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Reality battles the unseen: nature, mysticism, and human complexity in Greek, North Macedonian, and Kosovan film contribution

Film is the only medium that transcends distance and national boundaries, making it possible to connect the world from an open visual perspective. In its 13th edition, “Balkans Beyond Borders” exhibits a magnificent connection between Greece, North Macedonia, and Kosovo. The three pillars of mysticism, nature, and human complexity are combined into one and offer a range of worthwhile projects.

Contemporary Greek filmmakers, such as Aris Kaplanidis, Thanasis Trouboukis, Sofia Georgovassili, and Alexandros Tsadilas, could carry a viewer from their cosy spot in the theatre straight to the mise-en-scene of an extremely compound scenario. We can observe present-day representations of the fragile Balkan mentality – like in “From the balcony”, where exaggeration, sadness, and hilarity are well-presented and relatable to the audience. Many of the projects shared a common theme of nature and a fictional world. “Under the lake” by Thanasis Trouboukis depicts a middle line, where ruination meets life – nature itself decides what to be lost and what to be remembered. As with Trouboukis’ title, Sofia Georgovassili’s “Memoir of a veering storm” follows a similar concept. A beautifully presented, yet disturbing story about two mothers. The first, giving and supreme, is Nature, and the second, fragile and young, is the girl. In Nature’s face, it’s the storm, and in the girl’s face, it’s early pregnancy. The story is centered on the emotional repercussions that haunt the human mind after an intense decision. The Greek panel is completed by a retrospective of Alexandros Tsadilas’s philosophical project “The Car Mechanic”. This represents mankind as a highly-affectionate-to-their-work creature that needs to cultivate a separate, sometimes misunderstood version of their existence to be productive. The title is inspired by the short story “O grasadoros” by Renos Apostolidis and the brilliant solo performance of the actor Stelios Iakovidis really brings the idea to life.

The representation of the inner, imaginable world is also transparent in North Macedonia’s contribution to BBB “Living in a bubble”. The work by Nikola Drvoshanov and Natalie MacMahon sends a message to lonely individuals who dream of places beyond our physical existence. It is the blurry and unstable image that immerses the audience in a captivating and inspiring journey. “Wigs” by Angela Dimeska also deals with the theme of searching outside of the observable, allowing us to glimpse the protagonist’s self-debate and self-questions. On the other hand, the third contribution was quite different from the previous two – “Solo mode.” While the previous two exhibit the desire for man to follow the unknown and futuristic, the director of Honeyland Tamara Kotevska introduces the dark and not very welcome memory of COVID-19 in this one.

Last but not least, Kosovo’s contributions to short film are irrevocably covered. The two titles pay tribute to the inspiring Vjosa Berisha, founder and director of Kosovo’s PriFest film festival, member of the European Academy since 2013. While “North Pole” (directed by Marija Apcevska) and “Cow Bells” (directed by Charles Habib-Drouot) are not theme-related, both deal with the struggle to belong in a group, in society, or even within yourself. Both were exposed to nature and its reflection on the characters – in “North Pole” it was the cold wind, in “Cow Bells” it was the beauty and broadness of the mountains. The protagonists desire integration, success in life, and to meet society’s requirements. As it happens in reality, there is no shortcut for that.

It is fascinating to see how everyone has the opportunity to see films from different regions, only to learn that despite geographical borders, human feelings, emotions, and regrets remain the same. Nature is a sign of unity. As well as the global topics that interfere with directors’ projects, the final messages are essentially the same no matter how many different know-hows are engaged. At the end of the festival, it is not the nationality of the title in the theatre, but the professional quality of the film, the capacity to engage the audience, and the authenticity of the Balkans that are what leave a mark and turn a daily story into a masterpiece. Greece, North Macedonia, and Kosovo certainly contributed to that. “Balkans Beyond Borders” continues to set a high standard, even in its 13th edition.

Simeon Aleksandar is a Bulgarian journalist and the founder of KinoBox Bulgaria. Currently part of the Bulgarian National Film Centre’s Media department.