Antoneta Kastrati • Director of ZANA
“As a community, we have not processed any of the war traumas in depth. We had to move on; perhaps it was the only way”
- We sat down with Kosovar director-scriptwriter Antoneta Kastrati to discuss the background to her Toronto-screened debut feature, ZANA
Emerging Kosovar director-scriptwriter Antoneta Kastrati deals with the sensitive topic of her homeland in her debut feature, ZANA [+see also:
interview: Antoneta Kastrati
film profile]. After its world premiere in the Discovery section of the 44th Toronto International Film Festival (5-15 September), we talked to Kastrati about her own personal story and how it relates to her film, the role of magic in Kosovar society and her experience working with her sister, cinematographer Sevdije Kastrati.
Cineuropa: Does ZANA contain any elements of your personal wartime past?
Antoneta Kastrati: ZANA is a fictional story, inspired by my experiences during and after the war, when I lost my mother and my sister. The underlying themes and questions in the film stem from that. Specifically speaking, the nightmares and night terrors in ZANA are the most accurate depiction of my own battles with these subjects.
Do you feel like the post-war generation is still tormented by these traumas?
There are different levels of trauma; my sister Sevdije and I belong to a smaller portion of the population that experienced a more profound sense of loss. It is difficult to speak with one voice on behalf of an entire generation: the war happened when we were teenagers, when we were maturing emotionally and starting to understand the complexity of the world around us. To witness the total breakdown and disintegration of humanity on such a large scale has a long-lasting impact, the effects of which only surface later. As a community, we have not processed any of these traumas in depth. We had to move on; perhaps it was the only way.
Is it easy to reconcile with this past?
If by reconciling we mean looking at the past, asking questions about what happened and how it changed us, it’s not easy – in fact, it is harder. But it is necessary if we want to rebuild a healthy society. After 20 years, I see this processing is finally starting to happen, and I believe ZANA is also a step towards that.
How difficult was it for you to work on ZANA?
The process of making a feature from the start to the end is very long. You have to live and breathe the world you are creating for the film, and it wasn’t easy, especially during the research and writing phase. As a director, even when I was shooting the few really graphic sequences, I was able to maintain an emotional distance from them. There was one exception – when my family and women from my village were present in a big memorial scene – where it got very emotional, but I was still able to set it aside and do my job.
Owing to her traumas, the heroine’s family think she has been possessed by evil spirits. Is mysticism common in Kosovo?
There have been so many cases, especially from my village, where young brides, who were sent to live at their husband’s house, start to experience anxiety or paranoia, and even become schizophrenic. The standard given explanation is that they are cursed and possessed. But this is not limited to women or mental issues only. It was the gender aspect I was most interested in, and that’s what motivated me to shoot a documentary in 2009.
Do mystic healers offer any hope to these people?
Looking for hope is only scratching the surface. People are really looking for easy answers to things that are inexplicable, such as in the case of my protagonist, Lume. Thinking that you know the answer provides relief, somehow. It is this need to believe in something outside of yourself, which you have no control over, the belief that someone else or some “external beings” are to blame. You have no responsibility to look any further or to reflect on your role as an individual in creating and/or maintaining the conditions for such illnesses, whether physical or mental.
What’s it like collaborating all the time with your sister, and how does her work affect yours in terms of filming?
We both started to get involved in film at around the same time. It is a very special feeling to be working with someone who shares my aesthetics and sensibilities, and she is a great cinematographer. Sevdije has a way of capturing such intimacy with actors, and creating realistic yet haunting images. Apart from that, she is also my biggest supporter, always pushing for the utmost quality, even when the conditions are bad and everyone else just wants to move on. She does that with every director she works with.
Why do you choose to depict these particular aspects of Kosovar society?
I tell stories that I am personally drawn to, and I ask questions that, I believe, are universal, through a specific lens. The fact that I am a woman who grew up in Kosovo during the war affects my creative choices. That’s why I try to be honest to my characters and to myself.
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