Queer Film Days in Albania

Between 18-22 September 2019 a new film event happened in Tirana, Albania. Entitled “Queer Film Days” (QFD), the program consists of a number of films and events which highlight topics that refuse to be invisible and tell stories that “create a new cultural space”.

QFD has been organised by Open Mind Spectrum Albania (OMSA), headed by Arber Kodra, and in collaboration with the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Tirana, the EU delegation, Stitching Art.1 and the International Human Rights Film Festival Albania (IHRFFA).

The events are also a part of the Youth Activists for Change (YAC) project which is supported by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands. YAC aims to empower filmmakers, storytellers, artists, and activists in creating art and performances focused on human rights/LGBTIQ+ rights and gender equality.

The festival opened on 18 September with a second showing of the award-winning exhibition ‘Culture of Humiliation’ by Macedonian artist and human rights activist Antonij Karadzoski. Through his artwork, he aims to break down stereotypes and raise awareness of important human rights issues such as bullying in the LGBTI community. The event kicked off at Europe House.

A number of films were shown over the days of the event, the first of which is ‘I Am Sofia’. This film was screened 19 September at Kinema Millenium and a Q&A with the director took place afterwards.

On the 20 September, there was a screening of a film called ‘Until Porn Do Us Part’ at the Academy of Film & Multimedia. The protagonist of the film, Sydney Riviera was also in the attendance and he was answering questions from the audience after the screening.

On 21 September it was a matinee of films ‘Scar Tissue’, ‘High Tide’, and ‘Up Close and Personal’ which was shown at Europe House.In attendance were Dutch LGBT police officers Marja Lust and Abdel Late, and a Q&A will take place.   

The last day of event 22 September took the shape of a presentation of the final results of the filmmaking training undertaken by Youth Artists for Change Project including individuals from both Albania and Kosovo.

The LightHouse Project

Today we submitted our project proposal The LightHouse Project in the Open Call for Cinemas as Innovation Hubs for Local Communities from the European Commission. The LightHouse Project consists of a consortium with cinemas, cultural institutions and film festivals from Latvia, Hungary, Italy and The Netherlands and aims to turn cinemas into vivid iDeaHUBs for young artists, filmmakers and creatives. How? By organising pop-up LightHouse Film Festivals, conducting workshops in VR, Podcast and film and an extensive exchange fo cinema programmers who will bring their finest curations to cinemas in the other participating countries. Besides Stichting art.1, International Queer & Migrant Film Festival, Cinema of the Dam’d and Stichting Ado Ato Interactive participate in the project. Results will be made public by the end of November. Stay tuned!

Screening Up Close & Personal: LGBT Police

On the 19th of July, International Film Festival Prishtina (PriFest) screened ‘Up Close and Personal: LGBT Police’, a film by Chris Belloni which documented the lives of LGBTQ+ police officers from different countries around the world, conveying a portrait of how their sexuality or gender identity played a part in their profession. The session was opened by the Dutch Ambassador Gerrie WIllems, and it was concluded with a debate with two of the police officers starring in the film: Marja Lust and Abdel-Aziz Laten, who are part of the Dutch police network “Roze In Blauw” which assists cases of violence or discrimination against LGBTQ+ citizens. The ambassador Marriët Schuurman also took part, as well as Salih Dragidella, the officer responsible for Gender Equality and LGBT issues in the Kosovo police.
For a detailed report by Kosovo2.0 click here

Attending the Training Refugees+ for Youth Workers in Brussels

Recently, our intern Clara Mendes participated in the training Refugees+ which took place in Brussels, organized by JINT and funded by Erasmus+. 

Besides her, other twenty-three people from 20 different nationalities joined the training, eager to learn about each other’s projects and practices concerning the integration of young migrants, refugees and asylum seekers in their countries of residency. 

The training was conducted by Jana Pajic and Pepijn Hellebuyck who worked hard to maintain a good balance between work and fun throughout the week. The multiple ice-breaking games and group activities were a crucial part in order for the participants to establish very close relationships with each other and to feel comfortable in sharing more about their life and work experiences. 

The organization made sure that the participants got familiar with multiple NGOs which are actively working on these topics within Belgium. For instance, representatives from Tumult and PIN came to the venue to present their project Navigate You(th), through which they have developed a peer coaching system so that refugees who are already established in the country can help newcomers finding suiting activities for their free time while articulating the process with their families. 

The group also had the opportunity to visit different cities in Belgium and to get to know the environment in which other NGOs work. Some of the participants went to Antwerp, while others made their way to Louvain, or stayed in the area to further explore Brussels. Clara’s group went to Ghent, where they got to know Refu Interim (who aims to promote the social and professional self-sufficiency of newcomers, through paid volunteering experiences), Jong (an open house in the neighborhood which welcomes young asylum seekers, refugees and migrants, where they can find support and multiple activities) and JES (an urban laboratory developing innovative projects for children and youth in Belgium). The day ended with a wonderful session of communal cooking under the orientation of a Kurdish Syrian family and some magic tricks performed by some of the youngsters from the youth center.

