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Mason film major returns to Kosovo to document his family's displacement

December 4, 2017   /   by Buzz McClain

Erblin Nushi, a senior film and video studies major, and his production crew drew the attention of a Kosovar public interested in films detailing a chapter in their nation's history of conflict. Photos courtesy of Tilia Entertainment.

The memories of the day armed Serbian soldiers chased his family from their home in Kosovo 19 years ago come and go, said George Mason University graduating senior Erblin Nushi.

Rounded up in the city square of Peja, the Nushis and others were loaded into trucks and covered with tarps for a six-hour ride on an unpaved road to the Albanian border. There was little air in the truck and several people suffocated, Nushi said. Nushi’s father used a utility knife to make a life-saving hole in the tarp so Nushi and his siblings could breathe.

“These are the mini-flashbacks I have,” he said.

That day is documented in a 22-minute short narrative film titled “BINI,” written and directed by Nushi and filmed over the course of a month in Kosovo this summer. The film will be shown at 1 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 9, in the JC Cinema on the Fairfax Campus.

It’s been a remarkable—if dangerous—journey, and the 6-year-old homeless refugee in a war zone is now a budding 25-year-old filmmaker.

Nushi and his crew, including three other George Mason students and a professor, had barely more than a month to find locations, cast six speaking and 40 nonspeaking roles, rehearse the actors, design the wardrobe, shoot the film, edit the footage and compose the score.

Along the way Nushi appeared on five television talks shows—“and always wearing my Mason hat,” he said—as the production drew the attention of a Kosovar public interested in films detailing  a chapter in the nation’s history of conflict.

“The whole country knew we were there making this film,” he said.

He also encountered Kosovar film personalities he idolized as a child, and he was able to hire two actors featured in the Oscar-nominated 2016 short film, “Shok.”

Nushi came to the United States with his family in 2010. He transferred to Mason after two years at Northern Virginia Community College, where he focused his studies on his first love, acting. But as a film and video studies (FAVS) major at Mason he was compelled to make short films—and discovered an affinity. “BINI” is the ninth film he’s made in two years at Mason.

“Honestly, I still prefer acting,” he said, “but storytelling is addicting.”

“He’s one of the most prolific filmmakers and one of the most talented students we have,” said Lisa Thrasher, the FAVS Professor of Film Business and Producing and the producer of “BINI.”

Thrasher, who accompanied the Mason team to Kosovo, said Nushi raised the $15,000 budget for “BINI” himself by bundling money from awards, scholarships, a work-study job, donations from friends and family, and donations via an Indiegogo crowd-funding campaign. “The department has supported his talent and his energy” with gear, personnel and encouragement, Thrasher said.

“I have been in this country for seven years,” Nushi said, “and I don’t think I would have gone to Kosovo and did what I did without [FAVS]. I thought when I came to Mason I would get a diploma, but I got a lot more.”

“BINI” will be screened as a sneak-peek viewing, obligatory for Nushi’s December graduation requirement. As part of FAVS’ “Senior Showcase” of films, “BINI” will be accompanied by a “making of” documentary, also directed by Nushi (and filmed by Mason senior Logan McKennah Brown via a Sony F7 camera award from FAVS sponsor Sony). The Kosovar cast of “BINI,” as well as the Kosovar ambassador to the United States, Vlora Çitaku, will also be on hand. 

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