On the first day of Sarajevo Film Festival’s Regional Forum, organized in collaboration with Screen International for the fourth consecutive year, the subject was streamlining public funding for co-productions in the countries of former Yugoslavia.

The panel included Sanja Ravlic, head of co-productions at the Croatian Audiovisual Centre; Jovan Marjanovic, board member of the Sarajevo Film Fund; Bengt Toll, consultant from Olsberg SPI; Miroljub Vučković, head of promotion and international relations at Film Center Serbia; and Jožko Rutar, director of the Slovenian Film Centre.

Since 2006, the overall amount awarded to minority co-productions in all the countries of the region combined represents on the average a production investment well above €500,000 per year.

But things are changing both in the region and on the European level when it comes to financing co-productions either from national funds or Eurimages and MEDIA Programme.

“When I looked through the project book of CineLink from five years ago, the projects presented here had budgets of €1.5m-2m,” said Rutar. “However, the average budget of this year’s projects is between €500,000 and €1m, with two or three projects going to the level of €1.5m.”

“We can ascribe some of this to the costs lowered by development of digital equipment, but my conclusion is that film-makers are now making films in worse conditions. Also, how does this decrease of the budget influences the stories? Is there a self-censorship from film-makers, in that they are now making more small films?”

The key issue in financing film in Southeast Europe is, naturally, the overall lack of means, from both public and private investors. Public sources have been hit hard by the economic downturn, and private sector has been inactive even before the economy took the plunge.

“In such an environment producers find themselves ‘between the rock and the hard place’, as they too are dependent on a single source of public funding and face no prospects of raising the production finance from the market,” said Marjanovic.

“In Southeast Europe, unlike the rest of the continent, this is the same for both arthouse and market driven films, which explains why both types of projects choose European co-production as an answer to this issue and subsequently knock on the same doors for funding.”

But Vuckovic warned that “Our perspective towards European models must be free from any self-pity: ‘But so much has been destroyed here, the infrastructure is out-of-date, there is poverty everywhere, we are a country in transition…’ All these are excuses for impotence. French film industry has created an effective model while at a historical low, right after World War Two – a model that is still prevalent and still being upgraded.”

A positive example is the case of Croatian Audiovisual Centre. It has created a system equally efficient and independent - financially, politically and organizationally - through persistent activity.

“We earmarked a yearly percentage of up to 15% of the overall production budget of the Centre for minority co-productions,” said Ravlic. “We broadened the scope of projects eligible for minority co-production support from feature films to documentaries, shorts and animation and significantly raised the amount of support per project, aiming at least 10% of the project’s production budget.

“We introduced an open call for proposals with 4 yearly submission deadlines, in synch with Eurimages’ yearly submission calendar in order to speed up things for producers and give them the opportunity to become co-producing partners.”

On the average more than 50% of the minority co-productions supported by respective countries were multilateral co-productions mainly, but not exclusively between the countries of former Yugoslavia and more than 50% of all co-productions supported since 2004 received additional supranational support from Eurimages.

However, this is about to change with further enlargement of Eurimages, which renders Eurimages way more competitive than it used to be, as one out of three projects applying get supported, rather than the one out two ratio of the past five-year period.

 “This will in fact affect the most the new raising type of co-production from Southeast Europe, which are the co-productions with a more regional perspective, those made between two, three or more countries from the region, on a low to medium budget, intended for local audiences, as those will lag behind more ambitious international projects from leading European talent, which are now a common place on Eurimages’ busy agenda,” said Marjanovic

This poses the need for a new regional fund which would finance co-productions between countries of the region. An initiative for such a financing body was announced at last year’s Forum.

“As a member of EFAD [European Film Agencies Directors], an informal body of national film agencies of member states of European Union, I can confirm that such a body or a network if you like is needed and even crucial when lobbying for or against crucial political decisions taken by the Brussels administration,” said Rutar.

The Nordic example could be a good model for the region of the former Yugoslavia as well. “There are the linguistic similarities, and the cultural, that make it easy and there is also a long tradition supported by all sorts of initiatives on different public levels,” said Toll of the Nordic film and Television Fund. In 2012 the Fund invested €7m in features, TV-dramas and creative documentaries and among its most important criteria is the circulation of products.

Distribution and exhibition in the Balkan region suffer from still rampant piracy. “Audiences do exist for local quality films and other quality audio-visual content, as evidenced by a one or two theatrical hits every other year,” said Marjanovic. “If you look up a local film available on YouTube, they have anywhere between 60,000 and one million views. Investment in marketing and smarter business models have not been top priority of audio-visual policies in the region, but if they do become so, the audience can expect an excellent service.”

The Saturday conference at the Regional Forum will focus exactly on this issue, under the title Business models: Film industry between new legislations and new technologies.