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Balkans Beyond Borders “untiles” the mosaic – a competition programme overview

What is the difference between being looked at and felt seen? What helps close the distance between the polite “nice to meet you” first handshake exchange and sharing the very necessary embrace of being thought of as someone with whom an essential connection has been formed?  The quality of our belonging to the world depends on and it is radically influenced by how a great diversity of selves manage to coexist within the global living mosaic.

To immerse into the 13th Balkans Beyond Borders Short Film Festival programme means to reveal once again the entire Balkan region through some of its up-and-coming filmmakers as part of a cohesive environment made up of very different and insightful cinematically mediated dialogues. First, in life, they have each looked at something (within themselves as well as within the world) with the aforementioned kind of intent, sensing familiarity in need of in-depth exploration. Then, in cinema, the attentive and thought-out creative contribution of those who looked with openness led to this year’s proposal of 7 sections worth of made to be felt seen short films ready to be shared with the public this October in the city of Bitola, North Macedonia.

“This year, Balkans Beyond Borders highlights an important and underseen need of our society: every human to feel seen by the others as a different but equally substantial tile of our society’s mosaic. Therefore, we are proud to present a solid programme full of tiles of different identities that need to be seen in depth and make us see our society through the lenses of diversity.” Mentions Vasiliki Maltasoglou, Festival Director of BBB Short Film Festival. The preselection committee and the festival’s consultant, Rifat Erkek went through all applications received as well as the selection criteria in order to create a comprehensive selection covering all Balkan region as well as film genres.

Therefore, let’s explore how the programme is comprised. Reach into the core of some of former Yugoslavia’s already archived times of historical significance while following a captivating duo of cinephile buddies whose exciting coming of age wonderings are lead to an earth-shaking standstill in Milija Šćepanović’s The Eagle’s Nest (Montenegro) as well as by putting yourself into the shoes of a Serbian-Albanian young couple going through a wishful thinking crisis captured in Jelena Vujović’s We will be the greatest (Switzerland). “What is initially presumed to be yet another routine home visit for doctor Bahar (Tülin Özen) ends up requiring a deeper examination, placing her in an ethical gray zone of harsh truths about the world. In light of circumstantial evidence surrounding a daughter’s final say against her father’s unbearable demands, find if The Hurt (Turkey) prevails in Onur Güler’s short film.” Further investigate instances of how systemic and social factors can coercively interfere with women’s control over their sexuality and reproductive lives in Celal Yücel Tombul’s Mary (Turkey), Ioana Țurcan’s Empiric (Romania), Radovan Petrovic’s Tina’s Problem (North Macedonia), Katarina Krstic’s The Lark (Serbia) and in Urška Djukić & Emilie Pigeard’s Granny’s Sexual Life (Slovenia); experience viscerally complementary on-screen expressed gut feelings, connected in spite of geographical, temporal and stylistic distance.

Greek-Lebanese-Palestinian filmmaker Theo Panagopoulos describes his creative documentary short, My Own Personal Lebanon (Greece), as an exploration of “the emotional tension between national and personal identity”, an important theme which resonates throughout several other filmic discourses, “tiles” with unique characteristics related to the effects of displacement on identity. Among them, Nadif’s (Mikel Markaj) frail sense of trust as an illegal immigrant in contemporary Pristina is tested in Lorena Sopi’s Hero of the Desert (Kosovo) while a teacher’s search for his hometown in Aram Dildar’s The Address (Turkey) illustrates returning to your roots as a concept subject to change for as long as it can still be claimed by those unfamiliar with its origins by heart. Although introducing a preferred visual language which contrasts a lot with that of The Address, animated voyage short film Orange Peel by Isidora Vulić (Serbia) evokes a similar need for direction or guidance while also subtly questioning what additional meaning might someone devoid of homely comforts find in the synonymous use of terms like native tongue and maternal language. Similar concerns may have innately demanded that moving pictures play their dutiful part in immortalizing the remaining Gagauz community as life-source of a language and culture vulnerable to extinction in Ilayda Işeri’s The Fountain (Turkey) as well as that young director Jon Nila should create a filmic portrait fit for his grandmother’s own way of reminiscing in Lokja (Kosovo).

Other filmmakers’ cinematic universes seem molded by different stages and implications of processing unmet emotional needs. Intimate unresolved internal conflict therefore reaches the surface either as a much needed grief-stricken exchange between sisters in The Day My Father Died by Emre Sefer (Turkey), by means of a seemingly endless recycling of unsatisfactory first impression interactions lacking real substance in Karina Logotheti’s Nexting (Greece), through a decisively intense clash of egos exposing the innermost workings of a lesbian couple’s relationship in Tasou Palisidou’s Jam (Greece), as self-imposed isolation of the heart and mind in the face of disheartening resistance fostered by a community’s unwavering prejudice in Klaudia Pashnjari’s Dark Light (Albania) or as Covid-19 hotline soul baring in Mirela Salihović’s Tell Me Something Nice (Bosnia and Herzegovina).

Finally, many distinct facets of the one developmental quest perhaps most unavoidably familiar to all humans, the Sisyphean task, function like peculiar paths disguised in order to open up the search for meaning and purpose, in light of each of their deep-seated individual circumstances, to be experienced by the viewer either as:

– quotidian wonderings on emotional landscapes in Milorad Milatović’s Mar (Montenegro), Nemanja Mladenovic’s Burnout (Serbia) and Karlo Vorih’s Fall of our summer (Croatia);

– Dinko Draganovic’s Kids on the moon (Austria) and Orlin Menkadzhiev’s Game (Bulgaria);

– transiting through Chaos or Purgatory in Jasmina Cloșcă & Mihai Gligan’s The Antechamber (Romania) and Buse Halaçoğlu’s Me and The Other (Turkey);

– rescue missions of the disparate yet desperately essential “you” in “work duty” in Lavinija Sofronievska’s The Ordinary Eli (North Macedonia), Dimitra Kondylatou’s LUXENIA (Greece) and Feyzi Baran & Kamil Kahraman’s Offside Again? (Turkey);

– emotive visual expressions with human pulse in Lucija Oroz’s 45’’ (Croatia) and Jacqueline Lentzou’s The End of Suffering (a proposal) (Greece).

One could say the intentional nurturing of a new found sense of peculiar familiarity. Able to surpass surface levels of empathy and apparent compatibility, this kind of shared recognition cannot solely rely on seeking relatable aspects to sustain itself. The relationship works instead like a mirror doubling as an entryway, evolving crucially aware of its most valuable resource of growth and understanding: universal perpetual unknowing. Going through many cycles of discovery and rediscovery are of the essence. A singular human existence is bound to encompass endless series of particular “in-betweens” or the amalgam of sensorial, corporeal, intellectual and emotional experiences that actively and continuously – both consciously and subconsciously- shape an individual throughout their entire life. Out of the interaction with another’s own everchanging existential vastness there first emerges the potential for true acknowledgement of each other’s complex in-betweens. Needless to say, the history of humanity is founded on billions of such encounters. Therefore, it is about time to “Untile” the mosaic.

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Claudia Alexandru is a filmmaker and recent graduate from the Faculty of Theatre and Film of Babeș-Bolyai University with a Master’s degree in Performing Arts and Film.