around 7 million people speak the language and thus constitute a market for films subtitled in Albanian.

What place does local production occupy in your programme schedules today and, more generally, apart from the cultural events, what do the schedules comprise?

The situation with cinemas is difficult throughout the region, as is the situation with film production. And as for European films, they work to an extent in Serbia, but barely at all in the other countries.
At the ABC we will now be screening Bosnian and Croatian films. We show two or three Albanian films per year, as well as European films which deal with subjects linked to Albania. But American films, being the easiest to obtain, make up most of our programme schedules. Prints come from distribution companies in Zagreb and Belgrade, which have the rights for the whole region. And for marketing, I work with Albanians.
I have problems getting European films since they cost me more than American films and achieve fewer admissions. Rates charged by French exporters rule me out straightaway: they ask for a higher guaranteed minimum than that for American films and the film will have great trouble attracting the number of viewers needed to make a return on my investment. Relations with German exporters are a little easier but negotiations still take a very long time. In contrast, distributors of American films supply me regularly and I return part of the takings to them, in this case 40%.
For the moment, I cannot buy the DVD and television rights to the films, and this also limits my field of activity.
Above all the cinema is suffering a significant drop in attendance. In 2000 and 2001, it attracted between 80,000 and 100,000 viewers, with just one screen. With two screens, attendance is now at 45,000 admissions. This drop is most certainly linked to the boom in piracy which, unfortunately, was furthered by the international presence in the country. The law on piracy was passed by Parliament but is clearly not being applied.

What is the situation with national production?

During the 1990s no projects came into being, so the young directors of today are sorely lacking in experience. I am very involved in production and I can state that several projects are currently in abeyance, mainly by filmmakers who have already shot one or two films during the 1980s. However, just one company has managed to complete a Kosovan film, Kukumi by Isa Qosja, coproduced with the Croatians. The film won the special jury prize at the Sarajevo Film Festival. It has the qualities necessary to tour the region but has not yet been purchased.
To encourage the spawning of young filmmakers I would like to offer the chance to discover a European author who would come to meet young Kosovan filmmakers, say every two months. But I don't yet have a budget for that. I should also like to invite the Romanian director Ruxandra Zenide whose first film, Ryna, I saw at the Sarajevo festival.
Exchange with our neighbours is of prime importance. I am trying to forge links with festivals showing student films and shorts but it is quite difficult.

Why are there difficulties forging links with organisations abroad?

The question over the status of Kosovo very clearly prevents me from travelling. I have a passport but any journey is a problem and the process of obtaining a visa is always very complex. Only the Swiss and the Germans give visas in Pristina itself, otherwise I always have to travel to Skopje. For example, I wanted to go to the Europa Cinemas conference in Budapest but, despite several return trips to Skopje, I never obtained the necessary authorisation. I am going to the Sarajevo festival and am taking part in their CineLink project linking professionals in the region, but I would also like to go to the festivals in Turkey, Romania or Bulgaria. But it is far too complicated.

Website: www.kinoabc.info

Interview conducted by Marketa Colin-Hodouskova and Jean-Baptiste Selliez, January 2006

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