“An actor gets educated, taught, trained, and transformed”- interview with the distinguished actor and director, Mevlan Shanaj

“Cinema Visual Art in Motion” quotes Federico Fellini.

Albanian cinematography can be proud of the fact that it experienced and it was faced, not only with the visual ‘motion’ in itself, but also with that kind of movement that is especially connected to an overcoming era in an Albania that was faced with over half a century of dictatorship for a long and tedious transitional Albania makes it feel as a never ending period as it left a lot of traces and its effects in our current country.

Albania can be proud of its cinematic and theatric icons, formed during those years- looking at their professional side, they were equipped with discipline, with serious preparation of professional artistic quality that without hesitation may be compared to stars who, in other contexts around the world, have probably had different opportunities to be known by questioning their interpretive skills or appreciation. One of these cinematic giants is the remarkable Albanian actor and director, Mevlan Shanaj.


Who is Mevlan Shanaj?

Mevlan Shanaj, a deserved artist, is a prominent figure in the Albanian cinematography as an actor of one of the highest levels of it, as a movie producer and a professor in the field of directing at the Art Academy of Tirana.

He was born on February 7, 1945 in Fier, Albania.
From 1987 to 1992 he was the Film Director for TVSH (Albanian National TV program) and a Member of the Art Council “Film Selection Group” of Cannes, Prague, Budapest and Bucharest. He pauses from television for four years and then returns in 2001 as the director of the Department of Film and Spectacle of TVSH (eng.

TVA). In 2001 he began his work as a producer and director of the “Zig-Zag” film. On 2005-2006 Mr. Shanaj practiced his profession as a pedagogue at the Academy of Film and Multimedia “Marubi ” and up to today he works in the directing field of Art Academy. In 2008 he was rewarded with the title “Grand Master”.

Mevlan Shanaj starred at:

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As a director:

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Tefta Tashko; Marije Kraja; Berati; Katër mëngjeze (eng. Four mornings); Rruga B.

Katër (eng. B. Four Street); Lasgush Poradeci; Gju më gju (eng. Knee on Knee); Komani (eng. Koman) ; Pandi Raidhi; Shqiptari i vonuar (eng. The delayed Albanian); Rrugët (eng. Streets); Bibla dhe kurani (eng. Bible and Quran); Ftesë nga Iliri (eng. Invitation by Ilir) ; Përcjellja (eng. Observation) ; (eng. Independence Letters).


Hello Mr. Mevlan, it is a real pleasure and honor to welcome you to Albania News.

Thank you!
I hope that you have as many readers and that you can give out serious information about Albanians which are not influenced negatively and are not one sided either.
I hope that Albania News in Modena can somehow be inspiring for our compatriots.

“An actor pretends, an actor plays, an actor transforms into… “
Are all of these ‘acts’ really achieved by every actor? How easy can it possibly be?

An actor gets educated, taught, trained, does practice, gets directed, controlled and transformed.
Everything can be achieved with creative, analytical, confrontational and with ongoing work. There is no actor that can pretend, the actor conveys credibility of his conversion by giving the embodiment of what you mostly believe in. You mostly trust someone who is honest with you, rather than a liar.

Deceit in art is rather sophisticated as people in general fail to capture it. The creation and “the artistic sham” come in levels of perfection and the public in the hall gets captured by the magic of transformation when it is done so neatly.

For an actor to achieve to convince the public on what he is trying to express at that defined moment of interpretation, with what type of quality should he be ‘equipped’ with?

-There are no equipments; there is mastery of creation and work that is associated with expressive capability which is also called talent. There is no profession in art that can be done without underlying talent and further, without ongoing work. Acting is art of practice and transformation, by self feeling and by knowing how to select, how to recreate the character and how to maintain yourself.

The talent begins and ends with the ability of surprise: if you lose the surprise, you lose art.

Facial mimic is something an actor is born or taught with?

An actor interprets, creates and operates, therefore, that outwardly expression or as you call it mimic is not the main goal. Those expressions come from within and the character is created according to the role. Regarding this question there is an example on screen which belongs to Charlie Chaplin. He created with facial expressions and gesture at the time of silent cinema. Whereas the nowadays actor creates the character but not the facial expression.

