Georgia was the big winner at the 18th edition of the Sofia International Film Festival (SIFF) which closed at the weekend with the Grand Prix for Best Film and Best Director award going to Levan Koguashvili’s second feature Blind Dates.

The melancholic comedy, which premiered at the Berlinale’s Forum last month, also received the FIPRESCI International Film Critics’ Prize. Handled internationally by Films Boutique, it is already booked to screen at the April festivals in Wiesbaden (goEast) and Lecce and in Odessa in July.

Presenting the Grand Prix to Koguashvili, the International Jury’s president producer Alexander Rodnyansky said that the jury’s discussion on the top prize had ¨lasted only about 10 minutes and was unanimous. This film has become the absolute winner of this festival!¨ 

In addition, Vladimer Katcharava of Tbilisi-based 20 Steps Production received the Sofia Meetings’ €10,000 Digimage - LVT Postproduction Award for Miriam Khachvani’s Dede which he pitched in the Plus Minus One programme.

From Indonesia to Italy

The Special Jury Award went to Indian director Geethu Mohandas’ Liar’s Dice in the International Competition for First and Second Films, while the Youth Award was given to Matteo Oleotto’s Zoran My Nephew The Idiot .

The festival-goers voted  Svetoslav Stoyanov’s The Last Black Sea Pirates as this year’s recipient of the Audience Award, while Joshua Oppenheimer’s harrowing The Act Of Killing added to its long line of distinctions by picking up the Documentary Jury’s Siemens Award for Best Documentary, with a Special Mention handed out to Svetoslav Draganov’s Life Almost Wonderful.; and the Domaine Boyar Best Balkan Film Award was presented to the Turkish-German co-production Yozgat Blues by Mahmut Fasil Coskun.

Other prizes included the Bulgarian Film Critics’ Award for Best Balkan Film - to Lusin Dink’s SaroyanLand - and the Best Bulgarian Feature Film Award  to Stephan Komandarev’s The Judgement  which had opened SIFF in a special gala screening on 6 March. 

Sofia support for Ukraine

Speaking at the beginning of the awards ceremony, festival director Stefan Kitanov took the opportunity to inform the audience in the National Palace of Culture of the initiative by six European festivals calling on the international film community to show their solidarity with the film festivals in Ukraine.

Odessa International Film Festival’s programme director Alik Shpilyuk was invited on stage to accept a copy of the declaration with the signatures of now some 65 international film festivals and thanked his colleagues around the globe for their support..

Pitching prize-winners

Apart from the aforementioned award for the Georgian project Dede, the Sofia Meetings’ three-person jury of French sales agent Virginie Devesa of AlphaViolet, and  producers Jonas Dornbach and Guillaume de Seille gave the Focusfox Studio Postproduction Award for the best project in the Plus Minus One programme to Mira Fornay for her third feature Cook, F**k, Kill (Slovakia) and the Hungarian Film Labs Award for the best project in the Second Film Projects line-up to Paul Negoescu’s second feature Never Let It Go (Romania).

A Special Mention - with postproduction services from Vienna’s Synchro-Film - was made by the jury to local producer Veselka Kiryakova for Milan Lazarov’s project Nanook which also received a grant to attend the Mediterranean Film Institute’s training programme.

Those attending this year’s edition of Sofia Meetings included film funders Manfred Schmidt (MDM), Brigitte Manthey (Medienboard Berlin-Brandenburg), Robert Balinski (Polish Film Institute), Darko Basheski (Macedonian Film Fund), Julien Ezanno (CNC), Miroljub Vuckovic (Film Center Serbia), sales agents Rezo Films, Beta Cinema, m-appeal, Alpha Violet, Fortissimo Films, Pyramide International and Wild Bunch, and production companies Mact Production, Cine Plus Filmproduktion, Punk Film, A.S.A.P. Films, Blind Spot Pictures and Arizona Films.

The festival’s programme featured films that had previously been presented as projects at the Sofia Meetings, ranging from Tom Shoval’s Youth and Stephan Komandarev’s The Judgement  through Olena Fetisova and Serge Avedekiyan’s Paradjanov to Matteo Oleotto’s Zoran My Nephew The Idiot  and Tonislav Hristov’s documentary Soul Food Stories.

Audience development

An innovation at this year’s Sofia Meetings was the attendance of around 30 exhibitors from the Europa Cinemas network, who came to Sofia to discuss one of the Creative Europe programme’s pet subjects - audience development - and exchange experiences on existing initiatives such as Ireland’s ZOOM for school children, Poland’s New Horizons educational programme and Sweden’s World Wide Cinema  programme of screenings targeted at immigrant communities..

