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Blerta Basholli “Hive” – The Consequences of War Through a Woman’s Eyes

She is a superhero, but she is a human being superhero because, of course, she cried. Who wouldn’t have cried? And then she just decided to wipe her tears off and go to work.

The movie opens in the back of a truck lined with body bags as a woman braces herself, opens a bag, peers in. Everything is captured on the face. The smell of the rotting body, the decomposed flesh, the fear that this bag may contain her husband, the relief that it doesn’t, the quick scuttle to the next bag, the preparation for what she might encounter, the hope and fear it’s him, the relief and sadness that the question of his death or not, goes unanswered.

It takes courage to seek an answer we fear to receive. It takes courage to go against customs, to fight back with dignity and indomitable spirit. Hive shows the consequences of war through a woman’s lens. One of the advantages of 51% of the population getting a chance to direct films is that we are seeing different stories, stories that don’t follow the men but focus on the untold tale. Based on a real story of a village whose men disappeared in the Kosovo conflict, and the women who are left in a state of waiting – not allowed to work to earn money for their families, not allowed to drive a car, not allowed to talk to the other gender – some of these realities are shocking for the west to view. With her first film, Blerta Basholli brings us a movie without a false note, that sparks conversation, and one would hope, change; the tale made more resonant as it’s based on Fahrije’s (played by Yllka Gashi) actual story of indomitable courage.


What was it about this topic that appealed to you?

I heard the story and was interested that there was a woman from the country where I was born, that lost her husband during the war, and because she got her driver’s license and started to work, she was considered a Judas. Even though I’m from this country and related to the village life, even for me it was surprising and sad. I initially thought to do a satire, but that changed when I met Fahrije. She was this strong figure, how she spoke and dealt with everything; her vision, how she manifested her dream. She fell down and then stood back up, through all those obstacles. This was my first feature film, but it also felt like my duty to portray this strong woman on the big screen and share her story.

Where were you during the war?

I was in Kosovo until NATO forces started bombing in March 1999. Me, my mom, my brother, and my cousin decided to leave the country. My father and sisters decided to stay. The idea is that the family splits. They would leave the following day which they did, but the train was returned to imply that everything was fine, and people were returning. It wasn’t true. They got stuck in Kosovo for the entire war. Me, my mom, brother, and cousin left because they were all boys in their twenties and we were afraid that the police would take them, so we crossed the border into Macedonia and slid into Germany as refugees.

Did your personal experience inform and leak into your work as a director?

Of course. Even with the main actors. I was 16 when the war happened. I was lucky I didn’t lose anyone, but I witnessed a lot even as a teenager. My life was full of protests. Every day through the kitchen window we saw protests and people being beaten up, arrested, taken by the police. People entered our apartment because they were running away from the police. My parents were away at work. It was a common thing to open the door to the protesters, hide them, hide their shoes, that was a common thing. I was twelve when I did that. My brother and sisters were older, but it was a routine for us, to help people and protect them from the police. And then the war. I saw bombings from my kitchen window. It’s absurd to explain it now – even for me, let alone people who didn’t experience that. The actor told me how she lost her family and then found them again. So, rehearsals were digging deep into our emotions of this time and how we felt during the war; how we feel as women and mothers. When I worked with the actors, and even writing it, we explored everything.

I was shocked to discover that some women are still not allowed to drive and widows who have no financial support, are ostracized for earning a living. Put that into context. Is it isolated?

It is isolated in villages and luckily changing through examples like Fahrije. But even for me, it was shocking. One would think everyone in the village would help her. I’m sure there are cases where support was there. However, it is more expected that when a woman loses her husband, she will mourn all her life, and never marry, especially if the man has gone missing and you don’t know if he is dead. She is expected to always be sad, not wearing bright clothes and stay home. That is seen as moral – as if it is not moral to go to work and provide for her family. When Fahrije decided to drive it was too independent for the custom, also that she was talking to men. You should be able to talk to men for whatever reason you want, but she was doing it to survive, to conduct business, trying to make a living. She told me, “If we stayed at home and just waited and cried the whole time, we would’ve gone insane. We would’ve lost our children, and then it would’ve been too late for us to think about it. We really had to think about a lot of things, but mostly about our children. And staying sane for them. Because we had to raise them. So, we couldn’t think of anything else besides staying sane and providing for them because we had to raise them.”

I thought it’s so easy to just give up in this kind of situation. There’s nothing wrong, I guess, with giving up when you have so many obstacles. ‘Giving up’ is knocking on your door every second. It’s fascinating how she could always pull herself together and stand up. And when I told her, “Did you cry?” She said, “Yes, I cried every day. But then I wiped my tears and went to work.” She is a superhero, but she is a human being superhero because, of course, she cried. Who wouldn’t have cried? Then she just decided to wipe her tears and go to work.

