After two years of hard work I am happy to say that WILD FLOWER is realized in 2016. At the Tirana Film Festival WILD FLOWER won a price for best debut. This has been such an amazing journey and it keeps getting better. Lule came to see the movie in Tirana and she was pleased with the result. I will share pictures of the event. But for now please enjoy the trailer. WILD FLOWER will premiere in Holland very soon and after that GREECE, FINLAND, KOSOVO and many other countries.
After three weeks of continuously shooting we are now home again. It was a journey that none of us will soon forget. Living in the mountains for that amount of time has been inspiring in many ways. The fresh air, the clean mountain water, breathtaking skies and the steadiness of the mountains themselves have left me speechless. Tuc as Lule’s little mountain village is called has a true beauty of its own. To be back in the city again has been quite a transition. To live so close to Lule has got me thinking. How can an almost 77 year all woman still be so strong, walking up those steep mountains day by day. Most of us with our young legs were left beaten down after following her just for one day. I suppose it’s the way we are used to living. She is been doing what she does ever since she was 12 years old. But I do see that she is getting tired now, working from 6.00 in the morning till 9.00 in the evening. I have been touched by the openness she has shown me. She has been as honest as she could being asked the most intimate questions anyone could ever ask a person. I had a somewhat romantic image in my head of the life in the mountains and it turned out to be true in some ways. But it mostly has been a hard knock life for her. Living in that area as an unmarried woman walking around with a gun all the time afraid of being kidnapped. On the other hand her family talks of suffering and sacrifice, but when I looked at her she seemed so satisfied. More of that will be clarified later in the movie. The language barrier after a while disappears, the communication goes from heart to heart when it comes to personal contact. Dorina Lule’s niece took care of the translation after our original translator had to leave. But it turned out to be a blessing because through Dorina we got so much more inside information. Lule loves her nieces and cousins as if they were her own children. Dorina taught me some Albanian, which was very helpful. One of Lule’s famous sentences: “Per Zotem une jam i lodur”, meaning: “Oh my God I am so tired”, is now edged in my memory. That’s what she used to say at the end of the day having fed all her animals including the little lamb that she gave milk from a bottle. Waking up to the sound of bleating sheep is quite surreal when you are used to city life, but it gets kind of soothing after a while. Cameraman Koen woke up one morning saying that he heard her calling out the names of her sheep in his sleep. Which was very funny because she is intensely passionate about the way she keeps her flock together: Berduki, Brishka, Kishmira are some of the famous names that she calls out and crack me up every time I hear them. It turns out she has used those names ever since she started out and has never changed them since. We have gotten so much great footage, scenes as well as interviews. And it was hard saying goodbye to Lule, we both broke down into tears, but it was time to go. I called her the day after when she was up on mountain Tuc i Vögel (little Tuc), and it was so great to notice that for her it was just another day at the office. Yesterday I got a message from her cousin Kristian saying that she misses me and wants to do a Skype session. Oh per Zotem that lady just always manages to make me smile. My guess is that’s the only thing you will be wearing too after seeing the end result. So stay tuned for that!
While googling ‘burnesha’, one encounters stories and images of rough looking mountain-men who turn out to be women. National Geographic published a series of fierce Albanian man-women and more recently photographer Jill Peters went to the Albanian North to document these gentlemen-like looking women. Indeed, most Burnishes decide to take on a male attire in order to stress their reversal of gender-status, but it is not necessary to dress like a man in order to be considered a burnesha.
Burnesha actually means ‘strong woman’. Edith Durnham who first documented the phenomenon while traveling northern Albanian in the early 1900’s, reports the phenomenon for the first time and describes her encounters with these strong unmarried, gun-sling, landowning women, who often were men’s, and other’s in women’s clothes. What makes a Burnesha a Burnesha, is not her attire, but her gender-status and the privileges that go along with it: being able to own land, carry a gun, do certain tasks and moreover, being respected and not treated and traded like cattle.
It needs no explanation that (Northern) Albania no longer treats her women as such and the Burnesha is a dying tradition, but the way women like Lule played their role in pushing forward rural feminism, is to be seen in the forthcoming documentary Wild Flowers.
