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DIARY: SCREENING REMEMBRANCE

The 13 th Balkans Beyond Borders Short Film Festival Competition programme comprises in its final 2022 category, DIARY, five peculiar journal entries written with light. You will find some are in Greek, English and Lebanese, other in Albanian, Russian, Gagauz, Serbian or Montenegrin, but, like the spine of a book, the language of memory and cinema holds them all in place and brings them all together, to be shared, during a final evening of screenings.

“…I know that every time we would see the fireworks she would be scared. Perhaps I was also scared that with just one question I would take her back there.”; director Theo Panagopoulos writes in the first person, as he is the only one who can find the most fitting words for the particular “story” – coming from too real of a source to be able to leave the word unmarked – of short documentary, My Own Personal Lebanon (2020). Even so, the care with which Theo describes reflections on his identity torn between distinctively internalized senses of connectedness with the Greek and the Lebanese sides of his family translates so well visually that one feels the viewing experience similar to listening to a deeply personal tale. Instead of imagining the look of various literary descriptions, a harmonious montage of melodious sounds and speech, family photographs, home videos and installation art starts overlaying another kind of complementary communication. The everyday situation of sharing a car ride journeys carefully into a safe space for honest conversation and further bonding between mother and son as well as between Theo and the parts of himself that, only because of this process, are more likely to begin showing up differently or, at the very least, are maybe felt emotionally closer than before.

Jon Nila’s Lokja (2021) is a short cinematic experiment which spotlights the memory of his grandmother, its fluidity and frailty combined resulting in an endless recall of “almost truths”. Lokja’s playful filmic structure includes a sampled late 1930s musical non-diegetic track, old film-like intertitles, grainy filters and interviewing the woman’s thinking process vulnerable to forgetfulness and confusion. As if the increasingly demanding, heightened pacing of the memory exercise causes a circuit overload, an abnormal system failure destabilizes the short film narrative until it reaches its completion or, perhaps, its inevitable state of memory captured as disorientation, erasure and oblivion. No reason for that much perturbance in the editing to affect the following short observational documentary, Çeşme / The Fountain (2021), signals at another kind of uneasiness hidden in plain sight of daily living. By way of immersing into the everyday interactions between local families that are part of the Gagauzian community in Çeşmeköy (Fountain village), director Ilayda Işeri creates a dedicated space for having the experiences, memories, interests and concerns of the people living in Moldova’s Gagauz region in the aftermath of the dissolution of the Soviet Union hold the most weight in directing how The Fountain gazes at its subject. The “fly on the wall” witnessed insight provides access to the rest: the two languages spoken in the family, the rural area’s design, the different flags of today hanging not too far from remaining communist symbols of the past, a nameplate with three translations for how the village’s kindergarten is called and excerpts from the history of the land straight from the people who know it best.

Кора Поморанџе / Orange Peel (2021), the animated short film by Serbian director Isidora Vulić could very well be considered a diary entry of walking in the direction of a barely visible flickering light in order to reach the end of a long tunnel called “homesickness”; the pressure of its alien sounds and colors taking hold of each step until daydreaming can call back into focus the memory of that one somebody’s voice or some other personal souvenir, healthy nostalgia providing much needed momentary relief. Vulić’s poetically conscientious animated vision illustrates a similar quest in the form of a solo journey abroad that feels far away from the familiarity carried only by those places where the people that you care deeply about are. Next up, one final travel log: 12 hours in Podgorica, FR Yugoslavia, 24 th of March 1999. Briefly looking up the title of the short film selected to close BBB screenings dedicated to the festival’s 2022 Competition programme might reveal that there is more than meets the eye about the glimpse we are getting into the day to day of two young cinephiles living in the VHS era. Orlovsko gnijezdo / The Eagle’s Nest (2022) informs the viewer from the very start about how a human-caused calamity ticking time bomb looms over the unsuspecting reality created: two very engaging characters and neighborhood buddies plotting adolescent mischief in a lively coming of age series cinematographic atmosphere aka talking about liking girls and movies before essentially robbing VIDEOTEKA, their favorite video rental shop. I believe director Milija Šćepanović’s approach focuses on a slightly different type of suspense build up to the split-second moment when life is forced to change due to decisions of greater forces usually out of the control of common men. The powerless viewer turned witness is provided with reminders along the way. Diegetic life goes on while the futility of having this collective omniscient foresight weighs more and more heavily on the mind.