9th Apr 2017

A documentary about the boy from Lapraka in search of identity

The story of Andi Ngjela born in Laprakë is the story of an entire generation of child migrants in Greece. They changed their names, they were assimilated by the host country's culture and ended up experiencing an identity crisis. Finally Andi Ngjela regained his identity through his art. 

The film "Xenia" (2014) by director Panos H. Koutras participated in Un Certain Regard at the Cannes Film Festival and addresses this phenomenon, focussing on two Albanian teenagers born in Greece, a place that makes them feel foreign. This was the debut film of Nikos Gelia, the boy originally called Andi. After seeing the movie, a meeting took place between Nikos and Greek-British documentary maker Andreas Dermanis, who decided to focus on making a documentary about Nikos' life and his search for identity. 

"When it came to filming the documentary, I realised that this place (Albania) had a meaning for me that I was not previously thinking about. Albania had escaped my attention because I was focused on my goal of becoming a good actor." Aniy departed from Tirana at age 6 and aknowledges how his Albanian identity finally helped his artistic career.

"I left by taxi at the age of six years only. When my parents had emigrated to Greece, I lived a year without them, in my Aunt's house. Greece was the place where I questioned my identity. I grew up trying to find a purpose. I really liked art, so acting was the only way for me. I studied at the School of Dramatic Arts when I was proposed to play the movie "Xenia." It was my first film and got nominated at the Cannes Film Festival. After that I received new offers for cinema and theatre in Greece. Finally the identity which I invested in began to function. I do not think I would have won the role in "Xenia' if had I not been Albanian, but after the success of the film I took other roles, not because I was Albanian but because I was Nikos. So the Albanian identity gave me a hand.

"At the time of filming, those who were born and lived in Greece, the second-generation immigrants, could not receive Greek passports because Greek law said you must have Greek roots. "Xenia" was made to question the law. If you live in Greece especially if you were born there as my character is, you would question why you don't have the same opportunities as everyone else. Our position with the Greek Film Academy was to refuse any awards given to us until the law changed in all EU countries. 

The documentary 'Andi' will act as a bridge between the two countries. "The film is in post-production stage. It's a co-production between the Greek channel ANT1 and Vice Greece and will be ready in the next three months. We hope to show the film in Tirana, "says Greco-British director Andreas Dermanis.

Original interview below.