More Raça is a Kosovan filmmaker whose work is dedicated to addressing gender inequality and the daily struggles facing women.
Close-up Culture’s James Prestridge spoke to Raça about her time as a refugee, using film as a tool for social change, her upcoming debut feature, and much more.
Q: I’ve heard you tell a beautiful story, involving cartoons and Charlie Chaplin movies, that speaks to the power of film. I wondered if you could share that memory with us and talk about the imprint it left on you?
A: Yes, I would love to. I haven’t spoken much about this story since I have been working on turning it into a film script. But it hasn’t been as easy as it seemed in the beginning. I have been struggling for months and months working on it, mainly because it is not just my story; it’s the story of so many young boys and girls who have witnessed war and what it’s like to be kicked from your home and become a refugee.
I am working little by little to turn this story into a script. I feel that it will communicate with people around the world – from me, my family and the people of my country to others living in refugee camps in Kakuma or Dadaab. People all over the world who are suffering because they had to leave their countries in search of a life.
I was six when the war in Kosovo happened and we were forced to leave our homes. During my stay as a refugee in Macedonia, I witnessed something magical. Someone came to screen, for us, Charlie Chaplin movies and cartoons. I used to watch them since I was always into movies, and for me that was an escape from the bitter reality we were experiencing. It gave me a feeling that everything would be ok, that I was safe and would soon return home.
Film has this power on people. It gives you power when you’re hopeless; it is magic.
Later I was interested in knowing more about the people who brought this magic to me [by showing movies to refugees from Kosovo]. I found out about FilmAid and the amazing people behind this great organisation.
I was really happy to see that behind all this was a kind-hearted and persistent woman, Caroline Baron, who, despite everything [being told that refugees don’t need films but other support], was sure that film would heal them and bring hope to their lives. She was so right. In 2018, I contacted her and we had a very emotional talk.
That same year, we met in Hollywood and we were both so happy. I think for both of us it felt like a dream. I was showing my short film, AJO, at AFI Fest and doing an Oscar campaign because we were eligible to apply for Oscars 2019. Caroline, who is a very successful producer, was there to support me. We talked about so many things, and I was so happy to show her that what she did 20 years ago had such a big impact. That she motivated me to do as she did and seek to make a difference in other people’s lives. The world needs more people like her.
Q: I also heard you became fond of Italian neorealism in your early years. Can you tell us about your blossoming interest in film and when you first picked up a camera?
A: Lucky for me, my dad bought me a small camera when I was 13 or so and I started shooting “movies” with my brother Don, our neighbours and friends. I was known as the ‘little girl with a camera’ in my neighbourhood. And I used to shout ‘Action!’ all the time, which I find very funny now.
When I started studying filmmaking, back in 2010, I was introduced to different kinds of filmmaking, different periods and styles. But the period that fascinated me was Italian neorealism. By watching these films, analysing them, studying them, I found myself and my style – the kind of films I wanted to make in the future. Those minimalistic films showed so much: pain, love, empathy, cruelty. The characters were so real and they were experiencing stories that ordinary people do. For me, that was the moment I understood that my aim is to show much with little and bring my reality to the screen.
Ladri di biciclette (Bicycle Thieves, 1948) by Vittoria De Sica was the first film I saw from that period, and it just fascinated me. I kept watching it over and over again. It had a great influence on me, the characters that I follow, my cinematic style, and my way of working.
Q: Your short films have focused on gender inequality and the daily struggles facing women. Where does your passion to drive progress through film come from?
A: I live in Kosovo and every day I witness – directly or indirectly – the inequality and struggles facing women. As a country in transition, we are facing so many social-economic problems: unemployment, corruption, nepotism, domestic violence.
There is so much to be done and worked on. For instance, women don’t inherit property from their parents, even though women are considered equal to men in all terms laid out by the Kosovan constitution. In implementation it is not the same as women face many pressures from family and tradition to give up their rights.
Violence towards women is a big problem. We lost so many women last year because of domestic violence. The police didn’t take their [victims of domestic abuse] denouncements seriously because Kosovan society still tries to convince them that their husbands will improve, and everything will be ok. For these cases, the murderers only face a few years in prison. It breaks my heart.
Q: With this passion for progress in mind, what constitutes success for you as a filmmaker? Is it generating a conversation domestically, or alerting international interest, or a combination?
A: To keep the cause going further and further. To be sure that these issues are part of the agenda, that we are talking about them, and where are we failing and how we can do better. I want my films to raise debate because, even if only one individual thinks differently after watching my film, that means we have made a step and pushed the cause.
I don’t believe that film can change the world. But films can help change laws, change minds, and fight injustice. So much progress can be made.
Q: Your latest film, AJO, ends on a hopeful yet ambivalent note. Are you optimistic about the future of women in Kosovo? Is change happening?
A: There are so many amazing women and men working so hard to change society and fight for women’s rights, of course, it gives me hope. I am really optimistic that, if we continue with bigger and bigger steps and stick together, the future will be so much better.
Q: Have you faced any gender discrimination as a filmmaker?
A: I had this long talk with my dad, and he said to me: ‘Listen girl, you are going to face so many challenges and prejudice, and there will be many people who will tell you that you’re not good, or strong enough, or talented enough. But the most important thing is being true to yourself, to be the most hard-working person, to believe in your abilities and never take no for an answer.’
Discrimination is something we, as women, experience on a daily basis. I don’t feel we are very present in the decision-making process and that makes things harder for us, for our needs and concerns.
Q: Do you feel female filmmakers, like yourself and Lendita Zenqiraj, are ushering in a new era in Kosovo film? If so, what do you hope this movement can bring?
A: I am really thankful to all the women and men who are working on creating an equal environment in my country. It is not easy at all.
Young girls have come to me and said: ‘I want to be a film director just like you,’ or they have said that they were inspired to follow a career in film, and this is beyond everything I have imagined I could do. I think that the change is happening, and being part of it makes me so proud and gives me the courage to work more and more for this balance. However, I would like to see more female producers, DOPs, editors, and more females in decision-making positions in our institutions.
Q: You are currently a teaching assistant at the University of Prishtina and a lecturer at AAB college. How important is it for you to be an educator and help the next generation?
A: I really love being part of these two institutions. I get to spend a lot of time with youngsters, and guide them to find their way in life and their careers. Being an educator is a job with great responsibilities, but I do my best to give them the best and also encourage them to see no limits on what they can achieve.
Q: You are currently in production for your debut feature, ‘The Andromeda Galaxy’. Can you reveal anything about it and what it will explore?
A: Andromeda Galaxy is a father and daughter movie about surviving together when everything is going wrong. The father is jobless and he has to take care of his 13 year old daughter. I’ve been working on the story since 2016 and this film has so much to tell. It was very important for me to share this father’s journey.
The process was very emotional and beautiful since I cast my dad, Sunaj, for the lead role, and we were on this journey together for almost a year. It’s one of the most heartfelt experiences of my life.
Q: What are your hopes for the future? Any ambitions or dreams to share with us?
A: So many hopes, dreams and plans. I want to take them one-by-one and always go through the journey with a great love for it.