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Oh, Boy wins top Sofia prize; EU commissioner under fire

Jan Ole Gerster’s debut Oh, Boy won this year’s FocusFox Grand Prix at the Sofia International Film Festival’s (SIFF).

The international jury, headed by Turkish director Yesim Ustaoglu, gave the best director award to US indie Adam Leon for Gimme The Loot and its special jury award to Argentinian filmmaker Armando Bo’s The Last Elvis, which was also named Best Film by the Youth Jury.

Other prizes included the FIPRESCI international critics’ award for Paul Negoescu’s A Month In Thailand; the audience award for Srdan Golubovic’s Sundance winner Circles; and the Balkan jury’s award for best Balkan film to Emin Alper’s Beyond The Hill.

In addition, the Bulgarian Association of Film Producers presented its special award for the popularisation of Bulgarian cinema to MDM’s CEO Manfred Schmidt in recognition of his fund’s support for Bulgarian filmmakers.

MDM has backed 12 Bulgarian films including Stephan Komanderev’s The World Is Big and Salvation Is Around The Corner and his latest film The Judgment, which was presented as part of Sofia’s Balkan Screenings as well as VIctor Chouchkov’s Tilt which will be released theatrically in Germany in May by Port-au-Prince.

The festival week also saw the Sofia Municipality Award for  contributions to world cinema being presented to the directors Costa-Gavras, Jos Stelling, the brothers Paolo and Vittorio Taviani, and the veteran Bulgarian actor Itzhak Finzi.

Sofia Meetings winners

At the parallel Sofia Meetings industry forum, four prizes were awarded to projects from Iceland, Georgia, Greece and Bulgaria that were pitched in public to potential co-producers, film funders and sales agents.

The best pitching award in the Second Films programme went to Kanariby Hafsteinn Gunnar Sigurdsson and Tobias Munthe and Another Paradise by Nana Janelidze and Rusudan Glurjidze was named best project.

The team of Gregory Rentis and Maria Tsigas from Greece took home the best pitching award in the Plus Minus One programme for their drama Lignite.

Local filmmakers Kristina Grozeva and Petar Valchanov received the best project prize for social drama The Lesson, inspired by real events about a female teacher undertaking a bank robbery.

Around 150 industry figures from all over Europe attended the four-day event, including producers Cedomir Kolar,Titus Kreyenberg, Philippe Avril, Jonas Weydemann, film funders MDM, Medienboard Berlin-Brandenburg, Israel Film Fund, the CNC’s Cinéma du Monde, and sales agents Global Screen, Fortissimo Film Sales, Aktis Film International, Films Boutique, and Rezo Films.

The 16 projects pitched this year also included a historical drama by Radu Jude, Aferim! which will be the sixth collaboration with Hifilm Productions’ Ada Solomon, the producer of the Golden Bear winning Child’s Pose; Bruno Coppola’s road movie comedy Three Way Week which is due to start shooting in Italy’s Apulia region from this April; and the UK-based director/producer team Juan Manuel Biain and Irina Vaduvescu’s The Donation set in the Horn of Africa and the Gulf of Aden.

De Gucht under fire

On the sidelines of the Sofia Meetings, discussion centred on last week’s decision by EU Trade Commissioner Karel de Gucht to include audiovisual media in the forthcoming free trade talks with the US.

De Gucht had declared that he was “fully aware” of the “sensitivities” about the audiovisual sector and said that these would be “duly taken into account during the negotiations”.

“The agreement will not force a change of current practices in the Member States,” he said.

“Member States will continue to be able to support their cultural industries and the audiovisual sector in particular, such as through broadcasting quota or subsidies, as foreseen in the current EU directives.”

However, one European film funder told Screen in Sofia that the inclusion would be “a catastrophe” and added: “It would mean the end [of the European film industry].”

Moreover, in an exclusive interview, French producer Antoine de Clermont-Tonnerre of MACT Productions explained that the issue “is of particular concern for those countries with a strong production and where the cinema and audiovisual industries are a strong political power.”

“I have the feeling here that if the European Union stays on the line of the Commissioner, there will be a very strong mobilisation at least of the French industry, and we will go to our friends like Belgium, Germany and Italy to support us,” he added.

De Clermont-Tonnerre, who was Unifrance’s president for four years until the beginning of this year, said that he had attended a meeting with other film industry figures at the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs last week to “organise the arguments.”

“I was involved in the GATT negotiations [in the mid-1990s] and it was a very tough fight with the MPAA, but we won in the end,” he recalled. “There was the feeling at the meeting in the Ministry that the MPAA might not be so aggressive this time because at the moment we are fighting together on intellectual property and they are asking us for our support.”

In fact, de Gucht’s intention to ignore the “cultural exception” for the audiovisual media has already triggered official protests from the European producers association Eurocinema and the French producers gathered in the APC and UPF associations.

Moreover, French President Francois Hollande indicated during last week’s EU leaders summit in Brussels that Paris would wish to see the audiovisual sector excluded from the negotiations – a position also understood to be held by Commissioner Androulla Vassiliou who has the portfolio for education culture, multilingualism and youth in the European Commission.

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