Fatos Berisha • Director of The Flying Circus
“We were living in a surreal world, and humour was a way to survive and to preserve our sanity”
- We chatted to Kosovar director-scriptwriter Fatos Berisha about his absurd and surreal Tallinn competition entry The Flying Circus
Well-known Kosovar director-scriptwriter Fatos Berisha follows an absurd and unexpected road trip, which he was actually part of, in his latest feature, The Flying Circus [+see also:
interview: Fatos Berisha
interview: Fatos Berisha
film profile]. Set at the beginning of the Kosovo War, it depicts a theatre troupe from Prishtina who are acting in a Monty Python-inspired play, and who have to illegally cross the border in order to participate in a theatre festival in neighbouring Albania. Just before its world premiere in competition at the 23rd Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival, we talked to Berisha about his personal story and how it relates to the film, the absurd world of Kosovo during that era, and how culture can still be the best way of representing a nation.
Cineuropa: The Flying Circus narrates rather an unexpected story; what was your inspiration for telling it, and what were the difficulties involved?
Fatos Berisha: Becoming inspired to narrate this story was rather easy because I was part of the incredible journey that I portray in our movie. However, writing the script for it was the hardest part. It took me many years to decide whether to start on it, and I was the last one from the travelling theatre group that tried to capture this story and write it down on paper. Meanwhile, everyone else had tried already, but they’d failed to finish any similar script. After completing my screenplay, I realised that the reason I’d embarked on that journey was probably to witness and then write that particular story. I should mention that I wasn’t officially part of that play; I followed the group in order to help the actors with the lights and sound because the theatre technicians were afraid of embarking on such a dangerous trip.
The whole journey undertaken by the troupe takes place in rather an absurd environment, which would easily fit in with the Monty Python world. Was the world you lived in during that period also that absurd?
It is rather accurate, as we were living in an absurd world at that time – although perhaps the word “surreal” describes it better. And most probably, humour was a way to survive and to preserve our sanity. We were raised in the 1980s watching British comedies on TV, and the film is heavily influenced by Monty Python’s Flying Circus and particularly the stage play. Living in that surreal environment during the dangerous and hopeless times of the Balkan Wars, and the subsequent decade of apartheid that preceded the Kosovo War, my writing was undoubtedly influenced by it all – especially since I was writing a comedy. That's probably why I needed some time to distance myself from the actual events before I started to deal with the script.
How close to reality is the film, and what was the impact of the closing of the Dodona Theatre in Prishtina?
The film is based on real events, and the closing of the Dodona Theatre was also real. The same thing happened to all other public institutions that were managed or used by Kosovo Albanians. The closing of the Dodona Theatre did not happen for financial or artistic reasons, but was part of the strategy of Serbian dictator Slobodan Milosevic’s regime in the 1990s. It was a unique apartheid in the middle of Europe, which turned Kosovo Albanians into second-class, or even third-class, citizens.
What was it like working with your actors on such a demanding road movie?
I love working with actors. I also work in theatre and TV, and working with actors, especially rehearsing, is something I enjoy and comes naturally to me. We rehearsed for about a month before filming because The Flying Circus is a road movie and we had a tough schedule, involving filming in three countries. I wanted my actors – Armend Smajli, Tristan Halilaj, Afrim Muçaj and Shpëtim Selmani – to know all their lines before the first slate. That helped us a lot during shooting, and these rehearsals also helped me to put the finishing touches to the script and adapt some of the scenes.
In your film, we hear the phrase, “Culture is the best representative of a nation.” Do you believe in that saying, and how is it applicable to Kosovo today?
Kosovo is a young country that had a complicated birth, if I can use medical terms. We had to simultaneously rebuild our lives and our state. Culture provides a great sphere that can be used by states that are seeking recognition. Films, in particular, are a great medium for telling stories. Despite being unjustly isolated, as the only country in Europe whose citizens need visas to travel to EU countries, Kosovo’s artistic community and film industry have been producing quality films in recent years – movies that have been screened at A-list film festivals around the world and continue travelling.
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