DokuFest is an annual documentary film festival in the pretty medieval town of Prizren, at the base of the Sharr mountains.
The festival is now in its 13th year, and will see 10,000 tickets sold for 250 films shown in nine venues over one hot week. Its growing reputation attracts filmmakers from all over the world. And because the programme features mainly English-language or English-subtitled movies, approximately a quarter of festival visitors are international, with audiences bringing an estimated €3m to Kosovo’s struggling economy.
“Twenty years ago, Prizren was Kosovo’s cultural capital, and it was very normal for us to go to a film,” says Veton. “And then, in 1999, the war happened. We just thought that if we put on some screenings, it might trigger someone to restart the cinema.”
In 2002, Veton and his friends put on three days of movies in the disused shell of the open-air Kino Lumbargi cinema; they chose documentaries for the simple reason that they were easier to get hold of than US blockbusters. On the first night, torrential rain flooded the roads, but still the cinema was half full. On the second night, it was sold out. On the third, the last film closed to a standing ovation. Movie-going was back from the dead.
What marks Dokufest out from the rest of the international documentary scene, however, isn’t that it’s in Kosovo. It’s in its pop-up approach. Prizren hasn’t had a working cinema since before the war. So the festival organisers had to improvise, creating makeshift movie theatres by fixing screens to an assortment of unusual surfaces, from the walls of the Byzantine fortress to the inner caverns of a disused Turkish hammam.
The result is that cinema and city merge to create something magical. The sun goes down, the projectors fire up, and hundreds of people fall silent with a beer in hand and a cool breeze on their skin.
• DokuFest 2014 festival runs from 16-24 August. Air Germania (flygermania.de) flies from Gatwick to Pristina (90 minutes’ drive from Prizren) from €126 one way. Ryanair (ryanair.com) flies from Stansted to Podgorica, Montenegro, (three hours’ drive away) from £46 return. Hotel Cleon (+381 29 25888, hotelcleon.com) and Hotel Prizreni (+ 381 29 225200, hotelprizreni.com) both have doubles from €40 a night.
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