TorinoFilmLab - Training, development, Funding



Jan Wagner



A remote village in the Albanian mountains. As his family’s only son, Zef (14) is the favorite of his parents and enjoys his freedom as a village boy with his best friend Zamir, playing soccer, riding mopeds, tending livestock and chasing girls. But Zef is not really interested in girls; he was born a girl himself.

Zef is a sworn virgin. At his birth his parents decided to raise Zef, the last of their three daughters, as their son. They live in a very patriarchal society where every family needs a male descendant as the future head of the family. The whole village respects the parent’s decision and treats Zef as a boy. It is a regional tradition and an honourable thing to do, as long as Zef remains chaste. Breaking the vow of chastity would dishonour his whole clan and require Zef’s punishment by death.

Hitting puberty, Zef notices his body growing more and more female. He tries to suppress his true sexual identity; Zef wants to be a normal boy. Things get complicated when Zef realizes that his best friend Zamir is looking at him differently. And Zef cannot help it, he also feels attracted to Zamir. Zef has to find out who he really is... A boy? A girl?

The story of a first love.


I took the 5-page short story Burrnesha as a starting point to explore the Albanian mountains, an area that I had honestly never thought of. During my extensive research, I understood that many of the things described in the story - like the Kanun, the archaic customary law of the mountains, the patriarchal gender roles it codifies and the sworn virgins, the “women who become men” - still exist.

I was aware that my view of the social phenomena I had stumbled upon might be biased by my own convictions, e.g. that men and women should be equal. Thus the biggest challenge for me in developing the story was to create characters whose behaviour and motivations I could really understand. I felt that I needed to be able to relate to the characters so that I, and with me the future audience of the film, would not look condescendingly at my characters who live in a world which might seem often brutal and strange to us.

I want the story to be realistic. About people and life in Northern Albania today. Rural and sometimes quite archaic, but also affected by modernity. We observe the characters closely and perceive the world with them, with a subjective point of view. They might live in circumstances quite different from ours and behave not the same as we do because they are influenced by a different moral system, but we understand them and can relate to the dilemmas they face within their world.

Experiencing the story of Zef, I hope to show that the world of the Albanian mountain villages (and the people living there) is not so different from the world that we know. Zef’s struggle with his identity, with his social role as a sworn virgin and within his family, is at its core a story we can all relate to. At some point in our lives, we all have to deal with the question: who are we really? What social roles are forced on us by others/by the society we live in?

The film is a story about fate. Who determines who we are? Who are we expected to be? Who do we think we are? Who do we want to be? About identity. About being in between: man/woman and tradition/modernity.

And of course about love. Different kinds of love. Love that is often confusing, sometimes dangerous and painful.

Where to go from here?
I would love to find a producer to continue this journey into the Albanian mountains, i.e. develop the project with me as a scriptwriter or as a writer/director.

About love. Different kinds of love.Love that is often confusing, sometimes dangerous and painful.
Jan Wagner

Scriptwriter, Film Director

production notes

directed by
Jan Wagner