By Rafaela Prifti /
The US Premiere of The Delegation, Albania’s Oscar Selection for Foreign Feature Film, opened at School of Visual Arts Theater on January 14, 2020. The movie stares at the past and stirs the conscience of succeeding generations of Albanians born in the post-communist era.
After a-meet-and-greet reception, the rows were filled close to capacity in the 479-seat theater. Frida Bedaj, organizer and sponsor coordinator for the event, opened the evening by thanking everyone. “Art is an excellent passport for a people,” she said, “and film, in particular, because it travels around the world visiting many countries and cultures.” As ‘the architect’ of the movie presentation, Ms. Bedaj revealed her reasons for bringing Bujar Alimani’s film The Delegation in the US. She said that Bujar Alimani is an esteemed director whose films have been selected by Albania’s Cinematographic Center to be submitted in the Oscar’s International feature film category in the last years. The Delegation, a critically acclaimed film that has received multiple awards in European Festivals, was submitted to this year’s 2020 Academy Awards. “It was important to bring the movie here,” she noted, because “Albanians tend to shy away from facing the past, whereas art has the power to show it and even invite us to reflect…” The theme of forgiveness for the sufferings inflicted by the communist regime becomes even more relevant in the current political climate of Albania manifesting restrictions familiar from the past dictatorship, while “the young generation have little mindfulness of what the Albanian people underwent during the communist regime,” said Ms. Bedaj. At the end of her opening, she invited Her Excellency Teuta Sahatqija, Consul General of Kosovo in New York, a consistent supporter of the arts and the artistic community in the US. Ambassador Sahatqija affirmed that the plight of Albanians inside the self-imposed communist isolation made it difficult for the Albanians outside of its borders to know the painful truths. Telling these stories is important to the survivors who outlived communism, the persecuted and the families who suffered; it is important to all of us, who, at the time, were unaware of such torments, said the Ambassador Sahatqija. Cautioning that “Today’s youth needs to know about the communist past and appreciate the freedom of speech as a foundation of democracy,” she called director Bujar Alimani “a voice for the Albanian people’s pain.”
Among the sponsors of the evening were: The Head Hunter Group Stone Castle Vineyards and Winery, Home Exchange PA, Alba Pharmacy of Staten Island, Dua Kafe etc.
The film is produced by Albania’s Art Film jointly with movie companies from Kosovo, France, and Greece. It is set in Albania in October 1990 as the communist regime that has ruled the country for nearly half a century is facing its collapse. It is the story of a political prisoner who has been twice sentenced by Albania’s regime and is forced to be part of the authorities plot to “fool the Internationals” about the country’s reality with respect to Human Rights. Although fictional, the underlying facts are well-evidenced. Albania’s communists felt threatened and consistently targeted well-educated individuals for fear of being ‘influenced from the West’. Also based on facts is the monitoring of the political reforms to open the door for Albania to benefit from European inclusion. In the script, a delegation is scheduled to meet with the government officials of Albania, who devise a plan that calls for an arranged rendezvous of the Albanian Professor, turned political prisoner, and the head of the European delegation. The two had met and grew close while studying abroad together. By putting together three characters with three different and opposing views: the imprisoned professor, Leo Konomi (Viktor Zhusti), the political party official Comrade Spiro (Ndricim Xhepa), and the strong-arm man of the regime Asllan (Xhevdet Ferri), the quiet yet intense drama builds up – visually conveyed with long duration shots and close-ups. Set against the backdrop of a poorly functioning country, where people get by with shortages as daily occurrences. The opening line of the scene “It doesn’t work!” as the camps’ guard cannot get the TV box to open, is repeated with variations when the phone is out of order, or the car breaks down on the road to the capital, a condition that permeates deeper, until prisoner Leo says to the torturer Asllan that he is also “imprisoned” just like everyone else in Albania.
Director Bujar Alimani, who favors a minimalist style, said that the “lifeless colors and the lack of music” were designed to allow the viewer to just absorb and “feel”. The director of The Delegation thanked the audience and invited on stage Leke Mirakaj and Hasan Bajo, former political prisoners, to discuss and share their thoughts. Although the movie is fictional, the story of its main character speaks to thousands of survivors of communist Albania who have been incarcerated and penalized to live and work in labor camps around the country. Leke Mirakaj, a survivor of Spac and Qafe Bari, where he was sent as an infant with his family and was forced to spend nearly four decades, commented on the realism of the scenes from the labor camp. A well-respected VATRA member, Leke Mirakaj congratulated the movie makers. He noted that the character of the government representative in the film, Comrade Spiro, “is likely a Judge in Albania’s courts today” making the point that the present situation in the country is not a far leap from the fictional story in the movie.
To borrow a term coined by Roger Ebert, the English translation and subtitles by Ardian Vehbiu and Tomas Logoreci deserve two-thumbs up as they deliver ‘The Delegation’ to non-Albanian speaking audiences.
The Delegation resonates with the survivors and descendants of Albanians who have lived most of their lives in the post-communist era, while telling a compelling story to the young generation about the pain and suffering that communism inflicted on the people.
In memoriam: The screenwriter, Artan Minarolli, passed away before the movie went into production. Former Head of the Albanian Center of Cinematography, Minarolli was also a writer, producer and director. Featured in the role of a communist militant Asllan in the movie The Delegation, Xhevdet Ferri, a career actor, passed away in Albania on January 16, shortly after the film’s NY premiere.