On a Guitar Virtuoso, a Filmmaker & Borders

Kaltrina Krasniqi_Headshot

Interviewed & Written by Sana Rizvi

What began as a personal documentary on the acclaimed Kosovar classical guitarist Petrit Çeku who, back in 2014, was about to record his take on Bach's unaccompanied Cello Suites in Spain turned into a road movie on borders and illegality, travelling between the invented ideas of orient and occident, past and future. Four years in the making, the poetically layered journey of two friends, does complete justice in bringing forth a story of native nomads that continue to be imprisoned by the politics of borders. Sarabande was screened as part of the WOMEX 19 Film Programme and the multifaceted director Kaltrina Krasniqi was in attendance to present her film.

Krasniqi is an award-winning Kosovo based film director and media specialist working in film, television and online publishing since 2001. She is also the founding member of Kosovo Oral History Initiative – an online platform where personal histories of individuals from various paths of life are recorded and published, and a co-founder of the popular Prishtina café-bookshop Dit' e Nat' ; an informal setting for the promotion of film, literature and music. Currently, she is in production of her first feature film Vera Dreams of the Sea.

If you missed watching Sarabande at WOMEX, don't fret. It is part of the November series of films on WOMEX Films on Demand. Find out more on how you can watch the full film online using your virtualWOMEX account here .

WOMEX Film had a chance to speak to the director about her film, the historical reference to Sarabande, the universality of music, and the continued politics of the "others'.

Could you tell us more about the title of the film Sarabande?
Kaltrina Krasniqi: For months Petrit had been very excited about Dešpalj’s arrangements of Bach Cello Suites for the guitar. In some levels, this also impacted his decision to record after so many years. When I decided to accompany him to Spain - with his guidance - I began in-depth research of Baroque music and quickly learned that suites contained six movements based on European dances. I took an interest in Sarabande movement in particular because, in six of the cello suites, it never sounds like a dance. It’s stretched, contemplative and loaded with piercing emotion. "What’s up with this?" I wondered, to later understand that this Spanish dance used to be fast and provocative, carrying Arab influences and brought by Spanish colonialists from central America in the early XVI century. Jesuits didn’t approve of the dance, they considered it indecent and banned it. In the Baroque period, this dance is embraced again but treated and then packaged through the conservative lens of time.

This history spoke to me on many levels, first of all, Sarabande is my favourite movement in all six suites. Secondly, its story resembles the life of the people in our region. For decades our countries (which are in Europe) are demanded to obey various standards, practices, forced to ignore their past and direct dialogue with each other… In other words, groomed every day into becoming decent for life on the other side - the European Union. Our journey in this film is a version of that reality.

The film is equally relevant today as it was in 2018 as when you finished it with the call for Catalan independence blowing up everywhere. Did you set out to make a politically loaded film?
Kaltrina Krasniqi: When one comes from a country that has endured several years of war and socio-political transition, politics become a certain nuance to your storytelling. Even though Petrit Çeku’s virtuosity and Johann Sebastian Bach were the main components that drew me to make Sarabande, Kosovo's context was impossible to ignore, it screams even if left only in the background because it’s visibly charged with the narrative of a country in the making.

Do you think it became easier to talk about the politics of exclusion through the angle of music rather than making a political film about Spain not recognising Kosovo as a country?
Kaltrina Krasniqi: The events that took place quietly while Petrit and I were travelling to Spain, a country that has not recognised Kosovo’s independence because of the Catalan issue. A country where as a Kosovar we’re not allowed to enter - became a great vehicle to talk about exclusion but also the desire to belong. You see, Kosovo is often culturally referred to as a border between Orient and Occident, a very romantic notion in theory. But when you’re from here, you clearly see how these constructions were built to legitimise divisions that sometimes go as far as isolating entire nations. Kosovo is the youngest country in Europe, 60% of its population is under 35 years old, yet for more than three decades it remains the largest ghetto of Europe from where its citizens can freely travel to only four neighbouring countries. So evidently, this kind of reality is difficult to ignore in a road-movie where borders are visible obstacles which need to be crossed.

Can you take us a bit behind the scenes on how you shot the film while allowing the artist to be comfortable?
Kaltrina Krasniqi: Petrit and I know each other for over a decade. So for him, me with a camera in the background are not strangers. However, the fact that Petrit invited me to follow him in a recording session as an adult was quite unique. As someone who also creates, I don’t feel comfortable being documented during that process. Mostly because of the very vulnerable state, one is in while making what they love. I was very grateful to be allowed in that space, so I made sure to be as invisible as possible but always there.

Why did Petrit Çeku choose Avila as the place to record his music?
Kaltrina Krasniqi: There are several churches in Spain famous for their acoustics, the San Francisco - Avila church is one of them. The label that Petrit was working with -Eudora Records record especially string instruments there. It is a very intimate stage but truly does justice to the sound of the guitar.

It took you four years to narrate all the layers of this story and compose them into a film. You were worried that the narrative might not do justice to these born nomads, ourselves, imprisoned by politics of borders. Are you still worried about the same? Your film has had an incredible festival run, what have been some of the reactions of audiences?
Kaltrina Krasniqi: True, Sarabande had a good festival run which is satisfying when you make such a personal and introverted piece of work. Watching it with non-native audiences is a deep learning experience, but it never ceases to surprise me how little we know of one another…That’s why every time I’m in front of a foreign audience, I choose to share what it took for (and from) me to be there for that talk or Q&A session. I explain in great detail about all the documents I had to gather for a humiliating visa interview to prove that I’m not a threat but just a filmmaker travelling with her film. I think that it’s our obligation to make one another aware of un-dignifying practices our governments conduct on an everyday basis in our name towards ‘the others’.

What are you listening to right now, and what projects are you working on?
Kaltrina Krasniqi: I have always been very close to the Kosovo local music scenes, which is diverse and growing fast. So check these out: Andrra, Sytë and Edona Vatoci & Tomor Kuçi.

Why should WOMEXicans watch the film?
Kaltrina Krasniqi: Because Petrit Çeku is the greatest guitar virtuoso alive.

article posted by:Sana Rizvi, Piranha Arts