Saturday, March 30, 2013

Viktor Gjika's THE SECOND NOVEMBER: Albanian Cinema Project debuts first-ever showing outside Albania of landmark film

This past Wednesday, March 27, proved a red-letter day for Albanian film, as the Albanian Cinema Project (ACP), Colorlab Corporation, and New York University presented the first digital restoration and English language subtitled adaptation of renowned Albanian filmmaker Viktor Gjika’s 1982 feature, The Second November (Nëntori i dytë). The film tells the story of events leading up to Albania’s independence from Ottoman rule on November 28, 1912. Last year celebrated the 100th anniversary of that independence.

Until this past Wednesday evening, TrustMovies -- like most Americans (film lovers or not) -- had never seen (nor even heard of) an Albanian film, so the opportunity to view one, particularly one said to be as important as this, had to be accepted. (TM did see last year The Forgiveness of Blood, set and made in Albania, but by an American director.)

Directed by Gjika (shown at left) and written by Kiço Blushi, The Second November was made in 1982 and premiered that November, yet has never screened outside of Albania. On November 3, 2012, the restored version opened the "13th Festival of Albanian Film in the 100th Independence Year” at the Millennium Cinema in Tirana, Albania, to much acclaim.

This marked the world’s first restoration of an Albanian film and an international co-operation between filmmakers, film labs, archives, academics and activists to help preserve the Albanian film heritage. Nëntori i dytë is the first of five films that ACP will preserve over five years. Albania’s film archives, though they hold unique insights into one of Europe’s most complex countries, are also said to be in some danger these days, due to lack of funding.

The film itself, I am happy to say, proved a relatively enjoyable experience. My own meager understanding of Albania and its film history may have been a help to that enjoyment, for when one knows almost nothing about a subject, this "blank canvas" situation can make for quite a learning experience. First of all, I was more than a little surprised to learn that Albania as a nation only came into being after 1900. I'd imagined that it existed -- like Hungary, Poland and other Eastern European nations (despite a lot of border disputes & geographical changes) -- for hundreds of years. Hardly.

So this tale, which takes place over a rather short period of time, explains in only 93 minutes a kind of shorthand version of how nationalism and the spirit of a people, led by only a few brave leaders and their followers, managed to cling to their ideals over a cross-country trip by, what looked to my small understanding, their main leader, Ismail Quemali (shown above), enduring lots of threats and entreaties to quit (but no actual battles or violence), finally ending in the city of Vlora, where the Albanian flag is raised amidst much celebration and excitement.

One of our hosts for the evening, the lovely and well-spoken Regina M. Longo, director of the Albanian Cinema Project, explained pre-screening that the movie was full of history, drama and -- yes -- some melodrama. She was right. Even as full of cliche as is the film, when that cliche is dished out of an exotic location, it can be quite charming. The acting was capable, and the screenplay interesting from an historical angle, chock full of exposition as it was.

Probably most impressive was the splendid work accomplished by Colorlab Corp. to make this film look so spanking new and pristine. This digital restoration is a joy to view. There is plenty of history here, along with politics, religion (that's a Quizzling kind of religious leader, shown above, right), tradition vs. modernization -- with Turkey, Serbia and Greece all laid out against little Albania.

Told via fairly broad strokes and obvious storytelling, the movie still manages to build up a nice head of steam as time runs out and miles are still ahead to travel. The scenes with the telegraph operator and the young messenger (above) are charming, as are those involving the flag-making women (below) doing their version of the Albanian Betsy Ross.

There are songs, too, and lots of nationalistic feeling on view. Having also just seen the new documentary on Smyrna in this same week (about which I'll have more to say next week), which details the horrifying end of one of the world's most cosmopolitan cities just two decades after the birth of Albania, I must say that the documentary makes a good case against nationalism, and for cosmopolitanism.

Still, The Second November should arouse some nationalistic ardor from even the most placid cosmopolites. And since the oppressor here is Turkey -- that genocidal country that even now refuses to admit to its Armenian massacres, let alone the destruction of the city of Smyrna -- one can only hope and murmur, in the words of another "Holocausted" people, "Never again!"

We'll await the upcoming, restored Albanian films -- we're promi-sed one per year -- with great interest. The Second November, being Albanian to its core, was a good movie to start with, so it will be interesting to learn what other kinds of films this little country has made. Mean-while, for more information on the Albanian Cinema Project and Albanian film, click here.


David Washington said...

A Fan's Cut

This is my blog on how Great Films Could Have Been Made Differently.

if you have time then please take a look.

I'm also looking to collaborate with a screenwriter.

Comments are welcome

Sorry for disturbing,thanks.

James van Maanen said...

Good luck, David. I took a look at your blog and read a couple of postings. Interesting. If I were younger and had more free time, I'd open a dialog with you. Maybe some other readers will do that. So I'll leave your comment up, and we'll see what happens....

Anonymous said...

Where can we purchase this and more of Albanian movies.

James van Maanen said...

I wish I could help you out, Anonymous, but I really have no idea. I suggest you contact the link at the end of my post (here is the address:

The Albanian Cinema Project may be able to help you by referring you to some other sources. Good luck!