PRESERVING AND PROTECTING AN ENDANGERED FILM HERITAGE
Under the near half-century regime of dictator Enver Hoxha, Albania remained cut off from the rest of the world until 1990. Most Albanian films made under the communist regime before 1991 were seldom subtitled into other languages and rarely screened outside Albania.
The Albanian Cinema Project’s preservation initiative aims to change this fact, bringing a ‘new’ national cinema to international screens while attempting to preserve these endangered treasures.
Begun by filmmakers Iris Elezi, Thomas Logoreci and California archivist Regina Longo, the Albanian Cinema Project was born after dangerous mold growth and vinegar syndrome, two elements that destroy film quickly, were discovered in the Central State Film Archive of Albania. In the last few years, the archive has faced considerable difficulty in maintaining proper conditions of temperature and humidity within the vaults where these precious films are stored.
The Albanian film archive is the custodian of all the East European country’s motion picture productions. Begun in 1947, the facility consists mostly of material from the “New Albania” film studio, started in 1952 and closed in 1992. Currently the archive film collection includes 6,422 films, 4.329 being Albanian titles and 2,093 productions from around the world: a total of 44,000 film cans.
Working with the support of the Albanian Ministry of Culture, the US Embassy in Tirana, the Albanian National Center of Cinematography, the Albanian Film Commission, the Association of Moving Image Archivists and concerned members of the international film and film archives community, the ACP is dedicated to preserving, restoring and promoting Albanian film heritage.
The campaign to preserve “Five Films in Five Years” and “The Bunker Project” which aims to relocate the collections of the archives to a new, mold-free facility within the next ten years, are at the heart of the ACP mission. This initiative will achieve these goals by continuing to develop partnerships with governmental and intergovernmental agencies along with the concerned community of international filmmakers, film archivists, film scholars and cultural heritage preservation pioneers.
A 1977 Albanian black and white drama TOMKA AND HIS FRIENDS was highlighted in Irish documentarian and ACP board member Mark Cousins essay on kids in global cinema, A STORY OF CHILDREN AND FILM (2013).
Shortly after, the US Library of Congress Audiovisual Conservation Center, working together with the ACP and the archive, created a new master of Albanian director Xhanfise Keko’s beloved partisan feature. This restoration had a 2014 theatrical release in the UK along with a world premiere in Albania and neighboring Kosovo.
It’s a tragic fact: half of all American films made before 1950 and 90% of films made before 1929 are lost forever. Albania is now facing a similar predicament. Raising awareness about the cultural, artistic and historical significance of Albania’s cinematic legacy is the goal of the Albanian Cinema Project.