A number of pre-eminent film-makers like Jean Vigo, François Truffaut and Abbas Kiarostami have made films about childhood, but few have forged such a coherent body of work as Xhanfise Keko (Albania, 1929–2007). Keko, a peerless film-maker who made eleven fictional features between 1972 and 1984 in Albania, explored the challenges, frustrations and aspirations of children. This retrospective, the first in Spain and one of the few organised internationally, includes four of her — recently restored — films, screened in double sessions.
With an extraordinary sensibility, Keko depicted the world and point of view of children by giving their desires and psychology prominence. This means understanding childhood not as a transitional phase to another age but as a period in itself, respecting children’s independence exactly as René Schérer defined the philosophy of pedagogy. The film-maker worked with child non-actors, boys and girls selected expressly for her films who build relationships with professional actors. At the same time, her practice contributed to transforming the methodical work of the actor into a playful and spontaneous activity, in line with Lev Vygotsky’s theory of learning through play: scripts were always read by the child participants, without the supervision of adult tutors, and could later be re-written on the basis of their comments. Her film sets were an open space of play involving the whole crew; the filming, always swift, looked to adapt to children’s short attention spans; the camera, always placed at their height, respected the way they perceived the world. In short, a whole series of measures to ensure that childhood was not only a theme in the films, but also a creator.
Keko’s filmography, shaped by her status as a working woman in 1970s and 1980s communist Albania, had to navigate censorship and underwent strict regulations. Nevertheless, through the grammar of her film-making she was able to explore taboos and hugely controversial themes during those years, for example divorce in Kur po Xhirohej një film (While Shooting a Film, 1981); a society of only children in Taulanti kërkon një motër (Taulant Wants a Sister, 1984); or bad manners in the Albanian upper class in Mimoza llastica (Fanciful Mimoza, 1973) and Kryengritje në pallat (Revolt in the Palace, 1972). The fables and metaphors of a child’s world allowed her not only to overcome this censorship but also to represent, on-screen, the dreams of a different world for a new generation. Despite her achievements, Xhanfise Keko remains an obscure figure in the history of film — the reason behind this series taking place.