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“Films coming from smaller countries have to be very good to break out”

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Gentian Koçi • Director

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- Cineuropa interviewed Albanian director, writer and producer Gentian Koçi, whose first feature, Daybreak, is in post-production

Gentian Koçi  • Director

Cineuropa interviewed Albanian director, writer and producer Gentian Koçi, whose first feature, Daybreak [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Gentian Koçi
film profile
]
, is in post-production. Starring Ornela Kapedani and Suzana Prifti, the Albanian-Greek co-production follows a single mother and her one-year-old son, who live in dire economic circumstances. They move in with an old, immobile woman whom they have to take care of.

Cineuropa: Can you tell us in a nutshell what your film is about and what the motivation behind it was?
Gentian Koçi:
Daybreak is an intimate drama that takes place in a flat, in Tirana’s urban setting. Actually, it could take place anywhere. Human relations and their deep complexity have always fascinated me. The story relies on two female characters, Leta and Sophie. Leta is a young single mother in a difficult economic situation; she has not been able to pay the rent for several months. When she and her one-year-old son are thrown out of their apartment, they move in with Sophie, an old, immobile woman whose daughter has just employed Leta as a caretaker. In order to keep her job and their new roof, Leta has to keep Sophie alive at any cost.

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The pivot of the story is the very fragile relationship between the young and the old woman, a relationship swinging between empathy and pragmatic aims. One of the most important challenges for me as a writer and director was to keep a subtle balance between these two opposing aspects of their relationship: affection and pure pragmatic interests.

Daybreak is about the moral compromises we all make somehow in our ceaseless struggle for economic security, or even survival. Here, the moral crisis is questioned from the perspective of a social microcosm. While the old woman is like an endangered species – a woman from olden times – the younger one cannot allow herself to look up at the sky.

How has the film been financed?
After being developed at three co-production markets (Cinelink, Connecting Cottbus and the Euro-Mediterranean Co-Production Market), the project was supported by the Albanian National Center of Cinematography (ANCC) and the Greek Film Centre, Eurimages, the Albanian Ministry of Culture, Albanian Public Radio-Television and the Municipality of Tirana. It was developed with the financial support of the SEE Cinema Network. The project is an Albanian-Greek co-production, produced by Tirana-based Artalb Film and co-produced by Athens-based Graal Films.

As a young filmmaker, how difficult is it to produce a feature film in a small country like Albania?
Albania, as a small country, has a relatively small budget for cinema. Over the last few years, the Albanian National Center of Cinematography has increased the budget and has followed a new policy in order to increase the number of film productions and help young filmmakers to create a new aesthetic climate in Albanian cinema. Around 30 projects a year are financed by the ANCC, ten of which are feature-length fiction films, and the rest are short fiction, documentary and animated films. I hope there are still many young filmmakers eager to make films: they are much more prone to “editing small budgets” by topping them up with public and private funding. Actually, Albania is a member of the MEDIA programme and Eurimages. International co-productions are still vital in order for film productions to reach a successful conclusion.

Anyway, it is still difficult for Albanian cinema to compete with high-budget films in the European or international markets. Even if there’s a solid marriage between festivals and the market, I still believe that some very good festivals select films based on their aesthetic quality, rather than on their budget, on the star-system criteria or on how much access a production company or a sales agent has to the market.

My film has its own specific characteristics. It is a strong social drama, but a very implicit one in a way, with its own internal rhythm, and its flow springs from the inner world of my characters. I’m convinced that the film will capture the audience's attention in a very smooth way, so I really hope that festival selectors will notice and appreciate the movie.

What is your analysis of the current state of European arthouse film?
It is very difficult for me to have an overview of arthouse film in Europe. All I can say about this comes from my own perception of the situation. First of all, I have the impression that it is getting more and more difficult for newcomers in the industry and for first-time directors, having no prior symbolic capital in this area, to find their own place in the festival system and even the distributive one. Secondly, the pressure to succeed with your debut film is really high. Festival slates are highly competitive, and the ever-increasing size of the selected films has left little room for movies they consider to be of “a smaller scale”. Anyway, when you go to independent theatres or good festivals, you still have the chance to encounter, on any given day, an emerging filmmaker or a new cinema style, or even to witness the inauguration of a new cinema wave.  

What do you think of the changes in the distribution sector and the consequences on the screening of films from smaller countries?
Obviously, if you have a good story, made in a good way, one that draws the attention of a large audience, your chances of finding a distributor are pretty high. I firmly believe that besides meeting the requirements of the film market or festival policies, films coming from smaller countries have only one chance to break out: they have to be very good. The aesthetic quality is the only way to attract a good distributor - or that is what I personally think, at least.

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