By Nora Kalaja/
Winner of “Best Foreign Film” and “Best Director Award”, Director and Writer Mentor Spahiu this new year is debuting with his first feature documentary film “8400” a production of Plisi, co-produced by Dera Film. The film completed shooting in 2020, so a festival debut in 2021 is very likely and highly anticipated. We have been hearing quite a new about the new film by Mentor Spahiu, since the film features the life story of Dr. Dr. Bernard Benedetti of “Médecins Sans Frontières” (Doctors Without Borders).
In 2017 Mentor Spahiu became the subject of mainstream media attention with his feature documentary film “8400” initially named “Actors of Cannes”, which was shot in France, Croatia and Kosovo. At its center, the film highlights emotional aspects of sacrifice and heroism in the process of saving human life, as seen in the mass poisoning tragedy of 8,400 Kosovo school children in 1990.
Mentor Spahiu is an accomplished award-winning filmmaker. His thought-provoking films have received awards and nominations in reputable film festivals around the world. Currently he is the co-founder of Plisi Film based in Prizren, Kosovo.
Director, writer Mentor Spahiu was born in Kosovo in 1988. He studied Artistic Film (BA) and Film / Documentary (MA) at the University of Prishtina and attracted international attention with his films.
In 2013 he directed the critically acclaimed short film “God’s Land” (Toka e Zotit) written by Luan Kryeziu. “God’s Land” (2013) screened at the See A Paris Film Festival, Albanian Film Week in New York, Nine Eleven Film Festival and Skena Up.
Mentor Spahiu received international fame with his film “The War” (2014), which he wrote and directed, produced by Izet Morina. The film has drawn praise from one of the world’s leading film festival, “Berlinale” and it earned the “Best Film” Nominee at the PiGrecoZen Film Festival in Italy. The War centers around human rights and the consequences of war.
Mentor Spahiu blends his cinematic style, artistic ambition with the art of storytelling to create emotionally powerful films. It was his next film “Tank on My Yard” (Tanku në oborrin tim, 2014) which made Mentor Spahiu a household name in Kosovo and overseas. The film won “Media Award” at the Dea Open Air International Film Festival in Albania. Together with producer Izet Morina, Mentor Spahiu owns Plisi Film, which produces films that have screened in over 30 countries worldwide.
Interview with Award-winning Director and Writer Mentor Spahiu
What projects are you currently working on?
Mentor Spahiu: I am currently working on a full-length documentary film, titled “8400”. I started working on this project since 2017. For this documentary film, we took the needed time to do a lot of research so that the events are presented to the audience in a true factual and documented manner. We have gathered many key interviews and materials. Given the sensitivity of the topic and its social impact we had to do our due diligence when dealing with the subject matter.
Documentary filmi “8400” is a production of my film company “Plisi Filmi” in collaboration with “Dera Film”. This film has been evaluated and supported by the Cinematographic Center of Kosovo – QKK, as a project of interest and opportunity for the cultural and social presentation of Kosovo in the international arena, through various high-level festivals, with special emphasis on the highest events of film in the world, such as category A festivals, as well as for national presentation. The film is also supported by the Municipality of Prishtina.
We are now in the post-production phase and we expect its release soon in January 2021. We plan to submit the film in many festivals around the world, as well as its world premiere at one of the largest documentary film festivals.
Who is in your team for this project?
Mentor Spahiu: I wrote and directed the film, produced by Izet Morina, co-produced by Latif Hasolli. DOPs are Latif Hasolli, Isak Duraku, and Dalmat Dobra. The Executive producers are: Çlirimtar Spahiu, Zërimi: Gëzim Rama. The documentary features in its lead roles Hazir Haziri and Nazmi Bajra.
What is the new documentary film “8400” about?
Mentor Spahiu: The documentary film project “8400” deals with a painful part of our history. In Kosovo schools, over 8,400 pupils were poisoned in 1990, by the Serbian secret service. In this horrific tragedy more than 8400 students, teachers and citizens were poisoned, including children in pre-school institutions. The Serbian government declared that they are not poisoned, but are acting and called the poisoned children “Actors for the Cannes Film Festival”.
The truth about the mass poisoning is revealed from laboratories in France through Dr. Bernard Benedetti of “Médecins Sans Frontières” (Doctors Without Borders). Further crucial evidence is presented from findings from toxicologist from Croatia and from laboratories in England, where toxicologist Aubin Hendricx had stated that Sarin poison was used on the Albanian children of Kosovo. Sarin is among the ten most deadly poisons in the world.
This powerful project is a reminder of the bitter truth and injustices done against Kosovar Albanians during the 90s, and we should never forget such atrocities.
What do you hope people will take away from the film?
Mentor Spahiu: In addition to exposing a hidden truth to the international community, the message of this documentary will be a novelty for the new generations that were born after the sarin poison tragedy. This documentary is a pillar of remembrance of what evil and war can do. And the message is to never forget the horror that our people in Kosovo have gone through.
We want to bring to the viewers around the world awareness about this mass crime and its crippling reality. We hope that this documentary will start a discussion in the international arena about inhume treatment, abuse of human rights and we hope that justice is served.
The film also features, one of men who was poisoned, Nazmi Bajra, who at that time was a technical worker at the school. He was poisoned while helping students. The interview tells his struggles, and the health consequences 30 years after the poisoning. Nazmi is seeking justice today in the Strasbourg court against Serbia’s crime for the mass 1990s poisonings in Kosovo schools.
What has been your journey like with your films?
Mentor Spahiu: I am very blessed that my films have been valued in many international festivals, wining awards in United States and other places. As a filmmaker getting the feedback from the audience and film critics lets me know how my films have influenced them.
I am very excited about the feature documentary film, I feel ready and prepared after all the hard work and research that we put in.
Do you express yourself creatively in any other ways?
Mentor Spahiu: Writing is one of my passions, where I find the space I need to express myself on whatever motivates and inspires me. To see the characters that I write and create come to life is such a special feeling. And seeing them on the big the big screen is even more exciting, especially seeing the reactions of audience on this artistic creation. The process from script to directing to screen has its beautiful moments and I enjoy all three very much. It’s a way for me to connect with the audience, the actors, and my artistic expression.
Are you working on your next project now?
Mentor Spahiu: At the moment I am working on a script for a feature film. We are preparing to start shooting this film in the fall of 2021.
What are your personal goals for next year?
Mentor Spahiu: My focus is on soon releasing “8400” and to successfully complete the new film we are working on. We have that the documentary film “8400” will have a successful journey in major festivals around the world. We truly believe that the audiences and the international community will appreciate the authenticity and the truth this project brings.