You have described two founding eras of Albanian cinematography- regarding crucial stages of Albanian politics and society – ideological film against a real film, how costly is it for an actor?
What sense of feeling it caused Mevlani, a young actor, gifted in his profession, when he had to face strict dictation scenario or censorship?

Today it is being discussed and it is thrown a lot of mud over that time. Things should be discussed with the mentality of that time. In our community censure acted as much as self-censure. I was not a person who was connected to the party structures of that time, since I was not involved within the ranks but, there were few actors or even directors who were part of the party and they, more or less had to be subjected by the ideology of the time. I would consider myself a lifelong liberal, a little difficult to align, but not a rebel race. There are numerous cases that have forced us to interfere in our affairs.

I also have a documentary about Berat, that never came out on screen, all though it had high rankings by all the viewers of Albanian Television employees, or an attack orchestrated for the film “Fletë të bardha” (eng.”White sheets”) followed by a threat to Natasha who was a screenwriter, stating that the right for her creativity will be removed. We have this letter of ours (Natasha Lako, Mevlan Shanaj) as the creators of the movie “White Sheets”, which was directed to Ramiz Alia at that time, where we requested to either stop the attack or to punish us.

Face to face
Face to face (1979)

You have only interpreted leading roles. Thus, you always had actors chosen from the Albanian cinematography. Is it easier to work with high leveled famous actors, or with the young ones? Are there pros and cons in both cases?

When I first met with the stage and screen colossus such as: Sandër Prosi, Kadri Roshi, Pandi Raidhi, etc…in the film “I teti në bronze” (“the eighth one in bronze”,obviously I had fear, but I consider myself lucky, since later on they also became actors of my movies as a director and from these collaborations I still save the greatness of their simplicity and their friendly dedication with whom later on I had an indelible friendship.

I never had a chance to meet any other actor that is so disciplined on cameras in the square footage as Kadri Roshi, or the late night friendship for the next day shooting with Sandër Prosi as well as the friendship with the most successful cine-actor of those years, Bujar Lako. Whilst, when it comes to young actors I have had a few experiences with, but I would highlight the cooperation of Kastriot Caushi’s movie “Plumba e Perandorit” (Emperor’s bullet), it was a superb cooperation which turned into a lifelong friendship.

Who is your favorite partner?

I happened to have a great cooperation with the outstanding actress Yllka Mujo as a partner and as an actress under my directing.

When it comes to foreign actors, especially the Italian ones, who would be your preferred potential actor/actress for movie- cooperation?

During my early youth life I adored Anna Magnani, Sophia Loren, Gina Lollobrigida, Claudia Cardinale and everybody else and from the male actors, Marcello Mastroianni, of course, or Alberto Sordin and Vittorio Gassman.

When you were young, have you had an actor to imitate, your idol?

I do not believe that imitations are advisable, but inspirations definitely are.
In art imitation is forgettable, everyone wants to be themselves. There are a few actors that I adored, but they have moved over the years. Unchanged remains my thought about the brilliant Marlon Brando.

Black Flowers
Black Flowers (2003)

Your role as the protagonist was usually characterized by a common denominator: your ability and organizational leadership role, persistence, determination and your spirit of responsibility. How much do these features find space in your temperament and your real life?

Not at all, or completely. Not at all physically and completely spiritually. Creative process of acting is not related to the current situation, perhaps there is a lot of experiencing opportunities when you are standing at proven conditions, by all means, creation is part of transformation and transformation comes as a result of the process of knowledge and organized reactivation with the conscious of experience and logic.

Any ‘Nebi Surreli’, as a character who performs hard work, masterfully interpreted by you years ago “Rrugicat që kërkonin diell” (“Seeking sun paths”) – but that may be a current case? Have you had a chance to encounter any Albanian that lives that type of hard life, even today?

I think that today, when unemployment is very distinct, there are many Nebi Surrel’s, needless to say that “Poema e Mjerimit” (eng. Misery Poem) by Migjeni needs to be reinterpreted in many TV channels which unfortunately are mostly filled with decorations of human publicity, with a lesser percentage or almost no influential percentage at all for this society with serious survival problems.

