Synopsis: The friendship of two boys is tested to its limits as they battle for survival during the Kosovo war...
Your friend Eshref Durmishi, who helped produce the film and also appears in it, told you this story. You told him that you would make a film about it and you did. Can you elaborate a little more on that?
Eshref was indeed a major catalyst in making this film a reality. Spend time in Kosovo and you quickly realize that everyone there was directly affected by the war. However, I was keen to show this war through the eyes of children, something I felt the audience could more easily relate to. Eshref's story was particularly poignant for me. We became very good friends and he spent a lot of time showing me his life and explaining how he grew up. As we were the same age, but have led very different lives, I was particular intrigued. He had a way of making the realities of war really hit home and helped me understand what it was really like for the of victims of these atrocities. I felt as a filmmaker, I had both the skills and a duty to give a voice to these unheard stories.
How long was it between hearing the story till the completed film?
I visited Kosovo in 2010 for a few days and then the Icelandic volcano erupted. I was stuck in the country for nearly five weeks. In that relatively short time, I learnt so much and knew even back then I wanted to make a film. However, it is always risky to essentially tell someone else's story. I was conscious that I was a foreigner and this had to be approached in the right way, both creatively and sensitively. Tackling a subject like this, I knew I had to fully understand the culture and history and therefore spent over 4 years researching, touring and spending time with local families. I did everything possible including learning the language (although I'm still pretty bad at it!). By 2014 I knew I was ready to make the best film I possibly could.
What was it about the story that propelled you to take on the arduous task of making a short film based on the story?
There were almost endless stories I could have told about the conflict but it was the fact that this story was centered around children and friendship, two things that I felt everyone in the world can in some way relate to. From the first day of arriving in Kosovo, I felt the positivity of the country and the true appreciation of freedom--something that maybe many of us take for granted. I also could not believe that these events had happened less than 15 years ago in Europe. From the outset, making these stories into a film was just something I felt I needed to do.
How much assistance did you get in Kosovo when shooting the film there?
The Kosovo crew and producers were fantastic. There are obvious difficulties shooting in the country and logistically liaising with the UK. The crews are extremely talented and have a real passion for making films. The key to handling something like this is good communication. The Kosovan production team of Eshref Durmishi, Liridon Cahani and Besnik Krapi were as professional and driven as anyone I have ever worked with. They worked tirelessly with the UK producer Harvey Ascott and creative producer Howard Dawson. What they all managed to achieve in such limited time and small budget was nothing short of incredible. Creating this short at times felt like we had embarked on a full feature film. I must also mention the assistance given to us by the local people. Shooting in the town of Tuneli i Parë (which we completely took over for a week) was a humbling experience. Every day we would have crowds of hundreds of people watching us, each one willing to help in any way possible.
You not only went to Kosovo to shoot this movie, but your Facebook page reveals that you saved some beautiful dogs, bought them back to the UK and are finding homes for them. How's that going?
Shooting in an emerging country is always hard and unfortunately, you see things that are difficult to deal with. Animals sadly are treated quite badly as there is no official organization to help them. Dogs usually roam wild in the streets. Whilst on a location recce, we found two puppies that had been left in a rubbish dump. I took them in, looked after them and then, working with some very determined and caring people, we managed to get them flown to Canada and USA where both have been adopted. They were definitely the lucky ones. I'm currently fundraising with a local sanctuary (https://www.facebook.com/PrishDCSFundraising) and working with the NGO ANIMA (https://www.facebook.com/pages/ANIMA/1699897583570857) to help address the problem. I also hope to make a documentary to highlight the issue and gain more international support.
What do you want people to take away from this film after watching it?
To realize that our lives can be so different but at the same time so similar. If after watching, just one person decides to look into what happened in Kosovo and learn more, then for me the film has been a success.
Needless to say, the war in Kosovo was controversial and remains so today. What do you say to people who say there is another side to the story?
I want to be very clear that this film is not a political statement or an historical documentation. This is simply a true story about two young boys. There are always two sides to every story; nothing is ever black and white. The film is about acknowledging the past as a way to look to the future. This positive outlook is something I have learnt directly from the people of Kosovo and the basis of my inspiration to go on this journey.
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