The dispute over ownership of Albania’s lone film school, the Marubi academy in Tirana, has entered its fifth week with renewed government attempts to cut off access to its premises to staff and students.
The academy was set up five years ago as a public institution in part of the former state film studio.
Albafilm, a body that reports to the ministries of culture and economy in the former secretive communist state, is demanding that an outside theater, gardens hosting student art and an area where an international human rights film festival is planned for April, be handed over to turn into a car park for a nearby TV studio.
The academy’s battle to retain the buildings and grounds has attracted thousands of signatures on an Internet petition from supporters including directors Gus Van Sant, Nick Broomfield, Jon Jost, Richard Linklater, Abel Ferrara, Chris Hegedus, D.A. Pennebaker and Albert Maysles.
The latest stand-off , Wednesday when Albafilm officials and private security contractors tried to erect a second fence around the entrance to the academy, only to have it torn down by students, shows the government is not ready to give up its claim to the premises, according to Kujtim Cashku, the Albanian filmmaker and academy topper.
“There were two fences around the entrance to the academy. It looked like a small prison, with a fence and gate and another fence and gate before the entrance of the school,” Cashku said. “It is now 35 days since we’ve had proper access by vehicle to the academy, which is our only way of getting filmmaking equipment in and out. This means students cannot make the movies they need to as part of their academic projects.”
Competition for places at the academy was fierce and standards high: last year only eight out of a graduating class of 12 were awarded final diplomas.
The situation is complicated by the fact that Culture Minister Ylli Pango, who had been leading the assault on the school, was sacked earlier this month by Prime Minister Sali Berisha for gross misconduct involving a woman applying for a ministry job.
However, the executive orders he signed concerning the film school remain in force.
Jost, whose track record as an indie filmmaker and defender of cinematic democracy dates back to the 1960s when he was a founder of the Chicago Film Coop, told Variety: “I am always in support of those whose voices are suppressed, whether for political reasons, or economic ones. Albania’s history is still raw with the experiences of (ex-Communist dictator Enver) Hoxha, so the kind of heavy-handed attacks that the school has taken is of special concern, indicating a still living tendency in the state to suppress anything which might challenge its controls.”
Van Sant, in remarks published on the academy’s website, said: “I hope that this school can continue to teach and inspire the film students of Tirana, film is difficult enough to learn without schools like Marubi.”