There are many older people who go about their daily lives without friends, workmates and acquaintances knowing that they have an extraordinary personal story in their background. In Ardit Sadiku’s documentary, Alexander, we meet one such person. We are introduced to Alexander Gruda at his current job: a doorman and receptionist, a bellhop, at Donald Trump’s hotel in New York City. He is a friendly fellow who gets along well with clients and people who know him on the street. But there is a lot more to Gruda.
Back in 1990, when Albania was controlled by the all-powerful ultra-communist successors to dictator Enver Hoxha (who died in 1985), Gruda was a recently fired mechanic in the navy. He got the audacious idea to hijack an Albanian warship and steer it to freedom in Yugoslavia, a voyage he estimated would take 25 minutes. He gathered together his pregnant wife, Marjana, his four-year-old daughter, Anisa, several friends and their families and on September 11, 1990, they did hijack the warship and head for what is now Montenegro. As soon as the Albanian military realized what was going on, they began firing on the ship. To avoid being shot, Gruda dropped to the floor and steered the warship with his feet.
Unfortunately, one person was killed: Gruda’s daughter. A bullet somehow pierced the ship’s steel, ricocheted off a photo of Enver Hoxha and hit Anisa in the forehead. One of the many people Sadiku interviewed to make the film is one of the former Albanian soldiers who fired at the warship.
Gruda’s exploit caused a sensation in Albania because it broke the regime’s aura of invincibility. But the most moving focus of the film is the aftermath of Anisa’s death.
Ardit Sadiku has also made non-documentaries, most notably The Forgotten Mountain.
There are many lessons to be learned from Alexander, but for me the one that stands out is that, as we walk down the street or go shopping, it’s possible that the elderly person we walk right by might be harboring a story that would make our jaw drop if we took the time to ask and listen.