Members of the Europa Distribution network were in Sofia for the fourth year running, this time for workshops on children’s films and young audiences, with representatives from such companies as Germany’s Neue Visionen and , Poland’s Gutek Film and Tongariro Releasing, the UK’ s Soda Pictures, and Norway’s Arthaus.

One of the distributors told that it had been particularly useful to have a joint session where the exhibitors and distributors could come together and talk frankly about ways of improving the relationship between the sectors and optimise the promotional know-how on both sides.


Bulgarian funder in disarray

A game of musical chairs played out at Bulgaria’s National Film Center (NFC) during the festival as Executive Director Marin Martschewski resigned after just one year in the post.

Martschewski is being replaced for the time being - some say for a stop-gap period of two months - by producer Georgi Cholakov of Geopoly.

However, as one local producer told Screen Daily, after the progress made in the past year at the national funding body, ¨the situation now is a mess.¨ It remains to be seen whether the NFC stays a toothless structure or is able to come back on track in order to serve the Bulgarian film-making community.

Vanya Raynova,  the producer of Pavel G. Vesnakov’s short film Pride, alluded to the NFC’s uncertain future direction in her acceptance speech for the Jameson Short Film Award Special Mention when she said that she was ¨hoping the Film Center will continue to support young film-makers.¨

Tongariro trio

Jakub Mroz, CEO of Poland’s only LGBT distributor Tongariro Releasing, who was in Sofia to attend the parellel Europa Distribution workshop on audience development, told Screen Daily that he has  picked up three titles at this year’s Berlinale: the award-winning Panorama film The Circle (Der Kreis) by Swiss film-maker Stefan Haupt, Mischa Kamp’s teenage gay love story fom the Netherlands Boys, and Brazilian director Daniel Ribeiro’s Teddy Award-winning The Way He Looks.

Haupt is scheduled to visit Poland in May to present his film at Warsaw’s Planete Doc Film Festival, with the film being released theatrically in the autumn.

Dmitri Klepatski - both sides now

Russian actor-producer Dmitri Klepatski revealed that Victor Dement’s drama The Find completed principal photography at the end of December and is now in postproduction.

The project had originally been pitched at the Moscow Co-Production Forum in 2010 where it won the Kodak Award for best project after participating in a mini-EAVE training course ahead of the Forum.

In addition, The Find was selected for the 2010 Baltic Event and the Talent Project Market at the 2011 Berlinale

Klepatski was attending this year’s Sofia Meetings with Light Breeze, the feature debut by Andrey Tarkovsky Jr., based on a screenplay written by his late father and Friedrich Gorenstein.

In conversation with Screen Daily, Klepatski added that he has recently been appearing on the other side of the camera in Moscow as an actor in Changing Lives, the directorial debut by US actor and martial artist Mark Dacascos.

The film, which also features Dacascos in the male lead opposite Russian actors Oksana Sidorenko, Dmitri Bikbaev and Natalya Medvyedeva,  is being produced by Russian action actor-director Alexander Nevsky through his company Hollywood Storm.

Iglika Triffinova’s False Witness wraps

Bulgarian producer Rossitsa Vulkanova of Klas Film confirmed that principal photography wrapped a week ago on Iglika Triffinova’s latest feature False Witness which was pitched at the Sofia Meetings and Connecting Cottbus in 2008 and received the Krzysztof Kieslowski Award at the fifth edition of ScripTeast programme in 2011.

Triffinova’s drama set against the backdrop of trials in the International Court of Justice reflects the great religious, political and ideological confrontations in modern history.

The five-country co-production between Bulgaria, Sweden, The Netherlands, Germany and Macedonia, features an international cast including Krassimir Dokov, Samuel Fröler, Romane Bohringer and Labina Mitevska.

Wrong Turn 6 shooting in Sofia

UFO Film & Television Studios, the Bulgarian outpost of the US production services company UFO International Productions LLC,  is currently handling the shoot of Wrong Turn 6, the latest instalment in the slasher film franchise, directed by local film-maker Valeri Milev and with a number of young ¨new faces¨ hailing from the UK lined up to be despatched in various gory ways by the man-eating zombies.

The Fox Home Entertainment production has been shooting interiors at UFO’s studios situated 20 minutes outside of Sofia as well as at locations in the Bulgarian capital including a military academy.

UFO has handled productions as diverse as Peter Weir’s The Way Back,  Dirk Yates’ Afghan war film Jarhead 2, Ron Maxwell’s American Civil War drama Copperhead and the Bulgarian-Canadian co-production Viking Quest as well as TV shows and commercials.

The studios’ goal annually is to host production of between seven to eight films destined for the US market.