With great sadness we inform the partners, sponsor, our audience and public in general that we are pushed to take a very harsh decision, to cancel the seventh edition of PriFest. This decision comes after Friday this week when we finally received a response from our Ministry of Culture that the financial support for the festival has been cut by 78%.
Having in mind that the financial support of the Ministry of Culture for PriFest traditionally, since the first edition, has been the core funding, this harsh decision by the newly appointed Minister of Culture, Mr. Kujtim Shala, leaves us no choice but to cancel this edition of the festival. To make matters worse, although we tried countless times to find out before, the information from the Ministry of Culture became public just one month before the festival opening, when PriFest has already organized selection of films, contacted all the distributors, and selected the international jury and all the guests for the festival.
This fact unfortunately makes us come to the conclusion that this Minister (appointed just three months ago) doesn’t understand and doesn’t even want to try and understand the importance and the role that an international film festival like PriFest plays for a fragile film industry like the one in Kosovo and also the important factor that this festival plays for the cultural diplomacy of the young country like Kosovo. He doesn’t want this event to happen in the capital of the country that he is governing (he is also the Deputy Prime Minister of Kosovo). By informing us just one month before the event, in a very cynical way, he also makes it impossible for us to seek funding elsewhere and find a solution. Furthermore, in parallel with the financial cut, he also made it impossible for us to use the main venue of the festival, the National Theatre, where we have two screening rooms from the beginning of this traditional event. The National Theatre is under the umbrella of MKRS, and the new Minister has changed the board and then also sacked the management. The new management has ignored the agreement that we have with the old management, and the dates which we announced in May 2014, and they never replied to us officially, but the excuse is that we cannot use the National Theatre because there are rehearsals for the Ballet Premiere that is scheduled for 29 April 2015. The National Theatre has been our partner since day one and PriFest paid to use the premises. This kind of arrangement of using National Theatres for festivals is very common all over the world and examples are Sarajevo, Sofia and Berlin film festival. But not Kosovo, anymore!
This kind of behavior of Minister Shala has discouraged us completely by not giving us any choice but to cancel the event, which we believe is very important for the cultural scene of our country.
We cannot allow ourselves to lower the standard of the organization of the event due to the lack of funding; therefore we must cancel all the programme of films selected for this year, some of them world premieres, regional and international, and no doubt all of them premieres for the Kosovan audience. We are also forced to cancel all the invitations for a big number of our international guests, the international jury, all of these people that have already confirmed to visit Prishtina this year, while for some of them we have also purchased the flight tickets. We have cancelled the Best Pitch Award where more than 20 film projects from the whole of Balkans have applied for the workshop and the pitch for the Vanessa Redgrave Award. One of the saddest news is the fact that this big cultural event, one of the biggest in the country, and definitely the biggest in Prishtina, which over these six years has brought big and important names from the film industry of the world to Prishtina, held a big number of trainings, workshops and masterclasses for filmmakers from Kosovo and the region, brought the best films and the newest premieres from the Balkans, Europe and the world to Kosovo (over 400 feature, middle length and documentaries) including programs like special focus on different countries cinematography (promoted to date French, Italian, Japanese, Latin American and Indian, while this year the focus would have been in Turkish cinematography) and the program Let It Be which included feature films with the theme of LGBT, all of these are now lost for the Kosovan audience and the artistic community of Kosovo.
Why the Minister decided to do this, we do not know, because they didn’t answer our request for information on why our budget was cut so drastically, a budget that was the same for all 7 years of the festival, and also our question about the method they used for evaluation of performance or what they based this decision on. The Minstry had no answer!
We refuse to believe that a minister so young in age (much younger than Management of the Festival) appointed to lead an important Ministry that deals with Culture, Youth and Sports has something against the programme of PriFest, including here the LetItBe programme that focused on feature films with themes dedicated to the LGBT community, for which we can proudly say that PriFest, for the past three years, has had the courage to work on raising awareness and increasing tolerance in our society related to this matter. This programme was launched in cooperation with Outfest from Los Angeles (the biggest LGBT film festival in the world that exists for 35 years now) and we were supported for this program by the American Embassy in Kosovo. This programme has to be cancelled too, although the films have now been selected by our partners at Outfest LA.
