Film Interview: THE FORGIVENESS OF BLOOD director Joshua Marston

Filmmaker Joshua Marston (Maria Full of Grace) discusses the cultural and political background behind Albanian blood feuds, the subject matter of his latest feature, The Forgiveness of Blood, now in release via IFC Films

Vegas Outsider: In terms of background, how exactly did the subject of Albanian honor killings cross your attention and furthermore, inspire you enough to explore it within the confines of a feature film? It doesn’t seem like a story idea that would easily come to the mind of an American filmmaker. Beyond that, how then was process of transforming that idea into a fully-fleshed story that could be filmed?

Joshua Marston: I read about it here in the newspaper; pretty much the only thing that gets covered here in the news about Albania these days are blood feuds. So, after reading about them, I began to research what exactly was going on and what caught my attention so much was not necessarily the feuds themselves but the situation where there are hundreds of families living in self-imposed house arrest, not going outside for years on end sometimes. I was particularly interested in that facet since it is still going on today in contemporary Albania, however developed they may be. It was hard to believe these blood feuds were still taking place alongside cell phones, video games, and Facebook.

It was really that juxtaposition between the traditional and the modern that was fascinating to me, more so than the feuds themselves. I wanted to find a way to highlight that contradiction. So I had the idea to tell the story of a feud from the view point of a seventeen year old boy, who by virtue of being young is very modern, has his cell phones, uploads photos to Facebook, etc. But his father gets involved in a killing and he finds his life turned upside down. And so with that, here’s this kid who is sneaking out in the middle of the night to see this girl, he’s trapped in his home as a result of this killing, etc.

With a couple storyline threads like these, I traveled to Albania itself with an Albanian filmmaker who is from New York originally. We hired a driver and spent months interviewing families in feuds, families who had been in feuds but resolved them, mediators, etc. basically trying to get an understanding of what this world really is like and then from there beginning to imagine what the story of the film would be.

VO: One thought that sprung to my mind while watching the film was considering the political dimension to this world, in that here is a society that is consciously striving towards modernity yet seemingly finds itself still caught up in these feudal laws, which ultimately halts progress. What is the government’s position in relation to these honor killings?

JM: The government has been working very hard to get rid of blood feuds and there is an enormous incentive to do so ,which is joining the European Community; they’ve managed to join NATO but joining the EC and the EU (European Union) would require, among other things, the ending of blood feuds. So they have brought in various organizations to address the problem but there are a couple basic challenges. The most essential one is to make sure the judicial process and police system are strong; if people feel those institutions are performing as they should then they would no longer feel that they’d have to take the law into their own hands. That’s probably the single, biggest hurdle, although they have come a long way in the last fifteen to twenty years since the end of Communism.

But beyond that, I’ve been told by the politicians that the main ways you’re going to change this are to invest in education, technology, and infrastructure. That is very important because those three things are the conduits through which modern ideas and mentalities come into Albania. Another change is that many people are leaving Albania to work abroad in places like Greece or Italy and when they return, they have a new, more enlightened perspective. But it’s really not just about having the government better mete out justice but rather people adjusting the senses of honor and pride in their identities.

When you say that you are in a feud, the old system allows for justice but it’s not just ‘oh someone hurt your brother and you want to get revenge’. It’s not about allowing you to get revenge; by the code you are required to seek vengeance because say when your brother is killed, it is a stain on your family and your family’s honor. Everyone in the village knows that until you avenge it, your family is walking around with a deficit of honor. So it is more about teaching people to let go of that antiquated perception of family and honor. Until that happens, they [the government] really won’t make a dent in blood feud culture.

VO: I’m glad you touched upon this notion of honor and national identity because as I watched the film and observed the characters struggling to navigate between accepting a modern, technologically-based future while being trapped by these ancient customs, it reminded me of the Arab Spring. Namely in that it is a movement that very much is trying to reject certain ways of the past and embrace the future, while also channeling these ideals of personal honor. As you worked on this project, did you happen to sense any parallels between this specific situation in Albania and the greater world at large?

JM: Given a larger context, I think the answer is yes. The reason why these juxtapositions come up either in Albania or similar places, like the Middle East, is because they are societies in transition. When you focus on a place in transition, you are more apt to notice these weird incongruities. What’s interesting to me as a filmmaker is that when observing these weird contradictions, you are more able to see things that would otherwise be taken for granted and left below the surface suddenly come up. So we might take it for granted for example that in many places dictatorships are normal or that they live in societies where people practice an eye for an eye. But as things change and these new ideas are introduced, questions come up and that’s fascinating to watch unfold.

To learn more about the film, search for screenings, or where to watch on VOD, go to www.ifcfilms.com

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