Films saved my life. I grew up as a child-star in Albania. I had my own show and was very famous. Though it may sound fabulous from the outside, personally is came with a heavy burden of loneliness. The only way I was able to get in touch with my emotions – and the feeling of being truly alive – was through movies. This bond with cinema helped me shape my mission: to create films that would make other people feel good about who they are and what they do in life. To make them feel reassured that it’s okay. To give them hope.
For your film, you were the recipient of the Art.1 grant, which raises the visibility of LGBTIQ+ people. Your film is about Kosovar performer Astrit Ismaili, who now lives in Amsterdam. From your perspective, how can films increase acceptance of the LGBTIQ+ community?
Media and film have the power to normalize things that aren’t being perceived as normal. Of course, the concept of normality itself is relative. Everyone’s choice in life is ‘normal’, because it’s what makes them feel good. Seeing these kinds of role models on the screen as a child and teenager was rare, but it had a very deep impact in who I became. It helped me realize there are all these ways that you can live your life and feel good about it.
The lead I chose for my film is someone who is extremely close to my heart. As a friend, he helped me a lot by making me realize that you can be and become anything you want in life. He inspired me so much. When I heard about this grant opportunity I immediately wanted people to feel inspired by someone who actively and ongoingly choses his own way of life in a country like Kosovo, or a city like Pristina, where you never – less so 10 years ago– have the opportunity of growing into yourself, and build your own authentic personality as you evolve.