Young Gonxhe – Rosebud (aka Mother Teresa) was deeply immersed in helping the poor just like her mother Drane. Her desire to serve and follow God grew stronger resolving in her decision to become a nun in India. A production of Colored Films, Gonxhe tells the story of Mother Teresa’s coming of age.
Exclusive Interview with Vilma and Greta Zenelaj, founders of Colored Films
What inspired you to write about Mother Teresa’s childhood?
Vilma and Greta Zenelaj: Being from Albania, we’ve always wanted to write about her since she was also Albanian, but we didn’t think to write about Mother Teresa this soon. It was always in the background “oh yeah we should make a movie about Mother Teresa and her work in Calcutta.” We didn’t know what exactly. Last year, 2020, we had more time in our hands. Vilma was working on her first novel vigorously and after two months she wanted to take a break. So we brainstormed on what to work next, and Mother Teresa came to mind. We thought about her work in Calcutta and watched several films made about her. They were pretty much all the same just filmed in the different time periods. We wanted to bring a new Mother Teresa story and the thing we could relate to the most was our Albanian heritage and culture. We had a hunch that Mother Teresa must have had tremendous influence during her childhood years to inspire her to become a servant and a nun. And sure enough, after researching we found out that she came from a very loving and religious family who was a staple in their community and city.
How difficult was it to research the true-life events of Mother Teresa?
Vilma and Greta Zenelaj: There’s a lot of information about her work in Calcutta but not much about her upbringing. We had to search and verify every piece of information because there were some inconsistencies about her Albanian origin. Albanians say she was from Albania with her father having a background from Mirdita, Albania but being born in Prizren, Kosovo and her mother was from Gjakova, Kosovo. It was pleasant to see how everyone took pride in Mother Teresa being Albanian and making a good name for the rest of us, but she mostly identified herself as being a lover of Jesus and rarely spoke about her childhood years. We think she didn’t want to make her life mission about herself. She wanted others to see her and see what great things God was doing through her. That’s what made Mother Teresa so special. She was selfless and wanted all the glory to go to God.
What is the audience that is going to love this film?
Vilma and Greta Zenelaj: We believe that the audience for this film is anyone that has a curiosity or interest in Mother Teresa, which is many. But most people of faith will find this film refreshing and encouraging. We believe that it will inspire many of those individuals that might have put their calling aside and settled for less, to jump off their seats and do something great for God with God.
What challenges do you foresee about bringing this script to production?
Vilma and Greta Zenelaj: Nothing is set in stone when it comes to productions. From professional and life experiences challenges are a part of life and we see them as not necessarily bad things. Challenges can push someone to become creative when limitations arise and great solutions can be born out of them. But one of the obvious limitations could be the global pandemic. Another challenge might be finding the right neighborhood to film this period piece to resemble communities back in post ottoman Skopje. Many of the 100 years old homes and buildings have been replaced with new modern ones. So we’re not sure if we’re going to build a set or work with what’s left in those neighborhoods, but we guess we’ll cross that bridge when we get there.
Why did you want to be involved in this production? Why tell this story now?
Vilma and Greta Zenelaj: Many are suffering right now and have a limited positive vision for the future. This story happened 100 years ago and things were worse, much worse than today. In a way, we’re trying to bring some perspective for many to be grateful and appreciate what they already have. We live in a great time in history. A lot is available to us that was not available a few decades ago. In a way, we are spoiled and complain a lot. If we could only use that energy to do something great and help others, we believe this world would be a much better place.
How is this production bringing something new to Mother Teresa’s legacy/story?
Vilma and Greta Zenelaj: Gonxhe is about Mother Teresa’s childhood. To our knowledge, there is no film about a young Mother Teresa. Most of the films that we’ve seen are about Mother Teresa’s work in India. This is a coming of age film so many will learn about how Gonxhe was when she was a toddler, a child, and a teenager. This is all new information for those interested in Mother Teresa’s life.
Who do you relate to most in this film?
Vilma and Greta Zenelaj: Definitely Gonxhe but also Drane, Gonxhe’s mother. Just like them, we did experience political turmoil in post-communist Albania and the uncertainty of times that was prevalent. It was really scary times and many were out of jobs, hungry, and suffering. When you experience that as a child it has a deep impact on you, and it’s not something that you can easily forget. It certainly makes you grow up faster and the survival mechanism kicks in. Although we don’t know exactly what Gonxhe went through emotionally we can only imagine and relate through our own experiences.
Who do you relate to the least in this film?
Vilma and Greta Zenelaj: There is an antagonist that is simply just mean to the Bojaxhiu family, for really no apparent reason but just jealousy. Even though Bojaxhiu’s family considered him a family friend and helped him out, he turns out to be a snake. We certainly can’t relate how certain people do evil things to those who have only shown love to them. And this is a true story.
Where is the film going to be shot?
Vilma and Greta Zenelaj: At the moment is uncertain, but our plans for filming are Skopje and Shkoder Albania. We’ve filmed Eagle in Albania and we really enjoyed that challenging experience so we are familiar with the process there, but we also want to explore what Skopje has to offer after all that’s where Mother Teresa was born and raised.
Do you have a production team ready for the Gonxhe film?
Vilma and Greta Zenelaj: We’ve shared the script with others that we want to work with and they’ve expressed a desire to partner with us. At the moment it’s still too early to hire a crew since the decision on shooting location will sort of determining the production team as well. We prefer to work with local talent because there’s just a freshness about them. They’re always so grateful for the experience and enjoyable to be around. But we know that production teams tend to become a family during the shoot so we are looking forward to creating this new film family. It’s going to be a very exciting new experience.
How is it working with each other as sisters and business partners?
Vilma and Greta Zenelaj: Back in 2008 when we founded Colored Films we didn’t fully understand how we’d work together. Many advised us ‘not to mix family with business’ but we’ve been very close sisters/friends since we can remember and we just sort of thought ‘well we have the same goal in mind, making films, the rest can sort of work itself out, right?’ It turns out that there is no such thing as ‘working itself out’. We found through the years of working together that it’s good to keep in perspective what we’re trying to achieve and as we move forward pay attention to what are our strengths and weaknesses. This way no one is overwhelmed or burdened with too much work. We learned to delegate work and focus on what we’re best at by mastering it. Giving each other space and room to breathe is key, and understanding that even though we are sisters and best friends and we certainly like the same things we are two different people. So we learned to appreciate that about each other. Overall it’s our commitment and efforts that make it possible. Of course, we have our moments, but we don’t let those moments ruin everything we’ve worked for. We are blessed to have each other and thank God for that.