Dokufest - a documentary film festival putting Kosovo on cultural map

Thu Aug 21, 2014 9:43am EDT
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By Fatos Bytyci

PRIZREN Kosovo (Reuters) - Under a starry sky, young Kosovars take their seats alongside tourists on a platform rising from the shallow Bistrica River that cuts through Prizren, bats darting overhead in the moonlight.

Others dangle their legs from the stone riverbank walls - all drawn to the latest offering of Dokufest, the 13-year-old international documentary and short film festival that is putting Kosovo well and truly on the cultural map.

Veton Nurkollari, the festival's creative director, watches as participants from all over the world queue for kebabs, bread and a bottle of the local beer. Prizren, a centuries-old trading hub and cultural crossroads, is buzzing.

Organizers say last year they sold more than 10,000 tickets to festivalgoers but this year the number is growing. Some 40 percent of the visitors are foreigners.

"Dokufest is producing good news," Nurkollari says.

For 15 years this tiny, landlocked country has struggled to shake the image of a war-torn, crime-ridden nation, best known in the West as the venue for NATO's 1999 war against Serbia to save Kosovo's ethnic Albanians from massacre and expulsion.

Organizers and festival volunteers here are part of a generation of young, urban, Internet-savvy Kosovars trying to change perceptions and nurture a cultural scene too often starved of official attention and financial support.

Since its inception in 2002, Dokufest has grown into the largest cultural event in Kosovo, and a draw for foreigners out to explore the Balkans. There are obvious echoes of the Sarajevo film festival, which grew from the rubble of the Bosnian capital, besieged for 43 months in the early 1990s, to become one of Europe's top events in film.   Continued...

Kosovars and foreign visitors take their seats on a raised platform to watch a documentary film during Dokufest in Prizren August 20, 2014. REUTERS/Hazir Reka