The Regional Forum will explore how European film-makers can forge international relationships and open up new markets to build on existing co-production partnerships. By Geoffrey Macnab.

One of the biggest talking points at the Regional Forum’s MEDIA conference is set to be the launch of the much-anticipated Sarajevo City of Film Fund, aimed at galvanising co-production between Southeast Europe and international partners. Backed by the European Commission’s new international co-production programme, the fund will be administered by Sarajevo Film Festival.

“The fund will receive €250,000 [$336,000] in EC support over the next 18 months or so,” says Jovan Marjanovic, head of industry at Sarajevo Film Festival. Additional funding will come from Croatian multinational consumer goods production and distribution company Atlantic Grupa and further public sources.

The conference will reveal more about how the fund will fit into the international co-production jigsaw. “We’re looking at Southeast Europe and the former Yugoslavia on one side and Middle East and North Africa, the Americas, India and the Far East on the other as our primary markets,” says Marjanovic. 

The Southeast European markets of Bosnia, Croatia and Serbia routinely co-produce with each other, as well as with other European territories, particularly France and Germany. Recent collaborations include Danis Tanovic’s An Episode In The Life Of An Iron Picker (Bosnia-France), Faruk Loncarevic’s With Mom (Bosnia-Slovenia-Germany) and Jasmila Zbanic’s For Those Who Can Tell No Tales (Bosnia-Germany).

‘There’s no film coming out of any of the ex-Yugoslav countries that hasn’t been made with money from the other countries’

Sanja Ravlic, Croatian Audiovisual Centre

The original data collated for the forum reveals co-production activity in the region is high although total production levels remain low compared to other European territories. Most of the films made in Southeast Europe in 2013 were financed as European co-productions.

“Our position is, the more the merrier,” says Sanja Ravlic, head of co-productions at the Croatian Audiovisual Centre, of the new Sarajevo Fund. “We are constantly co-producing. There’s no film coming out of any of the ex-Yugoslav countries that hasn’t been made with money from the other countries.” 

The new fund’s aim is to make Southeast European producers attractive minority partners to potential collaborators beyond the usual co-production suspects. There is a particular emphasis on developing relationships from outside Europe and particularly with Qatar, India and Mexico. There are projects from all these territories in Sarajevo’s CineLink co-production market.

“For small territories, co-producing with any territory other than through the usual coproduction schemes is very difficult,” says Marjanovic. “There are no bilateral treaties. We can’t pursue a policy of signing bilateral treaties with everybody in the world, like France can. And we don’t have English-speaking territories overseas with whom to partner, like the UK has.” 

This panel at the Regional Forum comes as Eurimages, the Council of Europe’s co-production fund, looks to expand outside Europe and potentially to grant associate membership status to non-Europeans. Its aim is to make it easier for countries to co-produce through a new convention without having to go to the lengths of striking a bilateral treaty.

Marjanovic cites the example of Bosnia and Mexico. There would be little point in a small country such as Bosnia going through the formalities required to make a treaty with Mexico. Nonetheless, both countries would benefit if they were able to work together more easily.

“Can we imagine Carlos Reygadas’ next film being co-produced by Bosnia? Easily! But that might be a problem without a treaty,” says Marjanovic.

Indeed, Mariana Cerrilla Noriega of Mexico’s IMCINE film institute, is one of a wide range of international guests at the forum’s MEDIA conference who will discuss different perspectives on international co-production and showcase the new opportunities that now exist beyond Europe.

Sarajevo Film Festival also has close links with Qatar’s Doha Film Institute, which backed Zbanic’s For Those Who Can Tell No Tales. Representatives from Doha are expected at the forum.

‘Southeast Europe is punching above it weight in terms of talent, and that makes it very attractive’

Isabel Davis, British Film Institute

And the festival has a special focus on the UK this year. Isabel Davis, head of international at the British Film Institute (BFI), will join Marjanovic, Noriega and Ravlic on the international co-production panel. Although the UK is not a member of Eurimages, UK producers have a huge range of European and international partners, including from North America and Australia.

The BFI’s new minority co-production fund recently boarded Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos’s The Lobster, which is set up as a Greece-UK-Ireland-Netherlands-France co-production. Significantly, the changes to the UK’s Film Tax Relief — which have reduced the required minimum UK expenditure from 25% to 10% — have also made the UK a much more attractive co-production partner.

Davis explains the UK’s approach to co-production is often talent-driven. “Cultural exchange is part of the co-production relationship,” she says. “For British producers, it’s nice to be surprised where the next really interesting film-maker is coming from and how that person might want to engage with the UK.”

Fund fare

The Sarajevo City of Film Fund is being given a soft launch at Sarajevo Film Festival with an emphasis on networking and enabling producers to create new working relationships. Some local film-makers are extraordinarily inventive in how they put together their movies and the hope is they will now inspire others. For example, Oscar winner Danis Tanovic has worked with French, Polish and US collaborators. He shot his recent feature, White Lies, in India.

While few producers would say co-producing is easy or that new funding opportunities can transform instantly the fortunes of a film region such as  Southeast Europe, there is a consensus the time is right for change.

“At the moment, Southeast Europe is punching above its weight in terms of talent, and that makes it very attractive,” says Davis. “Sarajevo Film Festival has proved itself a really interesting platform. It’s a fantastic, very well attended event. There’s no reason at all to think a film that has originated out of Southeastern Europe territories shouldn’t aspire to find a larger audience than is available in its own territory.”