As a keen traveller, I am intrigued by places that I consider enigmatic and exotic. That was the reason that instead of visiting familiar countries like France or Spain, I visited Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania instead in 2006. One of such enigmatic countries is Albania – the subject of the documentary by a film critic turned writer and director, Mark Cousins. Mark was invited to visit Tirana, Albania as a jury for a film festival there. So, the film starts with the scenery in Scotland – with one of the scenes depicting an empty chair overlooking a picturesque loch as can be seen from the picture at the top.
You get a sense that the movie is somehow going to be a visual and a poetic feast.
Cousins then documented his thoughts and activities while he was in Albania, including an emotional verbal open letter to Enver Hoxha, the former Prime Minister of Albania who passed away in 1985. Hoxha is notorious for isolating Albania from the world and pushing Albania into communism and atheism by courting both the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China in two separate periods. Some of the mess that Hoxha created was highlighted in Here Be Dragons.
The movie is also an homage to the world of Albanian cinema – of the race against time to save valuable movies from the past, some of which are considered too embarrassing for the current generation. They are currently housed in a crumbling building with mold threatening precious movie reels from the past. Here Be Dragons also introduce the viewers to past Albanian directors such as Xhanfiso Keko, Viktor Gjika and Viktor Stratoberdha whose works would be quite intriguing to see if they are ever made publicly available.
Instead of turning the movie into a stuffy travelogue, Cousins packages it as a lyrical and poetic journey into Albania whilst also injecting various philosophical questions such as the value of keeping history alive – no matter how bad or disagreeable it is to the current generation. Cousins’ disarming Irish accent also adds to charm of the documentary.
I watched this movie as part of the 2013 Adelaide Film Festival with an added bonus of a Skype interview between the audience with Mark Cousins at the end of the movie. If this delightful documentary is screened at your city, rush and see it.