The very instant we put together the words ''Aromanian'' and ''film'', a name comes forth: The Manakia Brothers. Who are they? And who are the Aromanians?
The Aromanians (Vlahs), a people more than two thousand years old, had had their days of glory in times gone by. Today, the relatively small communities that remained are scattered all over the Balkans, in Greece, Albania, Bulgaria, Serbia, Makedonia, and Romania. There is an enigmatic air about them. There is very little known about their ethnogenesis and their history. But when it comes to the past century or so, there is plenty to be seen, about them and the other peoples of the early 20th century troubled Balkans. Thanks to the Manakia Brothers.
Yanaki (1878-1954) and Milton (1882–1964) Manakia were photography and cinema pioneers who gained reputation for bringing in the first film camera and creating the first motion pictures on the Balkan Peninsula and the Ottoman Empire.
Yanaki opened his first photographic studio in 1898, in Ioannina (today in Greece), and asked his brother to join him in the business of photography. In the early 1900s, their work became known across the Balkans and they were appointed as official photographers of the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, and later of Royal families in the Balkan countries.
Milton mentions in his memoirs that Yanaki traveled a lot during 1905 to European capitals. He brought back a 35-mm Bioscope film camera, with which they shot a 60-second footage of their grandmother Despina, aged 114, at the spinning wheel. Allegedly this is the first footage ever shot in the Balkans. Yanaki and Milton shot a number of films, mostly documentaries, covering aspects of life in the city of Bitola (now in the republic of Macedonia) such as popular dances, religious rituals, weddings and funerals. They made a newsreel on the visits of Sultan Mehmed Rashid V to Salonika and Bitola in 1911. They also took thousands of photographs. Their vast visual legacy is kept in archives in Macedonia, Greece and Romania.
In one way or another, the three documentaries in our selection revolve around the Manakia Brothers.
With ''Armânii, at the famous Manakia to I'm not famous...'', filmmaker Toma Enache embarks on a cinematic voyage that covers 100 odd years and takes him from the earliest Manakia moving pictures to the fist ever feature film spoken in Aromanian.
Eliza Zdru's ''The Manakia Brothers. Diary of a long look back'' is a sentimental travelogue through places and times past in a quest for traces of the Manakias and a search for her own identity.
With ''Torna, torna, fratre!'' Marian Voicu makes an analysis from the Aromanian perspective of the origins, language and name of the people. The shootings were made in Albania (Moscopole, Korcea), Makedonia (Krusevo, Bitola) and Greece (Sirako, Avdella, Pirivoli). They put together a mosaic of places and people resulting in the portrait of a lost world.