Tirana Times: May 2016
As you wander into Tirana’s National Art gallery a serious, shadowy figure glares at you from across the room. You are transfixed. Who is this woman drawing a red star onto a wall? Why does she look so suspicious? Why is she watching me? The striking drawing is a pencil sketch from the poster for the film Nusja Dhe Shtetrrethimi from 1978. It is one of many captivating images from the collection of hand-crafted movie posters contained in The Art of Albanian Motion Picture Design exhibit and according to the show’s curator Thomas Logoreci it is a favourite among gallery visitors.
It is easy to see why it has inspired the most interest, but it is far from the only eye-catching piece on display. This collection of film posters takes you on a vivid, visual journey of Albanian cinema from the country’s first production,1944’s Skanderbeu all the way up to the current day releases such as The Albanian and Oscar selected Bota.
As a film-maker himself (he co-directed Bota) and lover of Albanian cinema, Logoreci has put together this exhibition to promote Albanian cinema history and to introduce forgotten pieces of art to a new generation.
During the communist period Albania produced many films. Persuaded by Stalin, Hoxha began to invest in cinema in order to spread and enforce communist propaganda among the population. Dictated to by the authoritarian government and under strict censorship, the film studion Kinostudio was founded in 1944.
As the son of an anti-communist Albanian who fled to America in the 1940s after being sentenced to death by Enver Hoxha’s government, Thomas Logereci is aware of the suffering that was inflicted by the regime. Despite the painful associations, he feels that it is important to restore, preserve and exhibit this collection as an example of Albania’s cultural as well as political heritage.
An eerie reminder of the strict censorship and horrors perpetrated by Hoxha’s government is contained in the movie poster for Soviet-influenced Tana from 1958. The cameraman for the film, Mandi Koci, was expelled from the studio and sentenced to a twenty year prison term, his name on the credits on the poster are covered over with green tape.
The selection of posters on display is not a greatest hits collection of Albanian films. Although it may be tempting to pick and choose the posters and their position in the exhibit based on their popularity, Logoreci feels that doing this would lose the element that makes this collection so special, the fact that the posters are all original pieces that have been created by hand.
When Logoreci first saw the posters he was astonished to see that the pictures did not match the images he had usually associated with the films. Instead he found artistic interpretations of the films that were truly unique, this furthered his commitment to create the exhibition.
The poster collection offers an opportunity to the public to see original artwork that has never been on display before and it also highlights the importance of preserving the film reels that are under threat. Albanian film heritage, no matter how painful or propagandist is still worth saving and the wonder and awe inspired by the hand-crafted poster collection emphasises this.
Locked away in the vault of the Kinostudio are the reels of all the Albanian-made films. Logoreci has been involved with the Albanian Cinema Project that is striving to protect the collection from deterioration. He discovered the importance of preserving the negatives of these films when he saw the digitalised version of one of these reels (The Second November) in 2012. At one point in the Blu-Ray version of the film he saw a white glow in the corner of a scene, he was informed by archivists that this was mould eating away at the negative. The stark reality hit him hard, if these reels were not placed in suitable conditions at an even temperature they would be lost forever. Many of the films in the vault have already succumb to mould and in order to save them they need to figure out a way to combat the deterioration before it is too late.
Logereci explains that at this moment he truly realised the importance of protecting the actual reels and not just digitalising them. “You wouldn’t photocopy a great piece of art and expect it to represent the original, it is the same with film. The originals contain depth and detail that cannot be captured by just transferring them onto a digital format.”
The dark eyes of Nusja Dhe Shtetrrethimi continue to sow unease as you navigate the gallery, it is difficult to shake the feeling of being watched. A tiny insight into the feeling of constant surveillance of Hoxha’s terrifying regime perhaps? As you browse the collection of posters in the art gallery it is difficult not to become intrigued by the different techniques that the artists used and the fascinating stories that accompany so many of these films. It feels like the past no matter how painful is worth preserving.