“You as a director must deliver your vision in a calm, yet determined way.” Fatmir Koçi – In interview
Opposite me sits a strikingly energetic man with an insatiable appetite for getting a story to the
screen. Fatmir Koçi is a director from Albania with a long list of films under his belt. He believes that
honesty is the most important thing in life and that without it being an impactful storyteller is
The origin of this truth seeking can be traced back to the absolute facade that came with Albania
being under soviet rule. When Fatmir attended film school in the 1970s he was met with what he felt
was a constrictive demand of showing reality as picture perfect in every story. Before film school
Fatmir studied theater and was there told that he would never make it as an actor or a director for
the stage. He says himself that he “hated theater” at the time, and still isn’t all that fond of it. He is
much more interested in the endless possibilities for narrative that film provides. In The Rise and Fall
of Comrade Zylo there is a scene where a state appointed theater writer presents a new piece
meant to wave the flag of Albanian cultural ideals. The audience consists solely of bureaucrats to
assess whether the play is fit for the public. They are, of course, able to debate virtually everything in
the play and don’t even agree on what their esteemed ideals are.
For Comrade Zylo, Fatmir was inspired by the style of Italian directors, such as Fellini, Elio Petri and
Pietro Germi. Ironically, the story of Zylo is set in the middle of an era when anything besides TV
Tiriana, Albania’s state run station, was illegal to watch. Especially foreign films from non-soviet
countries. Fatmir remembers an incident from sometime in the 80s when he was alone in the attic of
his mother’s house at midnight. With her asleep in the next room, Fatmir had put his long distance
TV antenna in place and was watching an Italian film. Then there came an aggressive knock on the
attic window. Fatmir quickly turned the TV off and hid, staying completely still. The knock was
repeated several times until the person disappeared again into the night. He never saw the knocker,
but feels this was a very close call.
The Rise and Fall of Comrade Zylo is a nationally acclaimed novel in Albania that is a mandatory
read in high schools across the country. Fatmir followed the main themes of the story, but increased
the value of the affair that Demka, comrade Zylo’s intelligent and trusty speech writer, has with Adila,
Zylo’s wife. The affair is only barely hinted at in the book, but Fatmir feels that it adds greatly to the
Fatmir has adapted screenplays from written works before but says screenwriting is always a
challenge. Adaptations and original screenplays both pose their own challenges. “You are never safe
because you have done something before, you can’t approach the game the same way twice”.
When he hit a wall Fatmir got in touch with his longtime friend, Mike Downey, who also serves as
producer on the project. “I knew from the beginning that I would need a bright mind with me, some
who is not Albanian.” Mike has a sense of realism, and is a very arty character at the same time.
Fatmir believed he could deliver the story in the right way. This turned out to be true and the
Studying and understanding the cinematic language and history makes a good filmmaker. Without it
you’re only getting something on film, not really making a movie. “It is like if you make a book with a
name on the cover, but no text on the pages. The cinematic language is a very real thing that you
have to learn like any other language. There has to be an actual story in your book, your film.”
Choosing how to structure your narrative is something everyone must understand for themselves
through watching and analyzing great works.
When it is mentioned that The Rise and Fall of Comrade Zylo is reminiscent of a polaroid picture
from the soviet era, Fatmir feels it is an accurate description. In finding the style for the soviet
bureaucratic world, he chose to go for heightened reality, stylizing the film’s color palette and details
of a bygone era. To him, modern design has been stripped of all character and is flat. “I wanted the
flaws in the surroundings of the time to be present, nothing was perfect and plastick-y back then.”
On working with actors and crew, the most important thing to Fatmir is showing others respect and
keeping your cool. “You have to trust the people around you to deliver their work. You as a director
must deliver your vision in a calm, yet determined way so that you inspire creativity in everyone.”
The actors in The Rise and Fall of Comrade Zylo are all trained professionals, but Fatmir decided to
choose up and coming actors rather than older members of the Albanian acting elite. For example
the actor who plays Zylo himself, Aleks Seitaj, had starred in some supporting roles and short films
before taking on this lead in Comrade Zylo. For the acting style Fatmir let the talents shine through,
rather than being too particular in his direction, and this is a technique he always uses. The style is
reminiscent of other eastern european works in a way that the acting has a feeling of heightened
reality, verging on dry humor at times. This may be in relation to the effects that these countries had
to endure for decades, and still linger. A sort of surreal image of authority, where the bureaucratic
illusion is shown in a satirical way.
“I think I understood very early on that I’m not going to make these films that are full of lies and
propaganda. Albania was a dictatorship, a very harsh one, when I was starting out in the film
industry. […] It was all about how beautiful life is, the family, the socialism, the society which was all a
Fatmir made his first full feature, Nekrologji, in 1993. Three years later he contacted the writer of The
Rise and Fall of Comrade Zylo to talk about getting the rights to adapt the story for the screen: “But
he said that now is not the time. Now is too early, you should wait a bit longer.” The soviet union
collapsed in 1992 and with it Albania’s dictatorship. Both Nekrologji and The Rise and Fall of
Comrade Zylo deal with the illusions that dictatorship communities create to keep their people
subdued and happy. Nekrologji tells the story of a propaganda agent of a dictator whose death has
been kept secret from the nation for a long time. It is in a way similar to his newest film where the
incompetent Comrade Zylo is being publicly made out to be a great leadership genius with the help
of his clever speech writer Demka.
Today, Fatmir has adapted a book from 1936 into a screenplay called ‘If I were a boy”. His story
centers around an Albanian girl in the late 90s who tries to break away from her patriarchal family.
For future projects, Fatmir is eyeing Homer’s odyssey, or even Victor Hugo’s ‘Ninety-Three’.
Fatmir’s biggest inspiration is animals and enjoying nature. “When you love animals and nature, you
become more human.” He feels that both provide a dependable spring for creativity and while
connections with people may rupture at any time, nature is eternal. He does of course enjoy meeting
with interesting people though. Fatmir has four dogs and seven cats, many of which he has rescued
from the street. He presents a picture of one of them, a fierce three legged ginger female named
Patchu, which in Albanian means “patch”.