By LINDSEY BAHR, AP Screenwriter
Last January, filmmaker Blerta Basholli was simply happy to have participated in the Sundance Film Festival with her first feature film “Hive”. The Albanian-language film about a woman who sets up her own business after the Kosovo war was an inspiring gem, but Basholli hadn’t even dared to dream how far they would go.
Not only did it become the first film in Sundance history to win the top three awards in the World Film Competition, it now has a strong chance of becoming the first Kosovar nominee for an Oscar in the Best International Feature Film category. .
“Hive,” which airs on video-on-demand on February 1 and The Criterion Channel on February 9, is based on the true story of Fahrije Hoti, who during the 1998-99 Kosovo war fled her small town of Krusha e Madhe with her young children. When she returned, her husband was missing and probably dead and she had no way to support her family. Contrary to tradition and expectations, Hoti banded together with other war widows and started selling homemade ajvar, a condiment made from red peppers, in local markets.
His company, Kooperativa Krusha, is still in business today.
Basholli found out about Hoti’s story in the news years ago, around the time she was getting her MFA from New York University. She knew it should be a movie and that Yllka Gashi, a well-known actor in Kosovo, should act. Basholli and Gashi met Hoti around 2011 and it further solidified their mission to tell his story. But it would take nearly nine years to get the film off the ground and two more before it had its Cinderella moment at Sundance.
“Before I met her, I was a customer,” Gashi said from her home in Connecticut. “I was impressed with how she came up with this idea, because making ajvar is a traditional thing for Albanian women, especially women from our mother’s generation. She was so smart to use this skill, this very practical skill, and make a business out of it. From the first time we sat down with her and heard her story, I fell in love with her. She has this dignity and grace that amazes you even though she has been through so much and been through so much pain, heartbreak and uncertainty, she is still that graceful and strong woman who inspires you.
Basholli and Gashi were both teenagers in Kosovo when war broke out. They remember it well as well as the difficult years that preceded it.
“Growing up in the 90s in Kosovo was not the right time to be a kid,” Gashi said.
But the experience of sharing their stories and making the movie and stepping into their mother’s shoes proved to be cathartic in a way.
“We lived for many years under the occupation, so it was a long time when we really witnessed a lot of things,” Basholli said. “But I never knew Yllka’s story and what she went through and how she left Kosovo during the war and she didn’t know my story. So we both opened up to each other… It’s also a way to heal and a way to tell a story that hopefully won’t be repeated.
Gashi said it was something she didn’t even know she needed.
“It opened up a new perspective, to be honest, because I think we collectively never had a chance to heal as a society, as a nation, as a people, because we were eager to build the country,” Gashi said. “We never understood the consequences of war and the trauma that war and everything that preceded it caused us.”
The success of “Hive” now has the whole country cheering them on. People even stopped Basholli on the street to thank her for making them so proud.
“People know Yllka because she’s a very well-known actress and people really like her. But stopping the director doesn’t really happen here,” Basholli said with a laugh.
She is part of what is called a new wave of cinema in Kosovo. Over the past year, several other female directors have had feature films at festivals. “Hive” is among 15 films that have been shortlisted for the Oscars for Best International Feature, which is a first for Kosovo. They will find out on February 8 whether or not it will be one of the five films in the running for the Oscar prize on March 27.
Basholli is, she says, the most skeptical. She didn’t even think “Hive” had a chance at Sundance. But she is happy with the effect it produces.
“It really touches me that people are so proud of it. It kind of really made people happy,” Basholli said. “It kind of gives people hope like Fahrije gave us hope when we were working on the movie. She never gave up.”
Follow AP screenwriter Lindsey Bahr: www.twitter.com/ldbahr
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