Is there a role that was entrusted to any of your colleagues and that you may have liked to interpret it?

No there isn’t, I was part of a film when my opportunities as an actor were created and I realized movies when those opportunities were created. Undoubtedly, there are many cases where you could not achieve what you desired and dreamed for.

If you would realize any TV shows, what would according to you be the dearest topic for the Albanian public today?

An idea over judicial relations is going through my head.
A show that would have great communication material, as not a few, are compromising judicial cases, or dramas within families, not only moral ones but also those of ownership.
This would be a broad topic for the traumatic Albanian society.

Spring didn't come alone
Spring didn’t come alone (1988)

If you would personally start to ‘draw’ a scenario today, what would be its topic, selected by you?
I have a scenario in process with the topic of “Reception”-“Pritjes”.
Whenever a person expects something, there is this uncertainty; there is tension so this happens to a couple of 60-70 years old, where tensions begin over psychological and even over other health conditions.

As a filmmaker is there a movie of yours that you would set it as more ambitious?

Maybe “Emperors Bullet” or “Red flowers, black flowers”. I still have not solved this dilemma.

In movies interpreted by you, is there any sound track that remained in your heart, particularly? Which Albanian Composer?

During my career I had worked with famous film composers such as: Limos Disdari, Kastriot Gjini and in particular with Kujtim Laro, who according to us was called Ennio Morricone of the Albanian music. The last music realized by him is at my film “Red flowers, black flowers”, undoubtedly one of the most remarkable music realized on the Albanian screen, which was also rated as the best music at the Albanian film fest as in that movie was rated Afrim Spahiu’s camera, as the best camera.

If Ennio Morricone would express the desire to compose a sound track for one of your films, which movies would you entrust to him?

The movie, I have not accomplished yet.

Which is the most significant experience as a director for you?

I could modestly say that I am a special case of the Albanian screen, since I had a chance to be on screen in every position. I started as the news speaker while I was a student, then an actor at “The eighth one in bronze”, as a founder director and an experimental one for Albanian Television, in every other section but the political ones- but even so, in specific cases, I could not escape from it either.

During my life on screen, I tried myself as an actor, speaker, showman, director of documentary, reportage, theater, humor, film both on the big and small screen, implementing author, doing everything on my own and sometimes was a producer and teacher.

The most significant part for me remains square footage. There I feel energetic and always emotional but yet very happy. There I feel powerful, whereas, in every other step of my life, it seems as if everyone else is a step ahead of me.

Feature film or documentary?

I have pursued wide activities for several years at TVA. There I explored every television genre, until we got to the featured film. I was not able to realize television movies, all though, there are a few films realized with TVA, I implemented the cinematographic film on television, regardless of the technique used. Over my super long creative journey from 1968 up to today, there are some examples that have remained in my memory. Maybe the first film, maybe the last one but I can tell you that whenever

I start a new project, I get emotions as if it were the first time, I never feel succeeded, but continually anxious. Maybe the first adventure as a director of the movie (Korrierët; eng. Couriers 1975) or the greatness of the film “Emperors Bullet” 1980, or the attack and the political aggressivity at “White Sheets” in the early 90’s, or economical difficulties at “Black flowers” (winner in New York, 2004) or the documentary “Streets” 1997, basically leave you with great impressions, or better yet, there’s never serenity in the world of creation. Once by commissions today due to the lack of financial resources.

Director and film producer, when both of these figures do not identify a single person, how does this affect the performance of the film?

In a film performance the basic element is dramaturgy. A good scenario for a great artist is considered a great fortune, as he will always touch the public. The creator is always in opposition with money, he establishes relationship of friendship only with creativity. Generally, I think that there is no friendship between the producer and the creator.

Today, something that makes you get recognized immediately and rapidly is the appearance and superficiality. Does this become a cause of illusion for youth, as it is connected to the same report with acting?
What advice would you give to young people who intend to become actors?

