A few months ago, Elda Dakli wrote a piece “Breaking the Homogeneity: Invisible Albanians,” tracing the lesser-known stories of Albanian history and global migration patterns under the communist regime and after it fell. In close follow-up this month, Elda Dakli extended a community invite along with her brother Rudin Dakli of the Albanian Canadian Development Alternative (ACDA) in collaboration with Stephanie Teuta Haxhillari of the RH Scholarships to the film screening of prolific Albanian filmmaker Bujar Alimani’s directed documentary “Butterflies / Fluturat” at Cineplex’s Etobicoke theatre. The film spotlights the struggles of Albanians between 1945 and 1991 under the communist regime when 100,000 families were expropriated, and leading right into the present with flashbacks of fear, scarcity, inequality and crime as narrated by 21 grieving protagonists, fleeing (from their labour camp in Gradishta) towards light like the proverbial “butterflies” in the title.
A genre fiction filmmaker, Alimani was triggered by an annual meeting of Albanian women that got together annually over barbecue to mark their memories of the horrors of internment camps, illegal torture, fabricated trials, and unwarranted political persecutions of their families and close relatives, with each other as a means of coping with their past and present. Alimani found his trigger in that gathering and quickly assembled a crew on a minimal budget but with “lots of heart” to whip up a searing documentary that with due poignance and clarity captures the turmoils and sufferings of women under communism in a globally isolated Albania.
At this first screening in Canada, the film crew and audience choked up over tears sharing their experiences of the documentary and navigating collectively a piece of shared history and heritage that never got its due share of voice in cinema, textbooks, and let alone in propagandist vernacular intent on painting a picture of “adequacy, bounty, prosperity and contentment” back in Albania. The goal with such films, according to viewers and the cast, is to set the facts straight and spread awareness amongst Albanian youth and others in Canada and abroad “who do not get to hear about our sufferings, and when they do, they don’t believe us or just get bored,” expressed a few families with vivid recollections of their years of silence and instability.
Although, according to Elda Dakli, the communist regime did not make any distinction between women and men (violating both indiscriminately), the women’s experiences as direct victims of their subjugation, either as political prisoners or as members of families persecuted by the government, are not widely known nor talked about. This documentary thus offers a glimpse into the lives of women who bore the brunt of certain severe hardships in a society that was still predominantly patriarchal.
Since the fall of the communist regime, Albania established a democratic political system that undertook several liberalizing reforms guaranteeing basic civil and political rights, including freedoms of speech, press, assembly, association and religion, and the right to a fair trial. During its three decades of political transition, however, Albanians’ freedoms of speech and press have more often than not been violated, recalled members of the Albanian Canadian community.
Alimani and his crew plan to continue the work of excavating Albanian personal histories and truths through two sequel documentaries focused on the brothers of these women and also the oldest generation of Albanians who have not been able to reconcile with their wounds of the past. Alimani who was pleased with the warm reception from the Albanian Canadian community facilitated in large part by the ACDA and the RH Scholarships, hopes from Canada’s upcoming festivals a wider platform to launch such stories and find more listeners and empaths of Albanian experiences in how they inform the modern day outlook of Albanian immigrants and their families. Aida Kaloshi Campbell, one of the star cast, for her part, was vocal about the weaknesses of Albanian culture in not activating a collectivism and unity in their heritage and shared values and facing the dire consequences of being perceived as individualistic, divided and consequently “invisible” as a people, and being taken advantage of as such by dictators, bullies and foreigners.