It feels romantic, peaceful. But there is also a curious undercurrent. For one thing, the film we are watching isn't some
But this is the point of Dokufest. This annual documentary film festival in the pretty medieval town of Prizren, at the base of the Sharr mountains, makes a point of tackling tough issues. The festival's creative director, Veton Nurkollari, tells me: "I always want to challenge the audience, which sometimes means reminding them how terrible war is. Because if people forget, it can happen again."
The festival is now in its 13th year, and will see 10,000 tickets sold for 250 films shown in nine venues over one hot week. Its growing reputation attracts filmmakers from all over the world. And because the programme features mainly English-language or English-subtitled movies, approximately a quarter of festival visitors are international, with audiences bringing an estimated
"Twenty years ago, Prizren was
In 2002, Veton and his friends put on three days of movies in the disused shell of the open-air Kino Lumbargi cinema; they chose documentaries for the simple reason that they were easier to get hold of than US blockbusters. On the first night, torrential rain flooded the roads, but still the cinema was half full. On the second night, it was sold out. On the third, the last film closed to a standing ovation. Movie-going was back from the dead.
What marks Dokufest out from the rest of the international documentary scene, however, isn't that it's in
The result is that cinema and city merge to create something magical. The sun goes down, the projectors fire up, and hundreds of people fall silent with a beer in hand and a cool breeze on their skin. When the movie finishes, the audiences join Prizren's late-night throngs pulsing to techno beats in the packed-out bars before heading to one of Dokufest's late-night gigs. It's intellectual arts meets Balkan street party.
Which isn't to say that the festival, and indeed the town of Prizren, is solely about nocturnal pursuits. Centred on Shadervan square on the south bank of the shallow Bistrica river, the old town's pleasant hillside setting and Ottoman sites have long been a summer draw for Balkan families and the occasional western backpacker.
Prettier than the Kosovan capital Prishtina, Prizren, in the south of the country near the Albanian and Macedonian borders, has cobbled streets winding around the 400-year-old
But with Dokufest, the old town gets an annual cultural facelift. A young crowd from
It's when the heat dies down in the evening that the town really comes to life. Popular restaurants such as Ambient (ambient-ks.com) on the river and Ego on Shadervan square serve meze-style dishes and kebabs as well as the usual steaks, fish and pasta dishes, all in euro prices far lower than you'll find in the west. Groups of teenagers and twentysomethings hang out on the Kej, the riverside promenade, where you can still see the cinema screens while chatting into the night. Red and green lasers from the
We push through the throngs, grab a Peja for a euro and join Veton and the Dokufest volunteers at Bar Aca (on Mimar Sinani), just one of the score of bars that have transitioned from their day-cafe selves. It's packed, full of laughter and heated discussion on the next day's programme. Soon, we'll move on to the Dokunights stage, a short walk away, where a young crowd dance to DJs and Balkan bands until
It wasn't what we'd expected from a trip to
* The trip was provided by Dokufest (dokufest.com), whose 2014 festival runs from 16-24 August. Air Germania (flygermania.de) flies from Gatwick to Pristina (90 minutes' drive from Prizren) from
Set the scene . . . Dokufest takes place in the medieval town of Prizren
Prizren's main square and 17th-century
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