Although Beqiri lives in Albania, exile remains ever present in his life / © AFP
With short films centred on poverty, migration and love, Erenik Beqiri has helped draw the global spotlight to Albania's film industry by telling stories at the heart of the country's social and economic fault lines.
"It's not every day you get the chance to make a film," the director told AFP. "When you do, you have to convey something that has a profound effect on your life and the lives of others. Migration is one of them."
Although Beqiri lives in Albania, exile remains ever present in his life.
"There are, of course, emotions and feelings that are very much my own. Everything that I have felt but also observed all around me -- from the daily lives of my friends, my family, the people I live among."
Since the fall of its brutal communist government, Albania has been radically transformed by migration.
According to official figures, at least 1.68 million Albanians, or 37 percent of the population, left the country between 1990 and 2020.
The huge outflow has left swaths of the countryside abandoned, while billions of euros in remittances sparked a property boom that has seen cranes fill its cities, and apartment blocks crowd the once-pristine coastlines.
The phenomenon is now a cornerstone of life for many Albanians, whether they are business owners, overseas workers, or a filmmaker.
"A Short Trip", which won the award for best short film at this year's Venice Film Festival, tells the story of Mira and Klodi, a young Albanian couple who travel to France hoping to find Mira a husband so she can obtain French citizenship.
The film is about more than migration, Beqiri told AFP: "It's about the love between these two young people and the sacrifices they have to make in search of a better future."
The story began as a sketch involving a couple dreaming of a better life, he said, before evolving into a snapshot of lives transformed by the bitter realities of migration that many Albanians confront when trying to move abroad.
- 'Collective effort' -
Born to parents who were artists during the final days of the communist era, Beqiri had longed to be a filmmaker since childhood, when he scrambled to get his hands on DVDs of movies not shown in Tirana's few cinemas.
His first short film, "The Van", released in 2019, follows Ben, a young Albanian labourer looking to make fast cash to pay a smuggler and leave the country.
To finance his trip, he fights other men for money inside the back of a van, in a bruising tale of poverty, ambition and violence.
The movie became the first Albanian production selected for the official competition at the Cannes Film Festival.
"Both my films are about migration. But the real issue is the relationships between the characters," Beqiri said.
"It's when the characters are alive, when they go through intense emotions, that the film works."
For his French producer, Olivier Berlemont, Erenik's cinema is "marked by narrative and visual audacity, a unique style that is sure to assert itself even more in the future".
But for the filmmaker, his success is the result of a tireless team effort from his production crews.
"The success of a film is never the work of a single person, it's always the fruit of a collective effort," he said with a streak of shyness when asked about the awards and recent success.
"It's true that awards pave the way to success, but once it's all over, you wonder: What am I going to do next? The film is already in the past, so you have to think about what you're going to do tomorrow."
For his next project, the director remains tight-lipped.
"I just want to make the best film."