Edmond Budina • Director
Mid-way between a dream and reality
by Sonila Demi
- In Lettere al Vento the Albanian director presents the crude reality of everyday life in the country on the other side of the Adriatic
Edmond Budina, the director of Lettere al vento, is a renowned actor and stage, TV and now film director. Budina’s many successes in his native Albania include the stage adaptation of Ismail Kadarè’s novel, “Moonlit Nights”, considered a turning point in the history of Albanian theatre. He followed this up with “Risveglio” by Italy’s Marco Costantini.
On coming to Italy, Budina changed direction and began writing and directing short films and documentaries (Guardando al Ritorno, screened at the MedFest in Sorrento and Domenica delle Palme, screened out of competition at the Turin FilmFest). He did not lose his love of acting and his most recent role was in Migranti, a play directed by Marco Baliani.
In order to support his wife and children, Budina also works in a North Italian factory.
Letter al Vento represents yet another new direction for Budina. A mix of fantasy and creativity, his realistic portrayal of everyday life in Albania manages to be both comical and tragic and gives foreigners an idea of what life is like on the other side of the Adriatic sea.
How and when did you get the idea for Lettere al Vento?
“It is the story of Niko, who comes to Italy in search of his son and I first thought about making this film back in 1990 when I wrote the screenplay for a short film. After several subsequent rewrites I entered the screenplay in a national competition in Albania. Every single project submitted was accepted. Except for mine! I should really thank the members of that commission because I would never have had the chance to present the screenplay in Italy. To quote the Italian press, there is something strange and miraculous in the life of Lettere al Vento.
While my screenplay was being examined, I had a chance encounter with a journalist who interviewed me about the situation in Kosovo. I happened to mention that I had written a screenplay and needed to find a producer. He found one who liked my screenplay and together, we presented the project to the Italian ministry for culture. Luckily for me I was an Italian citizen, otherwise this would not have been possible. In all honesty I never thought I would win, given the huge number of fellow contestants, but the miracle happened.”
When did you first encounter international and especially Italian cinema in Albania?
"Do you mean under Communism?"
“I was born in Tirana but when I was 10, my family moved to Korça where I spent my formative years. I really missed Tirana but now I am deeply nostalgic with regards to my time in Korça, a place with a fine cultural tradition. My first encounters with international cinema began there. At first, all we ever saw were Russian films. Later on I saw my first French and Italian films, even if they weren’t by the truly great directors. It was Le Mani sulla Città by Francesco Rosi that allowed me to understand what filmmaking really meant. Subsequently I also discovered the work of De Sica and other exponents of neorealism (of course, just the ones we were allowed to see). It was Fellini who gave me my biggest surprise, even though I was already an adult. His films were banned in Albania, since they did not have any Marxist-Leninist content. Fellini is without any doubt one of the most influential filmmakers the world ever saw and my personal favourite.”
Niko, the protagonist of Lettere al Vento, appears to be a pessimist. Is that something you share?
“I am both a pessimist and an optimist. Given the opportunity, I love to sing and dance, and when I don’t I get miserable.
I love comedy but agree with the Greeks who thought of everything in terms of tragedy, catharsis, the purification of the spirit. Tragedy generates more emotions in me and that is why I have to say that I prefer it. I wanted Lettere al Vento to be a reflection of this particular kind of “optimism”. I feel that we ought to rebel against the reality that does not suit us and should never bow our heads before injustice. In my life I tried... I tried to behave that way. The fact that I work in a factory and am also a film director and worked in the theatre, demonstrates that I am not such a pessimist and don’t bow my head so easily.
I wanted Niko to be like that. I don’t like idealised characters, but prefer those with human vulnerability, weaknesses and vices. Those things enrich your life and make it less boring, and that is what was missing from socialist realism.”
Tell us about the problems you encountered while directing Lettere al Vento? Do you think you should have added or subtracted something from this film?
“We shot this film in just five weeks, and, as you know, that is not a lot for the conditions and demands of a similar screenplay. Let me just say that we used 150 extras for the wedding scene and were forced to shoot the scene in one day. That is incredible. Of course I would have loved to have added all the details of the screenplay, but, please believe me when I say that if you ever get a chance to read it, you will see how rich it really is. But the time and budget at our disposal forced us to leave a lot out.”
How did the Italian crew take to working in Albania?
“We left Italy right after 9/11 and I took 40 Italians with me. Some were rather crazy, like me, others dragged their feet, and were intimidated by the very idea of Albania, a Moslim country. For the entire duration of the filming, we worked peacefully and did not encounter any problems. Nobody ever raised their voice and I can say in all honesty that we enjoyed ourselves. In the evenings, after work, we would go to the only place still open (it opened especially for us) and since it was very late, we were free to talk and joke around. We became friends. The Italians had tears in their eyes when they left my country and for a long time afterwards they kept repeating: “I’m nostalgic for Albania!” They often phone me asking when we can repeat the Albanian experience. We really created a place of harmony and respect for each other and I think that really comes across in the film.”
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