After a week of shooting in the Albanian mountains, we return to the village of Puka to gather some supplies and enjoy wifi. We have been shooting at Lule’s house for a week and are overwhelmed by her hospitality and the cooperation of her family. Cousins, nephews, sisters in-law all help to make a portrait of their great-aunt Lule, who – as a teenage girl – decided to take on a male lifestyle and become a Burnesha, never to engage into marriage or have children.
These Burnesha, sworn virgins as they are dubbed, stem from an ancient and harsh mountain culture, where family headed by male household heads and patriarchal clans ruled. By choosing to lead a men’s life, some women avoided arranged marriages and the hardship of Albanian womanhood, while others were given this status because of the lack of a male head in the household. Sustaining this peculiar lifestyle in presentday Albania forms the core of the portrait Fathia is making of one of the last surviving Burneshas in his remote part of Northern Albania.
It seems as if everybody – crew, translators, family and Lule herself – has plumbed excitingly and enthusiastically into this filmadventure, not knowing what lies ahead. We the crew – director Fathia, cameraman Koen (renamed Hook after some confusing Albanian mispronunciations), translator Iliriana and filmcoach Wendelien – soon realize our sporting shoes are hardly suited for the steep and rough mountainwalks Lule takes us daily to find high pastures for her sheep to feed. In much the same way Lule realizes having a documentary filmcrew following her around all day isn’t always fun and after she complains her sheep can’t eat while being filmed, we decide to give her ans us a well deserved day of rest.
I welcome you to join the film journey I will be making to Albania. It’s going to be a special journey because I will be making a dream come true. The dream of making a documentary that is filled with beauty and life. I found that sparkle of freedom and life in the soul of a 75 year old woman called Lule. Her name is rare, while the meaning of it is quite common, bloom or flower. Like her she is a woman which in itself is a normal thing, but this madam is quite rare. She lives in the Albanian mountains all by herself and has done so for a long time. In her teen years she made the choice to spend the rest of her days as a single lady. She felt that only then she could live the life that she wanted to live, simply being free. In her young days it was hard for a woman in the Albanian mountains to live a worthy live.
Lule en Fathia
Women were valued lesser than a man, like it was the case in many other countries. But in Northern Albania there was a law that stated a maiden had the same value as a man. Therefore some woman saw that law as their ticket out of being someones possession. Most women who made that choice started living as men, cutting their hair short, wearing pants and going out to work. These women where called burnesha’s, which means strong woman. Now in Albania only but a few of these women are left and Lule is one of them. She is even more special because Lule was so headstrong to say that she did not want to cut her hair nor wear male clothes. Still she was respected as a man in her area. I met her last year and was instantly drawn to her liveliness. But she is getting older and the loneliness is getting to her sometimes. Next month I will be going to see her again but now with a film crew. I will document her life story because I think this woman caries treasures of wisdom within her that might touch the hearts of many.
De reis naar Albanië wordt mede mogelijk gemaakt met steun van het Postcode Loterij Fonds voor Journalisten.
Koen van Herk – Camera and Sound
Koen is a talented young man who in his short career has already captured beautiful things on camera. So happy he is coming with us. He himself is not a man of many words, so it’s a good thing he works with images. You can enjoy his showreel here.
Wendelien Voogd – Directing support
Wendelien is an anthropologist and filmmaker, she made varies documentaries for television and international festivals. The documentary ‘The Miracle of Weebosch’ was shown at the IDFA festival. She is an inspiration for me and I am glad she will be travelling with us.
Dorina Luka – Translator
Dorina Luka is a talented Albanian student who translates for us. Since she is Lule’s niece we get a lot of inside information which helps a lot. The Albania language is one of the most difficult languages in the world. Dorina who aspires to become a journalist is indispensable during this project.
Fathia Bazi – Director
This is me telling all the stories on this blog, it’s like I can hear my own voice-over writing this :). I studied Journalism some time ago and ever since I finished, I had this idea of making a beautiful film-story. I worked for television agencies and so on, but now I’m telling my own tale and I’m loving it. It’s not that I am a particularly newsy kind of journalist, but I am generally interested in all of life and the people in it. Next to my love for storytelling I am a musician.