Life is tough in Albania's Roma camps

This week's documentary feature travels to Albania for a cinematic look at the Roma striving for a better life

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Intrigued by how such a large group of people could live out of shacks built from anything they could find as well as earn a wage from endless begging and trading in recyclable materials, 22-year-old Sam Davis filmed "Roma": a short and moving documentary about the Romas living in Albania. 

A country shadowed by communism and heinous corruption, the documentary brings light to a community that is often judged and forgotten, whilst also outlining the causes and reasons why. Learn more about Roma in Dazed's interview with the filmmaker here.

Why Albania? 

Sam Davis: My intrigue into Albania, particularly the Roma, began three years ago. During my gap year I assisted some friends, David and Lynn Webb that are offering help and advice to young people in Greece and Albania. This trip slowly developed into an unplanned research trip in which I began to learn more about Albanian culture with the view of making a documentary about it in future. It was only until mid-way through my trip I discovered this interesting group of people that were completely set apart from Albanian society and gave an overwhelmingly hostile impression – the Roma. Albania is where I first encountered the Roma and therefore it was the country I wanted to film my documentary. As this started out as a uni project I thought it would be best for the budget to stick to a country in which I had contacts. 

How did you get access to shoot the Roma camp? 

Sam Davis: David Webb put me in contact with Greg and Marcella Dill - American missionaries to the Roma. Greg and Marcella have moved from the states to work full-time aiding the Roma. They say "It is our intention to not only share the Gospel with them, but to come alongside the Roma and help find meaningful ways to help move them from abject poverty into a productive and self-sustainable lifestyle." (fivedills.com)

Greg and Marcella have already gained years worth of friendship and trust with the Roma, so when I expressed my interest in making a documentary about the Roma they were over the moon. A week before the crew arrived I flew out to Albania to meet the Dills and to be introduced to the Roma that they work with. After weeks talking to Greg on Skype I thought it would be good to finally talk in person, so we met for a long coffee.

Because Greg and Marcella had such a good relationship with the Roma people, it broke a lot of boundaries when I stepped foot on their territory for the first time. It was important to me that in this week before the crew arrived I really got to know the Roma that I would be documenting. Working with the Roma was a big challenge. I had to gain their trust in order to be allowed to film them. Before filming I met some of the Roma in a cafe and we drank coffee and got to know each other. Gaining access to the Roma was a matter of trust. Once I had that and they knew I was there to make a film to show the world their desperate situation - they opened up and I was able to walk freely around the camps. 

What was it like when you got there?

Sam Davis: Stepping foot onto the Roma camps for the first time was absolutely devastating. Rubbish and mud as far as the eye could see and some how people live amongst that. Their houses were made out of old wood and plastic - whatever they could find. Their homes usually had one very small room which would be used to sleep, eat and wash in. Roma families are often quite large so you can imagine personal space is non-existent.

The smell was immensely overwhelming. The toilets are built out of old wood and often placed on a  riverbank in order to get rid of their waste.  However in some cases the toilets were placed quite far from a river causing their faeces to spread down the riverbank which you would often see kids playing on. It's hard to believe that people live in these conditions - it would even be cruel to put animals in this environment. 

Who was the coolest kid you met? 

Sam Davis: The coolest kid for me was a girl whom I never got the name of. Every time I saw her she wore a silver puffer jacket with the hood up that covered her amazing hairstyle. She had some serious style and she was only 5! She was always frowning and I don't think it was because she was unhappy, I believe it's down to  what she was told to do every time she had a camera shoved in her face in the past - 'Look upset for me'. It was very hard to shake these traits out of the Roma as this is what they would naturally do when you point a camera at them. However I was able to crack a smile out of the Silver girl, which can be seen in the credits to the film as I act incredibly stupid with a traditional Albanian hat! She was wicked - best mates by the end.

What can people do to help?

Sam Davis: People can donate directly to Greg and Marcella via their website www.fivedills.com. They are also looking for people to go out and join them in Albania and offer help directly to the people seen in the film. Information can be found on their website. (That is purely Albanian based). Alternatively you can donate to the Roma support group. The Roma-led organisation work with thousands of Roma families across the world, even the UK! - romasupportgroup.org.uk

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