"Amnesty" by Bujar Alimani: Stories from a familiar, yet unknown country

“Amnesty” (Official Submission of Albania of the Foreign Language Academy Award) sees Bujar Alimani tackle the future of a country that’s still at odds with its past. The Albanian filmmaker, now living in Greece, talks to Flix about his first film and everything we have in common: immigration, the credit crunch and a handful of dreams…

19 years ago, Bujar Alimani arrived in Greece on foot hauling a suitcase, a Fine Arts degree and the will to survive. Becoming a filmmaker was a dream buried deep inside him. The political crisis had forced him to put it on hold. Once he found himself in Greece, he had to start from scratch: learn the language, bring his family over, raise his daughter. Surrounded by people who sometimes understood and other times rejected him, possessed by the fear of the unknown, he found himself rubbing shoulders with a generation of filmmakers that acknowledged his unlimited talent. Eventually, he managed to reclaim his dream with three award-winning short films (“The Kennel”, “Gas”, “The Compass”) that traveled the world.

He started shooting his first feature “Amnesty” last fall, the first ever Albanian production to be screened at the Berlin International Film Festival (which granted him the C.I.C.A.E. Award). The idea came from an Albanian newspaper, a doomed love story between a man and a woman, each married to an inmate held at the same Tirana prison. Their dreams are suddenly cut short when a newly liberalized law grants their partners amnesty, giving their past licence to destroy their present. Alimani takes the opportunity to talk about his own country, caught in a post-communist limbo. On the one hand struggling to catch up with Europe, while on the other still haunted by the ghosts of the past: tradition, identity and ethnicity.

"Amnesty" is the official submission of Albania for the Foreign Language Academy Award race.

“Albanian journalists – my own fellow countrymen – attacked me for projecting a miserable image of the country, but I don’t mind. If they want folklor and fluff, they’re barking up the wrong tree. I’d rather make films about the common people, the lower middle class and the provinces, where the true heart of Albania is beating…”

His eyes are smiling. He uses strong language to describe his country, the political crisis, the good and the bad, the development and the nouveau riche. It’s very touching how, lost in a flow of words, he’ll confuse one country with the other. Is it Albania or Greece he’s really talking about?

“I feel very much a part of this country and every time I go back to Albania I defend it as my own. I feel very proud about my Greek colleagues who are finally getting the recognition they deserve abroad, because we belong to the same generation. We all started out together. I’m suffering through the credit crunch, just like everybody else, but I don’t get discouraged easily. I’ve lived through much worse. We’ll get through it. I’m only sad for my daughter. She grew up here and now she’s going to have to face the same fate: she’ll be forced to leave. I really didn’t want that to happen, I was hoping she’d put roots down in Greece”.

Alimani requested that this interview be held in places that meant a lot to him throughout the years. Important stops along the way that helped him stake his claim to a brighter future. And now he’s finally looking at it. “Some people want to leave their past behind. I come here a lot to remind myself how I first started out. I want to remember what it was like getting off that bus, alone and scared. It gives me strength…”

Amnesty

  • Synopsis: For the first time in Albania, a new law allows sexual intercourse for married couples inside a prison in Tirana. Once a month, Elsa takes on a long bus trip to visit her husband behind bars. Spetim shares this monthly event: his wife has been locked up as well. Out of the prison walls, a secret love story between the two visitors is born, until one day, the government votes on Amnesty. 

  • Director/Script: Bujar Alimani Director of Photography: Elias Adamis Sound: Xenofondas Kondopoulos, Leandros Ntounis Costumes: Emir Tourkeshi Set Design: Shpetim Baca, Genti Decka Line Producer: Tefta Bejko Produced by: 90 Production, Fantasia Audiovisual, Arizona Films, Eurimages, Albanian Film Center, Greek Film Center Cast: Luli Bitri, Karafil Shena, Todi Llupi, Mirela Naska