Nisa Neza

Screenwriter and Podcaster

Photo: Jussi Virkkumaa

During my residency, I will be developing a screenplay about an Albanian mystic who lived in Tropojë, a region in the country’s remote northern mountains during the Communist regime. This film will take the form of a based-on-a-true-story feature biopic. In 2023, I spent five months traveling in Albania collecting first-person accounts from highlanders who had encountered the mystic in their lives, housed him for a period of time, or are related to him. This story is one that will be woven together through individual and collective remembrance, sociopolitical plight, and the beautiful, esoteric tradition of Balkan mysticism.

Both sides of my family are from Tropojë, and as a little girl, I saw images of this man framed in our home and memorialized in the wallets and keychains of other Albanian-Americans. Void of context, my young mind somehow assumed this mysterious photo to be an actual portrait of God. It wasn’t until years later that I discovered it was a photo of a real person all along. Fixated on the cryptic nature of this man’s life and the superhuman abilities he is believed to have had, I am now focusing on transfiguring all my collected research into a screenplay tracking the mystic’s life from his early childhood all the way to his final words. This is not only a character study but a meditation on Albania’s complex political history, unique language, and collective identity.

I believe it is no coincidence that Saari is the place where I will be developing this project. Amidst the unforgiving Finnish winter, I hope to become totally present with the hum of my ancestors and the mystic’s essence. I hope to lean into the magic of quietude, intuition and the natural world. My approach will be to let this film reveal itself to me as I believe stories worth telling often make themselves inevitable.