The rest of the days were filled with workshops, presentations and debates, organized and carried on by all the participants, plus very touching personal stories shared by the ones who were also refugees. Topics discussed included sexual health, trauma, self-care, local action and youth participation, alongside activities such as dancing or visiting an Arabic bookshop. 

On the last evening, at the Open Arts House Globe Aroma, an artistic work and meeting place that newcomers can use to improve for their own cultural and artistic development, the group was surprised with a workshop of Dabke, a traditional dance performed by Lebanese, Syrians, Palestinians and Jordanians. It was the perfect (even though exhausting!) end for an incredible week, full of captivating ideas, hopes, projects, friends, cultures and lots of languages.

Pride Parade in Ljubljana

This year’s Ljubljana’s Pride Parade took place on Saturday, 22nd of June and art.1 had the pleasure to be a part of it.

The parade happened on the last day of the Festival Parada Ponosa, which lasted for 12 days and included several cultural, performative, political, conversational and educational activities.

This year’s message focused on drawing attention to the culture of hate which targets LGBTIQ+ community and other marginalized groups.

On the morning before the parade, a bazaar took place in the streets of Ljubljana, as well as a Living Library, organized by Stichting art.1’s partner, Legebitra. The Living Library is a project which aims to encourage active dialogue as a way to tackle stereotypes and prejudices. In the library, the books are real people who are willing to share their real stories with whoever wishes to “read” them. This year’s topic was “Intersectionality” and it brought together 18 queer people who also belonged to or were somehow related to other minorities.

In the afternoon, the streets of Ljubljana were flooded with colors as 2500 people walked by, danced or even cycled along. Towards the end, the crowd gathered in one of the main squares to listen to the political speeches and to watch a supersized rainbow flag being released from the top of the city castle.

The evening went on with different artistic performances just before the party in Metelkova, which made possible for everyone to wrap up this very important day with lots of fun and dancing.

Art. 1 in Cuba

Jorge Luis Baños/IPS.
Photo: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS.

Art. 1 was invited to join the programming of the queer film festival  “De la Rambla al Malecón - Festival por la Diversidad” in Cuba, which ended up being canceled by the government. However, it was still possible to organize a screening of our film “Up Close & Personal: LGBT Police”, facilitated by the Dutch Embassy, CENESEX and UNDP.

Unfortunately, Havana’s Conga Against Homophobia march, the equivalent to the pride parade, was also called subversive by the government and subsequently canceled.  Despite that, LGBT+ activists still managed to hold a counter-parade and Chris Belloni, the founder of art. 1, got to be present at the event.

Art. 1 is currently exploring possibilities for setting up a two-year project similar to Youth Artivists for Change in Cuba, as a way to provide trainings and create safe spaces for youth to engage with Human Rights, Gender Equality and LGBT+ Rights through art.

First filmmaking training in Tirana, Albania

The filmmaking training in Tirana started on the 10th of May and it took place in the Marubi Film Academy. The group of participants consisted of 9 people, with ages ranging from 17 to 29 years-old. They all shared an affinity for the arts and particularly for filmmaking, but most of them hadn’t had the opportunity to really learn about it until now. During the introductions, it was also immediately evident that they were very interested in engaging with LGBTQ+ rights and gender equality issues, and that they were very excited to learn how to do so using film.

What followed were three very intense days, filled not only with theory learning but also with moments for reflecting, sharing, and experimenting with the cameras. The very first exercise consisted of them gathering in small groups to create a film with only five shots, where they would advertise a product that they wished existed. As results, we got a banana with a shape that wouldn’t be as easily sexualized, which stated that “it seems to be easier to change the shape of food rather than people’s minds”. The second film presented a machine and a card that would grant women free access to sanitary products, in order to avoid the costs adjacent to them, and the third group worked on an “anti-patriarchy” juice.

During the last stage of the workshop, the participants had to work in an 8-hour film project, including developing a concept, writing and pre-producing, shooting and then editing. At the end of the day, we got to watch all of their projects in a final screening. The first film was an animated response to a poem by the participant Thimi, which talked about being a star, even in moments when one feels sad and alone. They also worked on the story of a man who found out that his sister had a relationship with a girl and responded by murdering her. The film proposed an alternative scenario where she got her revenge by locking him up and threatening him. In addition to raising questions regarding homophobia, this was also a critique on the Albanian tradition of family members getting revenge on other families. The last film, on the other hand, portrayed a case of online bullying and aimed to function as an awareness campaign to prevent suicide and address mental health issues. As a bonus, we also got to see a short animation against homophobia on which one of the participants had worked on the night before.

Towards the end, they presented the ideas that they have in mind and that they will use when the time comes for them to apply for the project mini-grants which will allow them to create their own documentaries.

“I believe that many young people in our country are very creative but we don’t have many opportunities where to show our ideas. I personally think that movies are a great tool that if used in the right hands can make a big change because films have the power to influence people and make them think deeper. Films can elicit deep feelings and help us reflect on our lives”.