I do not like to give out advices. Some time ago I published a book called “The screen is the dream itself”. There are ways spoken by world experienced filmmakers, as well as mine, on how to attain the big dream. Systematic work and only work with passion leads you to the dream station but sometimes chance too. However this is not to be expected, walking without ever stopping to climb up the latter, is a necessity in the art of stage and screen, of course, freshness remains the magic for every artist.

Albanian cinematic icons: according to you it was done the proper respect to them or the right evaluation for their excellent merits in this field in Albania?

I believe that this question has two answers.
Firstly, respect and appreciation to all of those who gave to the Albanian stage and screen continues to remain unchanged by all viewers, who are still unstoppable fans.

Regarding the answer on whether there is economical curiousness within or not, Albanian artists are also an inseparable body from the rest of the society, in all directions.

Since actors don’t come from a different planet, they are born by their population and they become famous when they know how to proudly represent the society that makes them. Myths and legends of every society are created for oneself greatness.

Your exemplary marriage for its duration and commitment: how important is it, especially in your profession, what are the management abilities to a regular family?

Family has been and remains the key to my success in my profession. With Natasha we have traveled together to every creation of mine even as an actor, and above all, as a director where in most of them she is the author of dramaturgy.
It certainly was a great journey, but with many sacrifices, especially during our young adulthood where work was real big and the kids were little and everything could not be achieved had it not been for her mother, Margarita Lako who gave her unconditional assistance and took good care of our kids, Hera and Joni.

Any of the children, pursuing your professional path?

Yes my son, Joni Shanaj, is a director and an anthropologist also; he has overcome directing with a lot of success since the beginning of it with the documentary “Ivi Tirana Punk” and lately with the long artistic film “Pharmakon”, which movie according to the specialized critics was an innovation to the Albanian screen.

How does it feel to be a ‘grandpa’? A grandfather actor- instead of a fairy tale- does it ever happen that he would tell a story or any fragments related to his movies, to his niece or nephew?

The arrival of my niece and nephew is one of the best feelings of my life. They are twins and along with Natasha, that morning of Aug. 16th, 2010 we save it as the best and an inerasable emotion since we were close to their arrival room and we heard their first crying sound upon their arrival in this world. They have just started following fairy tales, which is mostly Natasha’s job, as for me, having a competitor such as the iPad, I still can’t be of what I am asked for.
Projects for your professional future?

I continue to work diligently at the University of Arts with students for Film and TV directing for masters without stopping, in constant search of contact with the audience through the screen. The latest one it was a documentary about Ndreke Luca, which came right after Vangjush Furxhi one, followed soon for a very special artist, director Xhanfize Keko.

Mr. Mevlan, I thank you kindly for becoming Albania News’s friend today.

As a completely separate and an additional question, it would be your brief thought about the latest issue that has recently affected the sensitivity of the Albanian public opinion: the dismantling of Syrian chemical weapons in Albania.

Albanians are not excluded from the rest of European society nor the world. If appropriate and necessary information is missing, everyone rapidly believes the negative, therefore, as to every other area of life it is necessary to obtain accurate data in order to avoid the superficiality that always has hasty judgment.

In a concrete case, as an old saying says “when burned by mush you blow to yogurt too”, Albanians not long ago had a tragic experience with Gerdec as such it was natural to get concerned. Ultimately no one can say whether it was bad or good about everything that has just happened.

A “No!” stated by the Albanian Prime Minister- influenced by these or those factors- according to you, it was a coherent right, or do you think that more space should have been given to information about the issue, then reach a decision?

Even populations with famous democratic traditions and sound economic basis or with strengthened culture find it hard to accept something if they are told that their lives may possibly be threatened. Love over life does not differentiate wealth, greatness or poverty. Love for life is universal. The Prime Minister, without being excluded from this, made a decision that was imposed by, which apparently it was the right drug in order to lower the tension, whether a natural one, or a provoked one.

First published in Italian language on Albania News under the title “L’attore si educa, viene istruito, si allena, si trasforma” – Intervista al noto attore e regista albanese, Mevlan Shanaj

This article is also published in Albanian language under the title “Aktori edukohet, mësohet, stërvitet, tjetërsohet” – intervistë me Mevlan Shanaj

Translated by Saranda Shala