Exclusive interview of an internationally renowned short film maker
''I use film as a tool for change and sensitize topics that are an issue in our society, for that it is very important to be inspired from true stories and maybe personal stories''
Following Kosovo's independence in 2008, its filmmakers have increasingly sought to encourage public dialogue about social issues. Despite socio-economic obstacles, resourceful directors have used different cinematographic techniques to produce inspiring films that now has a global audience with a deeper understanding of the country.
However, today we feel privileged to have the globally acclaimed Kosovo short film maker Samir Karahoda with us. After having premiered his docu-fiction "Displaced" at the Cannes Film Festival in 2021, the movie won Best Short docu-fiction Film award at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), and qualified directly to compete for Oscars 2022.
Ranging from technical, creative and categorical aspects of short film making, cinematography to selection of film topics to personal hobbies - the movie maker has conferred an in-depth exclusive interview to The Daily Observer. The interview has been conducted by our Assistant Editor, Shahriar Feroze.
Daily Observer: Mr Samir Karahoda what inspired you to become a short film maker, and with a special focus on docufiction films?
Samir Karahoda: For 20 years I worked as a short film programmer in International Documentary and Short Film festival Dokufest in Prizren, Kosovo which is one of the biggest cultural events in the Balkan region.
I have seen thousands of short films from all over the world during these years and that process gave me an extraordinary experience on filmmaking. In fact before that, my goal has never been to become a director, what I have always dreamed was being a cinematographer. Since the place and the film community where I live did not gave me enough space to work as a cinematographer I decided to make my own films and shoot them myself.
So I made the first film as a 42-year-old and yes both films were most appreciated for the cinematography I have applied and both films have had an extraordinary journey through international festivals. The first film had its world premiere in Berlinale and the second one at the Cannes Film Festival. The reason why I choose a Docu-fiction form is because of the wider space on experimenting and finding more creative ways to tell long stories in a short form.
Daily Observer: Your docu-fiction film Displaced was subsequently screened at the 2021 Toronto International Film Festival, where it won the award for Best International Short Film. Where had you drawn the inspiration for this film?
Samir Karahoda: The story is based on the true story of my friend with whom I spent a lot of time. The story begins in the post-war years sometime after 2003. It is made in docu-fiction style where we have re-created scenes from the experience of real protagonists, so it is a true story of the ping pong club from city of Prizren where I was born, at the same time the most successful club in Kosovo.
Despite being the most successful team in Kosovo they still performed trainings in improvised spaces. What I should add is that it is not only ping pong that lacks space for trainings, almost every unpopular sport or cultural organizations in Kosovo has challenges in this regard.
For instance, my son who goes to tennis school, during the winter seasons he cannot train because there is no indoor tennis court in the city where we live (in the capital), so this has been another reason to sensitize this issue. And yes the journey of the film was unimaginative, we started as a world premiere in Cannes Film Festival and won nomination for European Film Award as a best European short film, than we won Toronto best short and the last and most important one was prize in Sundance as a best non-fiction film.
Daily Observer: In 2019, you made a short documentary film titled In Between, a film which talks about migration and a unique Kosovar tradition where families build similar houses. As a short film maker, do you consider only real life stories to be an important pre-condition to inspire a short film?
Samir Karahoda: The first film I did in 2019 was in between, it is about the unique tradition of some Kosovar families who build the same houses for sons or brothers. Many years ago I worked on this project in the form of a photo project, but since some stories cannot be told only with photos, I decided to go a little deeper into the topic, do detailed research and tell this story which is very important and special to me.
Since it was my first film I worked carefully and with dedication which took me 2 years to complete and I think it is a film which has very important values and information , and which will serve future generations to better understand or maybe study more this tradition which I think has a special value in our modern culture.
In between had an extremely good journey through festivals where the world premiere was at the Berlinale with which we wrote history for our country as a first Kosovar film to be part of the official competition in one of the most important film festivals in the world.
I use film as a tool for change and sensitize topics that are an issue in our society, for that it is very important to be inspired from true stories and maybe personal stories. If you are not connected personally in the stories you treat I think it is hard to put your inner feelings and life experience in your work and tell the story which can catch the audience.
Daily Observer: What is the most difficult aspect in making a short film?
Samir Karahoda: Finding and deciding for the story you are going to work, once you find the story which can be done in a short form I think half of the job is done.
Daily Observer: What are some of your latest projects? Do you wish to restrict your film making skills purely within docu-fiction and short films or go beyond?
Samir Karahoda: I work as a photographer in my daily life, did several photography projects in previews years. After I did 2 very successful short films now I'm trying to challenge myself with a bigger responsibility and do a feature where already started to develop a story.
I still don't consider myself as a director, I can say that I am a storyteller and the form I do my films are not done on a way how directors in school learn filmmaking. I didn't study filmmaking so for that I have my own way of filmmaking and storytelling which I think is more connected with the experience I have in cinematography and photography and don't use a proper script but all depend on developments during the filming process and during the process of shooting I continuously do research and story development because every day there are new things happening and I want to use them in my stories.
Daily Observer: You are a screenwriter, film director, and also a cinematographer for short films - all three at the same time. Which role do you enjoy the most or is your favourite role is dependent on the topic or different processes in movie making?
Samir Karahoda: As I mentioned in the beginning my dream as a kid was being cinematographer and I still enjoy mostly that part. But in the other side, being responsible and having knowledge in several departments this is a benefit that rare people can have it. For me it is easier to go in shootings when we are less people as a film team, for me it's easier to discuss with myself rather with any other cinematographer, because my storytelling is very much connected with cinematography and I always try to use photography as a part of the story instead of using dialogues.
Daily Observer: You reportedly focus and depend a lot on photography in expressing your inner-self through your short films. Have you ever thought of making a silent short film purely based on photography?
Samir Karahoda: Actually for this moment is not, but maybe in the future it can be. Since my aim and goal is to treat problems, this cannot be the best option I think.
Daily Observer: If not mistaken, your chosen topics for short films are often simple and realistic, but you successfully manage to deliver multiple meaningful messages. How do you do that?
Samir Karahoda: Yes. That's right. In both films every time you watch the films you find new things. In a place where we live we have to many issues and problems. And for that reason every problem somehow is connected with another problem and as we know one problem opens another problem, this gives me a good opportunity and inspiration to tell as much as I can in a most silent possible way but again using photography as a form of reflection whenever possible.
Daily Observer: What are your personal hobbies?
Samir Karahoda: I do very often mountain biking, our country is rich with beautiful mountains, so I try to use them as much as I can whenever I have times. Also I play tennis very often with my 11 year old son Miron.
Daily Observer: Do you ever plan to visit Bangladesh - not for a professional reason, but as an ordinary Kosovan tourist?
Samir Karahoda: One of my favourite regions to visit in the world is South Asia; I wish and hope soon to come and maybe Bangladesh to be the first country to visit the region. I have heard a lot of beautiful things which I'm quite curious to see.
Filmmakers are always on the move so I'm sure soon I will be there and enjoy the place. It's different to hear and different to experience it in person and countries like Nepal, India, and Bangladesh are countries which can offer you lot of experience on culture, nature and tradition which I feel amazingly excited to experience them.