In the summer of 1999, three weeks after leaving Princeton and three
months after NATO had begun bombing the former Yugoslavia, Hugo Berkeley and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi
set off for Kosovo with $800, a pair of cameras (one digital video and one Super 8), to make a documentary
film about young survivors in Pristina. Three years later, they had A Normal Life, which follows
seven ethnic-Albanian Kosovars as they return home from refugee camps in Macedonia and endeavor
to make the most of the first real freedom they’ve ever tasted.
Among the film’s compelling subjects is Kaltrina, who established
Kosovo’s first drug-rehab program at age 18 before enrolling in film school to become a documentarian.
For several of these young people, including aspiring rock star Rrusta and newspaper journalists
Tina and Beni, the media offers the possibility of both self-expression and social change.
The filmmakers clearly have an affinity for their subjects–a
connection that’s deepened when the attacks of September 11, 2001, drive home for these two Americans
the reality of life during wartime. The duo had set out, in part, to live a shoestring adventure,
but they emerge with an appreciation that the calm of “a normal life” is nothing to take for granted.