By Xhorxhina Bami/*
‘Looking for Venera’ explores the relationships between three generations of the same family via a teenage girl’s exploration of life and self.
Norika Sefa traces her passion for making movies to her father’s own habit of capturing family events on film when she was a child in Kosovo. With an old 16 millimetre camera, “he filmed everything that happened at home – events, birthdays, simple things,” she said. When he handed her the raw material, Sefa edited what she calls a “hybrid documentary” that won her a place studying filmmaking in Denmark in 2012, aged 17. Almost a decade later, Sefa has just walked away with the Special Jury Award at the International Film Festival Rotterdam with her debut feature film ‘Looking for Venera’, another coup for Kosovo’s blossoming film industry after Blerta Basholli’s ‘Hive’ won three awards at Sundance Film Festival.
Sefa, like her father, turned her lens on three generations of a Kosovo Albanian family and the spiritual awakening of teenage Venera, chafing against her patriarchal surroundings and lack of privacy in the family’s cramped home in the Kacanik area of southern Kosovo. Meeting Dorina, who is slightly older, helps open her eyes.
“Everything around them feels like stagnation,” Sefa told BIRN. But, “being together, everything around makes so much sense… They enable each other.”
Roles set in stone
Born in the western region of Djakova/Djakovica, Sefa chose to set her film in a village in the southern Kacanik region on the main artery running to neighbouring North Macedonia because of its “special geography.” “It has plains but there are also mountains; it also has a river, so it has very beautiful natural resources,” she said.
But Kacanik in the film is a place where roles are set in stone. Little happens, and young people have few options for how to spend their free time. Venera’s journey of discovery brings little change to her immediate environment, but helps her better understand her family.
“The biggest change happens in how they see each other in the family, within this framework,” said Sefa.
“Venera initially tries to change herself and thus understands her mother more broadly and begins to change the relationship with her mother,” she said. “As the girl grows up, the mother is able to show some nuances of life that Venera could not comprehend. So another kind of movement is formed in the family and the focus is not only on the individual but they give something more to each other.”
By “provoking a desire for change,” Venera takes on a role in which she teaches her parents a new reality.
‘A reality I know’
While Looking for Venera is not autobiographical, it depicts the kind of traditional relationships that Sefa says she has been surrounded by her whole life.
In Denmark, Sefa studied the technical side of filmmaking – “the camera, the shooting, the role of each member of the team, the sound, the hierarchy of a set.”
On returning to Kosovo, Sefa worked on various film projects and documentaries before winning a state scholarship to study directing and screenwriting in Prague, where she lives today.
Looking for Venera, which premiered in Rotterdam in February, has been five years in the making, she said. When it came to casting, Sefa said she cared less about previous experience than whether an actor could depict the intensity of the relationships in the film.
I wanted to find one very observant and one very expressive girl… two very different girls that complement each other at a point where the difference between them is what actually makes them attractive to each other,” Sefa told BIRN. “So it took me a long time.”
Venera is played by Kosovare Krasniqi, also making her debut, and Dorina by Rozafa Cefaj, already an established name in Kosovo film.
“Dorina is more open but otherwise expressive. Venera is wiser or more mature, but she does not know how to express herself, and Dorina enables her,” Sefa said in an interview.
“This duo, Venera and Dorina, is very important because it is the greatest energy that pervades the film. These two take on the greatest burden of the whole drama.”
Venera’s grandmother is played by Sefa’s own grandmother.
“I collaborated with some people with whom I felt a connection,” Sefa said. “My grandma didn’t know what it means to be in a movie. She came on set because I’m very attached to her and she keeps me grounded. Having her there was a means to think about why I wanted to make this film.”
The result, she said, “undoubtedly shows a reality that I know, in the environments that I know, in our autochthonous relations in the hierarchy of how a family works.”
“Some consider it patriarchal and some traditional.”
Sefa said the film was not a metaphor for anything, but that the “symbolism” was up to the audience. “My creative process is more about a curiosity, an elaboration of a topic rather than something that has happened to me in real life.”
*(Courtesy Balkan Insight)