- Participant in the workshop

Participants: Romina, Dario, Thimi, Mateo, Tringë, Rexhina, Egzon, Ilenia and Elisabeta.

Filmmaking training in Skopje, North Macedonia

The filmmaking training in Skopje happened between the 18th and the 22nd of April, and it was given by the Dutch trainer Nienke Eijsin and the local trainer Hanis Bagashov. We were received by a group of 9 participants, with ages varying from 17 to 26 years-old, who were very excited to gain more experience in filmmaking and particularly to use it to engage with matters of gender equality and human and LGBTQ+ rights as they told us that it was common for young people within their circles to have to deal with struggles related to these topics.

On the first day, inspired by the first bits of theory and some films made by the trainers of the workshop, they immediately went on to filming their first short movies, consisting of only five shots. The challenge was to create and advertise a product related to gender equality or LGBTQ+ issues that they wished already existed. The final products included a lipstick to be used by anyone regardless of their gender; a necklace which functioned as a whistle that women could use to scare off anyone chasing them down the street and a smelly chewing gum which had the same effect.

The following days were spent learning some more theory and watching practical examples, whilst also debating ideas for their individual final projects for which they can get a mini-grant for. Besides, the Dutch filmmaker Claire Zhou, who was present in Skopje for the screening of her film as part of the Queer Film Days, also joined the workshop by giving a lecture about character development and storytelling.

On the last day of the workshop, the participants delve into the adventure of an eight-hour film project. They started with concept, writing and pre-production, followed by shooting and then editing.

At the end of the day, all the films were screened in the Public Room, a creative space in Skopje. The first film to be presented was directed by Sofjia and Igor, who told the story of a woman who quit her job after being mistreated by her boss, and decided to go on an adventure with a friend. In the end, the audience realizes that they are actually in love with each other unlike what would be commonly assumed at first sight. In another film, Ivana, Kristijan and Antonella portrayed a universe where being gay was the norm, and presented the dynamics of a family where a son has to come out as straight to his two mothers. On the other hand, Andjela, Iskra, Angela, and Kris made a short film about an alien who lands on Earth and tries to take up a human form as he goes. As the alien isn’t aware of society’s gender roles and stereotypes, they end up breaking them, showing how much those are just a social construct.

By the end of the day, everyone felt very pleased with the happenings of the last few days and we all left very excited to see what the participants will do in the near future with their individual documentaries.

Participants: Ivana, Kristijan, Antonella, Andjela, Iskra, Angela, Sofjia, Igor, Kristijan

Storytelling training in Novi Sad, Serbia

The first YAC storytelling training in Serbia took place between the 2nd and the 6th of April, in Novi Sad. The training was given by Fouad Lakbir, on behalf of Stichting  International Storytelling Centre and it consisted of a four-day workshop for the youth and a one-day of a Train the Trainers workshop. 

The group of participants comprised six people who, on the first day, began getting to know each other through teambuilding and trust exercises, alongside a short introduction to storytelling.  The following sessions were spent alternating between storytelling theory and human rights discussions. Great conversations and personal stories came out of questions such as “Was there a moment where you thought about leaving Serbia?” and “Can you tell me about a time when you felt discriminated and a time when you felt validated?” 

When everyone had come up with their own story to work with, the time was dedicated to crafting their stories and coaching the participants on the structure and imaginary telling. 

The 4th day was an important day: after working on their presentation skills, everyone presented the stories to each other and to a small audience. The results were beautiful and really touching and we could wrap up the workshop with the distribution of the certificates and a nice drink together.

The very last day was a bit different: it consisted of training the group in the use of storytelling training methods and tools, so that they can be the ones applying it in their communities in the future.

Radio/podcast training in Pristina, Kosovo

Between the 24th and the 29th of January, our trainers Lotte van Gaalen and Saleem Salameh headed to Pristina in order to carry out the first radio/podcast training as part of our Youth Artivists for Change project in the Balkan. There, a group of participants which consisted mostly of people from the LGBT community, awaited them, eager to start learning. 

Some of them mentioned how open-minded their families were, but others made evident that the safe art space has been very important in making them feel at home. It soon became clear that they were all very outspoken about their passion for human rights and they were eager to tell stories that concerned mental health issues, homophobia and violence against women.

After the icebreaker games, some stories had already been shared and the participants had become acquainted with each other, immediately showing a lot of empathy for one another. Soon enough, important questions started being raised: “what can we expect from the generation of our parents who were raised with a different mentality?” and “Should LGBTQ+ people have to come out?” The workshop rapidly proved to become a safe space and it was evident that a very strong sense of community was beginning to take shape.

Afterwards, it was time for a bit of theory regarding storytelling. The trainers explained how through the techniques of storytelling one can engage the audience in such a way that their opinions are challenged and their minds open up.

It was with a lot of emotion that on the third and last day they finished their recordings and made the edits of their stories. Some of the stories will be released on our podcast platform art.1 radio, available here.