What you also did was tell a story of war from a different lens. I don’t want you to speak for all women, but women are getting more access than they did before as directors. Because of that, they’re telling different stories. Personally, what does this do in maybe broadening what entertainment is, and what the audience is exposed to?

I wanted to show war and what these people went through because it was a fact, and it was part of the story. But the choices you make, how to tell that story, I think it was differently told maybe because I was a woman. I don’t know. I believe so.

Luckily in Kosovo, we have a lot of women filmmakers, not because somebody decided to give us projects because they wanted to hit some quota or percentage or something, but because we competed, and we won. That’s really amazing what’s happening with filmmaking because these films are traveling. My classmate, a woman, just won the Tokyo film festival. It’s her first film as well. We went to undergrads here in Prishtina. So, it’s truly amazing to see how many women directors are coming from Kosovo, and almost all of them are really making amazing films.

But in the sense of war, for me, it was a decision of putting it through a person’s perspective, a more human level. Not trying to explain or point fingers, rather just feel the post-war situation and the casualties of the war in a person’s life. No matter who that person is, or what nationality. For me, in Kosovo’s war, of course, it was obvious who the victim was, and the aggressor was. But it’s really important that we raised a discussion about what a conflict does to people, and hopefully, the history won’t repeat itself.

I don’t think I spoke a lot about what I saw during my life, and what we went through. I think it’s a good way for society and everyone to do that, so we can speak and see this from the perspective of human experience, and what it does to society, rather than trying to blame or make it political. Films are political in many ways, but at the same time, we really don’t want to make people more angry than people already are.

I really just hope that the film will make people think about women and gender issues, about discriminating against anybody, no matter that’s a woman, man or different nationality. We were discriminated against just because we were of a different nationality. We were all the same color, same race, but different nationalities. Sometimes it’s ridiculous how far discrimination can go, but they happen even today. Hopefully, our fans can just bring human nature to the surface and raise a discussion about these things not repeating themselves.

I also wanted to ask you what the challenges were because this section is for the women to be inspired who come after you. And generally, what were the unexpected challenges for you of this film?

As a woman, I didn’t particularly have any challenges besides having two kids, and my husband wasn’t here. So, besides being a parent, because they did depend on me, I had to take care of them because my husband was not in Kosovo. My mom, who’s always on call helped.

But in general, there’s always surprises sometimes good, a lot of times bad, that come up, when your back is against a wall. And giving up is on the door. But I guess it’s really important to have people around you that love the story the same way as you do, so everybody’s fighting to make it happen. Because sometimes, the director can be tired from a lot of things going wrong. You find moments to help each other, especially the way Fahrije did it.

It’s never giving up. We all feel like giving up at some point in life, maybe more often than we admit it. But at the same time, it’s like Fahrije, we wipe our tears and stand up and go to work. Sometimes you cannot do it exactly the next day, but maybe two days after, or three days after, you can just stand up. And just really what was really important for this story was that we really believed in it and really loved it.

I cannot stress enough for people who are making their first film to tell them that choose a story that you really love and that you really believe. You will always have doubts. Doubts make us better. It doesn’t make any sense if you don’t have doubts. If you think about it, and the story is still there, you’re reassured it is the right story. That you really love it. Then you’re going to fight. Because for me, it was a very difficult period. I first had kids, and then I had to graduate in the US. Then I started writing, and I was pregnant. It’s not easy to sit long hours to write when you’re pregnant. Then you had to breastfeed, and I had to pitch the film. My son would not take the milk even if I would put it on the bottle. He would just not take the bottle. So, I had to run and pitch, and wait in the pitching line. They said, “It’s not ready yet.” Then I took a cab to feed my son and then went back. It was really … I won the pitch because I was literally sweating on that pitch in Prishtina Festival. But I won it. It’s hard. We didn’t get funds the first time. The second time, we did it. The first time we didn’t get to Switzerland. The second time we did. Then the pandemic during editing. I was editing with the first editor, then with a second. The studios closed. I was almost locked in Prague, and my family was in Prishtina. A lot of drama. Even with color grading, I went twice to Switzerland. They sent me back. I didn’t have a COVID visa.

It was a lot of drama. So first, you have got to love your job so that you can be crazy enough to travel and do everything so that it’s finished, and you will do anything just to make it happen. It’s always important that I don’t say I didn’t do enough. I could have done better. At least I gave everything I had and everything I knew for this film. Then I was the rest, we’ll see how it goes.