Kujtim Çashku is known not only for his films but also for the promotion of new generations of professionals in the cinematic arts. He is the principal of the Marubi Film School, the first film university in Albania. The school is known also for fostering cultural connections between the countries of Southeast Europe. The “cultural yard” of the other countries is still an “unexplored area”, says Çashku.
In an interview with Southeast Europe: People and Culture, Albania's internationally best-known cinema personality talks about some of the main moments of his career and his engagement with the Marubi Film and Multimedia Academy.
Çashku, 60, completed his studies at the Institute of Arts in Tirana and the Institute of Theatre and Film Art in Bucharest to start filming in 1975. He made a name with the 1996 feature film Colonel Bunker, the first Albanian - French - Polish co-production, and the 2004 Albanian – German movie The Magic Eye. He has won 16 international awards and four national ones including the Critics Prize at the 1996 Bastia Mediterranean Film Festival, the UNESCO Award at the 1998 Venice Film Festival for Colonel Bunker, as well as the Central Europe Initiative Award at the Trieste Film Festival for his contribution in the promotion of the intercultural dialogue. Çashku is member of the European Film Academy.
How did you start and who encouraged you on your road as a film director and a screenwriter?
It is impossible for me to tell where and when I started. One thing I can tell for sure: at some point, I faced the fact that my father did not like me dealing with cinematography. He wanted me to be an architect. With the passing of time, it was interesting to see how my father turned from an obstacle into a supporter on my road. My father noticed my passion for the cinema and the products of my work, the films. So, gradually, my family began to support me on the road I had chosen. This way, they turned into an inspiration for me.
What memories do you have of your first movie?
I produced my first film when I was a student in Bucharest. I was a young man coming from a dictatorship - Albania. Given the country I was leaving behind, Romania was to me a completely liberal country: all the literature that was forbidden in my own country was freely in circulation there. So, the first thing to do was to read that kind of literature. Existentialism and psychoanalysis were much in fashion at that time, but they were considered blasphemy in Albania. Consequently, my first films were inspired by existentialism.
Yet, one of them was censored in Romania. The reason was that some of my characters reflected the reality in Romania. In a word, my first encounter with censorship was within the film school where I was studying. My film, 15 minutes long, was about the manipulation in the media. It was used as a reference by another student 30 years later. I was surprised to see that the same clip, produced so many years ago, made so much sense in 2005when my movie Magic Eye, which is about manipulation in the media, was released.
Has the road been long from your very first movies to the most acclaimed “Colonel Bunker” and “Magic Eye”?
I have a 25-year career in film but this time seems to me like 25 minutes. The medieval times (my historical films) and the present times become one in the context of the films. On the other hand, it appears to me that the people I meet in real life are closely intertwined with the characters of my movies. So, it is hard to tell which character is a fictional one and which one is the real one that I meet in the day-to-day life.
Which of the many awards that you have received carries special importance for you?
I think that the Central Europe Initiative Award, for instance, was not simply a support given to me for my contribution in cinematography. It was also related to the Marubi Film and Multimedia School which I am running. Through this, I have created some linking bridges between the new generations of actors/actresses and film producers with the western film academies such as in Germany. The students of this school have co-produced, have established contacts, have taken part in international festivals and have received prizes. This way, besides doing my primary job, I was also contributing to the continuation of film tradition by the new generation.
However, the most important prize for me is that of the Federation of World Critics which is completely professional. In addition, I was awarded the title of a “Chevalier des arts et Lettres” by the French Government just three months ago [in 2009].
Do you have new plans involving the region?
So far, I am engaged in promoting the co-operation between the new generations of students. Marubi Film School is designed for the youngsters of the region to establish contacts and co-productions. Everything that was done in co-operation with the Belgrade Film Academy has been considered a success.
On the other hand, I am one of the eight rectors of film academies from the South Europe that have established a common network for exchanging experiences between students and professors. It is called the South East Europe Film Academy.
So far, it has organised some festivals where the students have presented their co-productions. Such a cooperation is important given that the communication space in the region has been quasi a taboo as these nations have been victims of the folkloric way of thinking. Direct communication between countries in southeast Europe is essential, i.e. we need to jump into the other’s “cultural yard”, which is still an unexplored area.