Karlovy Vary film festival East of the West competition Mao Tse Tung

By Pavlina Jeleva

    A rare Albanian entry joins the East of the West competition line-up: Besnik Bisha's ironic take on the era of totalitarian leader Enver Hoxha, Mao Tse Tung. Following years of putting together the financing, the film is on the road to a longer life on the festival circuit than in domestic distrubition.

    Completing his education in cinema prior to the political transformation in Albania, Bisha began his career as a documentary director in 1987 with The Troublesome to the Scene. He won awards for his later features, The Mother's Heart (Trofeo d'argento at the Salerno IFF, 1993), and Bolero (Saint-Etienne IFF, 1997).

    During the three year period when Bisha was assembling the €320,000 budget for Mao Tse Tung, he worked as a casting director, assistant director, producer, and university professor. The film finally became possible after the financial support of the Albanian Film Centre was given to B&G Film Pro, one of the most experienced production companies in Albania, and its partnership with Albanian public TV and Digitalb Albania. Not only was the film shooting limited by financial resources; the shooting schedule had to be restricted to 25 days in the small town of Librazhd.

    Mao Tse Tung was distributed in Albania for only two weeks and is still waiting pick-up by a sales company for worldwide distribution.

    Like other strong Albanian films, Mao Tse Tung is set in the period of totalitarian rule in Albania, but approaches the Hoxha era with laughter instead of drama. Based on a novel by Albanian writer Besnik Mustafaj, the main protagonist is a solemn Gypsy chieftain with a foolish side. When his wife gives birth to their ninth son, he names the boy after the Great Chinese Cultural Revolution leader, which proves not to be a good idea after a later shift in Chinese-Albanian political relations. The film has been screened a several festivals, including recently in Moscow, to audiences' appreciative laughter.