||In her documentary A Normal Life, director Chai Vasarhelyi traveled to Kosovo to find out how seven teenagers rebuilt their lives after the war.
MARCELO KRASILCIC: Watching your film, I sensed that you could have been friends with the kids onscreen if you had all been born in the same place.
CHAI VASARHELYI: We hadn't been expecting to find so many similarities between us that certainly wasn't what you saw on the news. But even though our cultural experiences were worlds apart, we found we had the ability to just hang out and talk. Through that connection we attempt to understand how the horrible things that happened in Kosovo could also happen to someone like me. So it's not an objective story. There's no cold gaze in it.
MARCELO: Although they seem like normal kids at first, they turn out to be extraordinary. A few of them start working for a national newspaper, Koha Ditore.
CHAI: Some of the kids also worked as translators for the Western media. As translators they made a lot of money, and they could see things that most Albanians couldn't see. Then they could go back to their own community and write about it. I think they changed their world through their writing.
MARCELO: By the end of the film, Tina is working as an AP reporter and Beni is the host of Kosovo's most-watched political talk show. You follow Tina as she reports on Kosovo's first democratic presidential election in November 2001. It's a very moving moment. It's a reminder that we all have the power to effect political change.
CHAI: This film is a kick in the butt. Tina, Beni, and the others have done more for their country than I would ever be able to do for mine. They drove us to finish the film by their example, because they were accomplishing so much with so little. I think everyone in the film, including myself, grew up in those three or four years. They were faced with rebuilding their lives, a totally new reality. And we were just learning the ropes and kind of going along with them.
MARCELO: Did you have any idea of what you would find when you got to Kosovo?
CHAI: Really, we had no idea what we were doing. We were našve or idealistic, or even a little bit stupid, but we intended to go to Kosovo to see. One part of it was trying to understand how ethnic cleansing could be happening in Europe at that moment. We bought a video camera a week before we left. My partner, Hugo Berkeley, said that we had a good chance of making a decent documentary.
MARCELO: The funny thing is, you were two American kids with all kinds of opportunity open to you. What you did with it was to go there, to a place where they all want to come here.
CHAI: Yeah. We called the film A Normal Life because whenever you asked anyone what they wanted, that was the answer. It was an unexpected question they had never thought about the future beyond the day they would win the war. They were all so unprepared for the idea of a future.
MARCELO: Almost like the Bush administration after the war in Iraq.
CHAI: It's exactly like what is happening in Iraq. How do you actually build something? It's all about rising to that challenge we're still seeing how it will play out.