The Soil and the Wings
Stefan Malešević (director)
Most of the Bektashi-dervishes living in Kanatlar, a small tobacco-growing village in North Macedonia, see Ayten as a motherly figure. Her husband Erdogan is a dervish priest of the highest rank in their temple. This hard-working couple shows how equality blooms where you would least expect it—in a rural community of Muslims devoted to religion, family, and tradition.
Ayten and Erdogan raise their family in Kanatlar, a small village in North Macedonia, where they balance between the challenges of modern life and the 500-year-old Bektashi doctrine, a highly progressive branch of Islam. Ayten has a mild, friendly face that gives her a youthful appearance. She seems like a typical Mother of a rural, conservative society, but she also drives the tractor and reads from the Holy Book to the whole community in their temple. Erdogan is one of the local high-priests. He works day and night, but doesn’t talk much. When you ask about the history of Bektashism, he says Ayten can explain it better. They share a Facebook profile, where she replies to messages. Bektashi are arguably the most liberal Muslims. They believe everyone is equal, which gives women freedom that many other Muslims find blasphemous. They even believe alcohol brings out the true nature of humans and drink for spiritual purposes in their eclectic rituals. Despite their openness to other cultures, big divisions exist inside this community. Less than a thousand Bektashis live in Kanatlar, but they are still split in two fractions. In turbulent times, when the biggest holiday falls amidst a pandemic, their differences come under the spotlight and the animosity increases. Ayten and Erdogan try their best to keep the fractions at least peacefully co-existing. Bektashi worldviews feature many unique aspects, but for me the position of females in their society is most intriguing. When Western people hear about a traditional, rural, family-oriented society of pious Muslims, they instantly imagine women being oppressed. I felt the urge to show the other side of the coin, and found myself instantly captivated by Ayten’s presence. She is one of the most prominent women in the society and her husband is one of the high-priests. The vibrantly colored temples and matching costumes, the drone-like singing of holy songs and the endless hard work on muddy soil give a perfect backdrop to the story of their vivid and expressive characters. I want to explore pantheistic worldviews of Bektashi through powerful imagery of their architecture, rituals and daily routines. Intricate sound design and slow, contemplating shots will immerse the audience in this authentic culture. The topic is serious, but my approach leaves space for a healthy dose of humor stemming from quirky everyday situations. The socio-political elements will seep through the film, reflecting on the history of Balkans as well as the present problems of separatism in North Macedonia, a country torn apart by internal conflicts, international disputes and never-ending transition. This grave situation calls for balance to be made by presenting a world of pious Muslims who practice tolerance, openness and equality.
Stefan Malešević (1989) was born and raised in Belgrade, where he graduated as a bachelor in the field of Audio Engineering. He studied filmmaking at the film.factory PhD program in Sarajevo under the mentorship of Bela Tarr and other guest lecturers. Stefan returned to film.factory academy to give lectures in Electroacoustics and Sound Design at the Bachelor studies of Sarajevo Film Academy in 2015 and 2016. In film.factory he made several short films which screened at international festivals (Trieste, Sarajevo, Tokyo, Moscow etc). His documentary film Gora was awarded at Beldocs, Dokufest and screened at Visions du Reel along with a dozen of other festivals. His first fiction feature film Mamonga, a co-production between Serbia, Montenegro and Bosnia, got developed in Kino der Kunst project development forum and Karlovy Vary Eastern Promises program. It premiered in 2019 at Karlovy Vary, and also screened at New Horizons in Wroclaw, International Film Festival in Marrakech and many other festivals. Stefan was a jury member at the Montenegro Film Festival 2017, Roshd Film Festival in Tehran 2018 and BelDocs Film Festival 2018. Stefan participated at IDFAcademy tailor-made program in 2017 and IDFAcademy Summer School in 2019 with his upcoming documentary The Soil and the Wings. He is a member of the European Film Academy since 2019. Stefan currently lives between Belgrade and Rotterdam - working on developing his next feature fiction film Usud, shooting the feature documentary about Bektashi and directing a TV-series for the national broadcaster in Serbia.