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SAN SEBASTIÁN 2018 New Directors

Ismet Sijarina • Director

"These were the years when we didn’t live, but merely existed"


- SAN SEBASTIÁN 2018: We chatted to Kosovar director Ismet Sijarina, whose debut feature, Cold November, has just world-premiered in the New Directors section

Ismet Sijarina  • Director
(© Montse Castillo/San Sebastián International Film Festival)

We sat down with Kosovar director Ismet Sijarina, whose debut feature, Cold November [+see also:
film review
interview: Ismet Sijarina
film profile
, has just world-premiered in the New Directors section of the San Sebastián Film Festival.

Cineuropa: According to the intertitles before the closing credits, the film is based on a true event.
Ismet Sijarina: It is based on multiple true events. The story takes place at the beginning of the 1990s, when the situation in my country was disastrous. Institutions were in ruins, and citizens – especially Albanians – were merely existing, while the new government set up by Belgrade was spreading fear and violence, with the intention of convincing people that the only way to survive and live in Kosovo was if you acted as they said. For years, Albanians resisted by creating parallel institutions that were unique in the world, and because of constant pressure, they grouped together tightly. Therefore, whatever decision was made, they followed it blindly, even if sometimes the decisions would turn out to be wrong. So yes, the story of Cold November is composed of images from my childhood and was written by me as a grown man, together with my co-writer, Arian Krasniqi

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Why did you opt for the 4:3 aspect ratio, and how did you build the visual style, including the meticulous production design?
The aspect ratio was not a technical choice at all; actually, it fits the narrative of the film. Our hero, as well as other characters, has very limited choices. They live in an isolated ghetto, and they need freedom, which they obviously don’t have. Also, Cold November is a portrait film, and the 4:3 ratio helped us fix the main character within the frame, limit his space and make him appear uncomfortable. By doing this, we wanted to have an impact on the audience, and make them really feel his situation. 

The crew worked hard to create the original look of the film, even though the budget was very low. We took care of every single detail in order to gain the trust of the audience and create a very realistic world. 

How did you work with the actors? They function really well together. You also have a big Balkan star in the film, Emir Hadžihafizbegović.
I’m the type of director who works a lot with actors. I believe that in a film, nothing is more important than the actors. That’s why for almost two months, I worked on the shot list with my DoP, Sevdije Kastrati, in order to have more time during shooting to focus on working with the actors, and make them function as they do in the film. 

Emir was suggested by the producer, Fatmir Spahiu. I first thought that it would be impossible to get him owing to our limited budget, but we were surprised by his immediate reaction to the script. He fell in love with it and, later, with the crew as well. It was an absolute pleasure to have him on board, along with great Kosovar actors, such as Kushtrim HoxhaAdriana Matoshi and Fatmir Spahiu. 

What is your view on the current crop of Kosovar films and their relation to events from the recent, and not so recent, past? And how does your film fit into that?
All of the recent Kosovar films deal with the war or the post-war period, and that’s why we wanted to tell a different story, about how we survived during the “apartheid” times that later led to that war. No one wants to speak about this – neither filmmakers nor writers. It is a ghetto phase that is erased from our history because these were the years when we didn’t live, but merely existed. 

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