Film-makers from Georgia were the big winners at the Open Doors awards ceremony at the Locarno Film Festival.

The prizes were handed out at the end of the 11th edition of Locarno’s four-day co-production lab devoted to cinema from the South Caucasus, with a focus on Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia.

See You In Chechnya, a feature documentary about war correspondents, won the Open Doors Production Award worth $22,600 (20,000 CHF).

The film, directed by Georgia’s Alexander Kvatashidze, also won the ARTE Open Doors Award worth $8,000 (€6,000). Set for release next year, it already has French, Dutch and Estonian partners on board.

Abysm, directed by Armenia’s Oksana Mirzoyan, picked up the Open Doors Development Award while Madona, by Georgian director Nino Gogua, won the Open Doors Post-Production Award. Both prizes are worth $16,000 (15,000 CHF).

Sleeping Lessons, the second feature from Georgia’s Rusudan Pirvelli, won the CNC Award, worth $9,300 (€7,000).

The 12 projects that participated in the co-pro lab were selected from more than 100 submissions. The workshop aims to assist the selected directors and producers to find financial partners to complete production of their films.

The film-makers from the South Caucasus had an opportunity to have one-to-one meetings with such potential production partners as public funders Eurimages, Medienboard Berlin-Brandenburg, the CNC’s Cinéma du Monde, Visions Sud Est as well as producers Thierry Lenouvel (Ciné-Sud Promotion), Christoph Friedel (Pandora Film), Maria Blicharska (Donten & Lacroix Films), Riina Sildos (Amrion Film), Guillaume de Seille (Arizona Films), and Nicole Gerhards (NiKo Film).

Open Doors organisers were “more restrictive” in the selection of potential co-producers to assemble genuinely interested parties. One Armenian producer said: “The people were really interested in talking about the projects and hadn’t just come to Locarno because it is a nice place. We even had a meeting with someone from Singapore who gave us useful advice.”

Meanwhile, Georgian film director George Ovashvili, who was in Locarno to pitch his third feature Khibula, told ScreenDaily that principal photography has begun on his second feature Corn Island, a co-production with Arizona Films and Germany’s 42Film, and will wrap in October.

In its Carte Blanche strand, Locarno showcased seven films in post-production from Chile to various world sales agents and festival programmers attending the Industry Days.

The jury decided to give this award of $10,800 (10,000 CHF), offered by the Swiss Foreign Ministry’s Agency for Development and Cooperation and intended to enable the film’s completion, to To Kill A Man by Alejandro Fernandez Almendras.

In a statement, the jury said: “The film confronts the viewer with questions of fate, choice and tragedy in contemporary society in a gripping and haunting way, showing the maturing voice of an important Chilean filmmaker.”

Azerbaijanfilm Studio launches Caspian Sea Project

Speaking exclusively to ScreenDaily during Open Doors, Mushfig Hatamov, executive director of the Azerbaijanfilm Studio in Baku, unveiled a new initiative, the Caspian Sea Project (CSP), to develop a dynamic local film industry and support the new wave of young and talented film-makers.

CSP is also one of the elements of the Azeris’ state programme for developing the oil-rich nation’s film industry between 2008 and 2018.

“On the one hand, the Caspian Sea has many different and interesting locations,” Hatamov said, explaining the choice of theme. “But it is also a place where there are many political contradictions, mainly because of the oil reserves there.”

A first stage to CSP was made in June by the launching of a script competition for feature-length films with elements related to the Caspian Sea. This will be followed by the pitching of short-listed projects to a jury of at least 10 international film professionals who will be invited to Baku this October.

The winning project will be provided with a budget of approximately$330,000 (€250,000) by the Ministry of Culture and Tourism and then produced by Azerbaijanfilm Studio.

Other projects in the short-list attracting interest from the invited foreign European producers may also be granted part of their budgets by the Ministry.

“At this stage, the Caspian Sea Project has only been open to Azeri film-makers, but there is a possibility that the initiative could be extended to other countries around the shores of the Caspian Sea such as Iran and Russia,” said Orkhan Huseynov, the studio executive responsible for international relations.

“In fact, Iran and Russia have shown strong interest in the initiative, and Iran is considering sending some of its directors to Baku in the autumn,” Hatamov added.

Turning to the future development of Azerbaijanfilm Studio, which celebrated its 90th anniversary this year, Hatamov stressed that more emphasis will now be placed on co-production after collaborations on projects with France, Russia, Turkey and Iran.

One of the recent co-productions with Turkey was Mehmet A. Oztekin’s romantic drama Mahmud & Maryam, based on the eponymous novel by Elchin Efindeyev.

“Our strategy is to build up the industry and its infrastructure as well as promoting the range of locations Azerbaijan can offer,” he noted. “A very good example that we are following is that of the Barrandov Studios in the Czech Republic or [Boyana Studios] in Bulgaria. At the same time, we are building up our human resources by creating script labs and acting labs at the studios.¨

This strategy is progressing hand in hand with the ambitious programme of reconstruction and modernisation of Azerbaijanfilm’s studio facilities by the French company CTM Debrie to turn the production complex into a state-of-the-art Media City.

“We will ensure that we have contracts with the foreign companies installing technical equipment at the Media City so that they send their technicians to train our people in using the facilities,” Hatamov added.

Moreover, the studio management has been encouraging the Azeri national government to cancel the taxes usually levied on foreign producers wanting to shoot in Azerbaijan.

Iron Sky co-producer shooting Tsintsadze’s new feature

Berlin-based Oliver Damian’s 27 Films Production and Stuttgart-based East End Film have started shooting Georgian film-maker Dito Tsintsadze’s new feature Competition (Wettbewerb [working title]) at locations in and around Stuttgart and in Georgia.

The cast includes Nadeshda Brennicke, Lasha Bakradze, Elie James Blezes and the French actress Tina Meliava in her first film role in a story about an unsuccessful Georgian actor based in Germany trying to create the illusion of a successful life for the daughter he sees after ten years apart.

The international co-production with France’s Manny Films and Georgia’s Koro Pictures, has received backing from two German regional funds, MFG Baden-Württemberg and Mitteldeutsche Medienförderung (MDM), the German Federal Film Fund (DFFF), the German-French “mini-traité” fund, and the Georgian National Film Center.

Stuttgart-based distributor Kinostar plans to release Competition in German cinemas in summer 2014.

27 Films – whose name is a reference to fellow Georgian film-maker Nana Djordjadze’s 2000 film 27 Missing Kisses (showing in the Open Doors Screenings) which Damian produced while at Egoli Tossell Film – made its production debut with Djordjadze’s 2008 tragicomedy The Rainbowmaker.

It was also one of the co-producers of the sci-fi cult film Iron Sky and is a partner on director Timo Vuorensola’s planned sequel.