by Rafaela Prifti-Xhanfize Keko is Director of the Week at Turner Classic Movies. Women Make Film series was launched on September 1st. Since then, every Tuesday TCM airs movies directed by women filmmakers around the world. Last night, it aired the movie Tomka and His Friends (1977) by Albanian director Xhanfize Keko. Turner Classic Movies celebrates classic movies without commercial interruptions. The network began in 1994 by founder Ted Turner to bring Turner’s Entertainment’s massive library of classic films onto the TV screen.
As a female director, she was a pioneer in Albania’s film industry. Her professional career spans from the early fifties into early nineties, at a time when creativity and artistry grappled with restrictions imposed by Albania’s communist regime. Nevertheless, Xhanfize Keko directed eleven full length feature films for younger audiences that generations of Albanians, including the author of these lines, grew up watching. In May of this year, director Mevlan Shanaj presented a documentary on a premier creator of children’s films, Xhanfize Keko (1928 – 2007). She studied documentary techniques at the Russian Academy of Arts in Moscow. In 1952, the young director Keko co-founded the New Albania Film Studio, according to the TCM webpage. For two decades, she was a documentary editor and developed her own style that she shared with audiences in her documentary short film in 1971. Four years later, Keko directed Beni Walks on His Own (a mechanical translation from Albanian title, Beni Ecen Vete) and two years after that Tomka and His Friends (Tomka dhe Shoket e TIj). Her movies present a sensitive and unique approach to family and personal matters through the eyes of the children. International film critics have praised the Albanian director for her originality and technical craftsmanship.
It is worth noting that the movie was remastered by the Library of Congress in Washington DC. It raises an important point that needs to draw more attention to the poor storage conditions and the antiquated quality of past works, Albania’s artists have long demanded that the films and art produced in the pre-nineties period be remastered in order to save the creative works that are part of our history and collective memory.