Kosovo celebrates its first Oscar nomination

Una Hajdari
An Oscar statue is on display during the Academy Awards Nominations Announcement at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Beverly Hills, California on January 14, 2016. (AFP Photo/MARK RALSTON)

Pristina (AFP) - Kosovo's nascent film industry was celebrating on Thursday after receiving its first ever Oscar nomination for the short film "Shok", a Kosovan-British production set during the late 1990s conflict with Serbia.

In the capital Pristina, the cast and crew of the film watched a live broadcast of the nominations announced in California, popping champagne and hugging each other after they heard "Shok" named in the category of Short Film (Live Action) for the 88th Academy Awards.

The production is based on the true wartime childhood story of Eshref Durmishi, who both starred in and co-produced the short movie.

"Being in a film nominated for an Oscar is an extraordinary honour. The honour is five times greater when the film is about your country and your experience as a young boy," Durmishi told AFP.

The 1998-1999 war pitted ethnic Albanian guerrillas seeking independence for the southern Serbian province of Kosovo against Serbia's forces, who withdrew from the territory following an 11-week NATO bombing campaign.

Kosovo unilaterally declared independence from Serbia in 2008 and its sovereignty has been recognised by more than 100 countries, but consistently denied by Belgrade.

The film's British director Jamie Donoughue said when he first visited Kosovo he knew "very little" about it but ended up staying for weeks due to flight disruptions caused by the Icelandic volcano in 2010.

"I met a lot of amazing people during that time and I decided I needed to make a film so more people could hear about what happened here during the war," he said.

- 'Surreal experience' -

He described the Oscar nomination as "a surreal experience, most importantly for the cast and crew and the people of Kosovo. I am very honoured to play a part in that".

In the film, a young ethnic Albanian boy Petrit -- based on Durmishi -- and a friend resort to rolling cigarettes for Serbian soldiers who are stationed in their village during the war.

But the boys' friendship is tested as they try to make sense of the conflict and battle for survival.

Durmishi himself plays a Serbian paramilitary soldier in the movie.

"The character was based on a real soldier, a soldier who I remember as a 14 to 15-year-old boy when I was going to school at the peak of the war in Kosovo," he said.

The film, co-produced by Durmishi and Britain's Harvey Ascott, was supported by the Kosovo Cinematography Centre, where the celebrations took place on Thursday.

"This is the hugest success in Kosovo's cinematography history to date, as now 'Shok' has opened doors for Kosovan films to be present at the world's largest award ceremonies," said the centre in a press release.

The Oscar winners will be announced on February 28 in Hollywood.