For the past seven years, PriFest and its regional coproduction platform Prishtina Film FORUM brought many important names to Prishtina and to Kosovo, more than any other cultural event until now, names like Vanessa Redgrave, Oscar and Golden Globe winner and President of the Honorary Board of PriFest; Stephen Frears, Oscar nominee and winner of BAFTA; Samuel Maoz, winner of Golden Lion in Venice; Danis Tanovic, winner of Oscar and Silver Bear in Berlinale; Eva Orner, Oscar winner for documentary film; Jasmila Zbanic, Golden Bear winner at Berlinale; Joshua Marston, Oscar nominee and Silver Bear winner at Berlinale; Çedomir Kolar, winner of Oscar and Silver Bear in Berlinale; and hundreds of other filmmakers from the region, Europe and the world. All these visits are without doubt a cultural diplomacy for a small country like Kosovo. PriFest and PriFORUM also supported the film industry in the country and filmmakers from the region with many workshops and seminars (training in script development, training for film critics, pitch and pack training happening for 4 years regularly, and other sessions, discussion and master classes for students) which were held by very important partners of PriFest from Europe and USA, like German fund Medienboard, Connecting Cottbus specialists, pan European producers network organization EAVE (European Audio Visual Enterpreneurs) that has been present each year with many experts and was preparing a 5 day workshop for this year, international organization of film critics FiPresci, Outfest LA (USA) and Sundance Festival programmers. In addition every year PriFest and PriFORUM introduced for the local and regional filmmakers many important organizations and institutions from the film industry like: European Film Promotion, Media Mundus EU, Sor Fund Norway, CNC France, Berlinale Film Festival, Cinelink and Sarajevo Film Festival, Sofia Meetings and Sofia Film festival, Slovak Film institute etc. PriFest has great cooperation with Macedonian Film Agency, National Film Center Albania, Ministry of Culture Montenegro, Hartefact Fund Serbia and Kosovo Cinematography Center. Finally PriFORUM heavily promoted Kosovan film projects by presenting them as a case study in front of international guests of the festival and international producers as well as the film funds. Many of the initial contacts with international producers for the films like Babai of Visar Morina, Martesa of Blerta Zeqiri, and other projects were initiated at PriFest and they still continue successful cooperation.
We are very sad and discouraged by this act of our Minister of Culture, because it is another attack on the film industry of our country, following a few other steps that he already has taken to damage it like: withdrawing the Law on Film from the Parliament of Kosovo, a law that has already been worked on for a year with support from European Commission and with German Expert Consultancy, sacking the Managing Board of the Kosovo Cinematography Center without explanation, questioning whether Kosovo should continue to be present in Cannes Film Market with a pavilion etc. This management style can only be called “Taliban style” that leaves no hope for moving further and doesn’t give any hope for a brighter future for our film industry.
PriFest in exile
But we will not give up. PriFest is going in exile. We have decided that we will hold the seventh edition of the festival with the name PriFest in exile in Tirana Albania on the original date of PriFest 7 – 24 April 2015. We will hold 2 days of the festival at the Tulla Cultural Center in Tirana where we will show a small number of our programme. Since we cannot seek funding there, and we cannot use funding that we already have confirmed by our partners and sponsors, the budget that we have for Tirana is zero.
We would like to thank the artistic community and filmmakers from Kosovo for the great support that we had until now, especially the actors that traditionally without any payment moderated the festival ceremonies of opening and closing for all editions of the PriFest, filmmakers from around the world that participated in the festival and brought their films, friends, supporters, sponsors, donors, special thanks to our traditional sponsor Raiffeisen Bank, to our golden sponsors Digitalb and IPKO, Embassies of Norway, USA, British, French, Japanese and Italian and all accredited Ambassadors in Kosovo, The EU Office in Kosovo, local and international partners, film funds from the region and Europe, local and international media, our staff and volunteers, and most importantly the three previous Ministers of Culture that supported PriFest - Valton Beqiri, Lutfi Haziri and Memli Krasniqi.
Finally, a few words for the current minister Kujtim Shala, we would like to remind him that you cannot support a single festival and destroy the rest. Only a strong competition makes the festival stronger and better. Just to remind you, Minister, that when PriFest started 7 years ago, we raised the bar for other existing festivals by introducing a higher standard technically for the equipments we used, organization and management, and also the content of the programme. So the competition of events in the country became tougher, and this made other festivals increase their quality and work on better standards in terms of organization and technically. But probably Minister Shala doesn’t know this because at that time he was young and inexperienced in politics, and to be honest we don’t really recognize him as a person that follows cultural events and film festivals. We know that this message means nothing to the Minister, but he for sure has won himself at least one nickname “The Minister that expelled PriFest from Kosovo” We do not know if he cares about this news that no doubt will travel fast in Europe and USA and will damage the “fantastic” image of Kosovo, but we know one thing, that this kind of international news is the last thing Kosovo needs at the moment.
We know by now that so long as this minister and others like him rule this country, PriFest is not welcome in Kosovo. Unfortunately, we have seen many people leave Kosovo these last few months, and now we are a witness of a cultural event going in exile, and for this act without precedent we give the ‘honour’ to the minister.
Finally, the good news is that the political mandate is temporary for all politicians, therefore this one will go eventually too. PriFest will come back home when Kujtim Shala is not a minister anymore, and when minds like these are replaced with people that understand culture.
We wish you a warm welcome to Tirana. PriFest in exile. Friendship. Forever.
Management of PriFest!