Walls. Barriers. Fences. It’s hard to turn on the news these days without hearing about them. As conflicts around the world sent countless refugees across borders looking for safety, growing nationalist movements have pushed isolationist ideas to the forefront of political debate. The United States just experienced the longest-ever government shutdown over a border wall in a fight that’s unlikely to be resolved anytime soon. The list goes on and the divide is so pervasive that it’s sometimes hard to trace how exactly we got to this point.
In this week’s Staff Pick Premiere, “Fence”, Kosovar filmmaker Lendita Zeqiraj offers a masterful reminder that, before these ideas enter the news cycle, their seeds are planted at home. If we confront them in our communities and challenge biases where they begin, there is hope for future generations.
Set during a small family gathering, “Fence” follows several generations as they clash over different beliefs, all while a young boy, Genti, struggles to be heard. That just barely scratches the surface of the different layers Zeqiraj is weaving into her award-winning film. With an ensemble cast of professional and non-actors, Zeqiraj explores how different opinions on race, gender, and equality co-exist in a single family. With the older women resigned to the way things are and deeply entrenched in biases they’ve inherited; a younger generation pushes back. If this sounds familiar to your own family gatherings, that’s precisely Zeqiraj’s goal. “The characters in ‘Fence’ are the people that surround us every day, they are set in their real environment where the film captures a moment of their lives, while they are faced with conflicting circumstances, clashes of generations, and mentalities. It’s a very simple story, yet it reveals many complexities of our society, identifying them through each character’s way of communicating, struggling to filter, and convey their experiences and beliefs.”
Seamlessly shot in a single hand-held take by cinematographer Sebastien Goepfert, the film tracks Genti’s desperate pleas among the adult bickering. Working with only 15 minutes of real time, Zeqiraj efficiently moves in and out of conversations to capture a wide range of experiences, a skill she’s honed over the years and brilliantly displayed in her previous Staff Pick, “Balcony.” The technique, she claims, comes naturally from the script. “I just wanted to catch those fifteen minutes of those characters’ lives. And showing a reality that is tough or violent is challenging, especially in art and films. I wanted to bring this kind of raw story to the audience, so I have to do it precisely and bring them straight to the point. With humor, of course.”
It took 28 takes to get it right, but the final film is a testament to exceptional craft, strong writing, and characters that reflect a diverse range of experiences and emotion. “Fence” won three Academy-qualifying awards (including the Palm Springs Shorts Fests where I sat on the jury) by reminding us of the walls and fences we build in our minds when we fail to challenge unjust ideas and uphold outdated traditions. In an increasingly fragmented world, films like “Fence” are exactly what we need to keep us moving forward.
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