Russian cinema was the big winner at this year’s FilmFestival Cottbus with Angelina Nikonova’s feature debut Twilight Portrait taking home the € 20,000 main prize for best film.

Winning this award also gives Nikonova, who won the best debut award in Warsaw last month, the opportunity to return to Cottbus next year to present a new feature film project at the Connecting Cottbus East-West co-production market as the recipient of the CoCo Special Pitch Award.

For many festival visitors, the jury’s decision was a surprise since the Serbian-Montengrin film The Enemy by Dejan Zecevic had been tipped as the favourite for top honours.

The second Russian filmmaker among the prize-winners was Vladimir Kott who picked up the special prize for best director and the audience award for his second feature Gromozeka. Accepting the awards at the ceremony on Saturday evening. Kott recalled that he had a special connection with Cottbus since his first film Mukha had been named best debut film at the festival in 2008.

The Feature Film Competition jury, headed by producer Alexander Rodnyansky and including producer-director Tudor Giurgiu and German actor Jakob Matschenz, gave its acting awards to Gagi Svandidze for his performance as the Abkhazian refugee and policeman Niko in Georgian director Keti Machavariani’s Salt White and to Roma Gasiorowska for her title role in Leszek David’s My Name Is Ki, and also decided to make a special mention of Anca Damian’s animated documentary Crulic – The Path To Beyond.

Damian’s animated documentary received the prize of the Ecumenical Jury which was accepted on behalf of the filmmaker by the Polish co-producer Arkadiusz Wojnarowski who told Screen Daily after the awards ceremony that he has set up a distribution arm of his company Magellan Foundation to handle Crulic’s Polish theatrical release.

The film will open from  the beginning of December on between 25-35 screens of Poland’s network of arthouse cinemas after a special screening at this year’s Plus Camerimage festival in Bydgoszcz.

Other awards included the FIPRESCI International Critics Prize for My Name Is Ki, the prize for the best debut film for Salt White, and the award of best youth film in the U-18 German-Polish Youth Film Competition for Jan Komasa’s Suicide Room.

Speaking at the end of the awards ceremony, festival director Roland Rust revealed that the festival was on track to post record attendances again this year and announced that a focus for the 22nd edition – from November 6-11, 2012 – would be on films reflecting the various religions practised in Eastern Europe.

Meanwhile, the parallel running Connecting Cottbus East-West Co-Production Market presented 13 feature film projects from 11 countries – from Ireland to Azerbaijan -  looking for co-producers, sales agents and distributors to become partners.

This year’s edition under the new director Bernd Buder, who took over from Gabriele Brunnemeyer, was attended by such industry figures as sales agents Sasha Wieser (EastWest Filmdistribution) and Laura Inoka (Films Boutique), film funders Medienboard Berlin-Brandenburg, MDM Mitteldeutsche Medienförderung, Sweden’s Film i Väst, the Georgian National Film Centre, the Polish Film Institute and the Russian Cinema Fund, as well as producers Guillaume de Seille (Arizona Films), Tudor Giurgiu (Libra Film), Erwin M. Schmidt (Neue Road Movies), Karsten Stöter (Rohfilm), Alexander Rodnyansky (AR Films), Volker Kellner (Ophir Film), Heino Deckert (Ma.Ja.De Filmproduktion) and Jonas Katzenstein and Maximilian Leo (Augenschein Filmproduktion).

This year’s Best Pitch Award went to Czech director Petr Zelenka’s comedy Lost In Munich about Sir P, a 90-year-old grey parrot who previously lived with Edouard Daladier, the French Prime Minister  responsible for signing the Munich Agreement in 1938.

The mix of black-and-white documentary, standard 35mm feature and mockumentary is to be produced by Pavel Cechak’s Dog Day Productions and was looking in Cottbus for German and French co-producers for the € 2m ($ 2.75m) project.

The newly established Post Pitch Award with colour correction and the production of a DCP offered by the postproduction house The Post Republic was given to Turkish writer-director Emre Özdür’s feature debutPitch Black which has already received development and production support from Turkey’s Ministry of Culture and has M 3 Film onboard as domestic distributor.

Producer Olena Yershova of Istanbul-based Film Idman Yurdu said that the story about three soldiers caught up in the long-running conflict in East and Southeastern Turkey will include such actors as Erdal Besikcioglu (Bal), who won a Golden Orange in Antalya this year for his performance in Behzat C. I Buried You In My Heart, and Ahmet Rifat Sungar (3 Monkeys).  

During the public pitchings, producer Ailish McElmeel of Dublin-based Grand Pictures and writer-director Virginia Gilbert revealed that they have UK actress Juliet Stevenson attached for their drama Now, Love which already has development support from the Irish Film Board and MEDIA as well as Oliver Röpke’s Röpke Films as German co-producer, while Croatian producer Maja Vukic of Zagreb-based Interfilm was looking for co-producers for Vinko Bresan’s The Priest’s Children. The Mediterranean comedy  already has Kresimir Mikic and Drazen Kuhn (both seen in Hans-Christian Schmid’s political thriller Storm) and Marija Skaricic (one of the leads in the Golden Leopard-winning Das Fräulein) already attached as members of the cast.

An update of recent editions of Connecting Cottbus showed that several projects have since gone into production or about to start principal photography: Romanian filmmaker Bogdan Mustata’s Wolf is due to wrap in Bucharest on November 12, while Uzbek director Saodat Ismailova’s 40 Days Of Silence, co-produced by Germany’s Rohfilm and The Netherlands’ Volya Films will crank up production in Tajikistan on November 14.

Among 2010’s projects, Adrian Sitaru’s new feature Domestic attracted Titus Kreyenburg’s Unafilm as the German co-producer, actor-director Ivan Shvedoff found Ulrich Meyszies’ Brombella Film & Entertainment as a partner for his family film The Christmas Star, and German producer Eike Gorecka of 42Film has boarded the Hungarian mockumentary Zero by Gyula Nemes along with Czech producer Jiri Konecny of Endorfilm.

In one of the roundtable discussions looking at current trends in Central and East European cinema, Fatos Berisha, the recently appointed director of the Kosova Cinematography Center (QKK), explained that it was intended to increase the film fund’s budget from the present € 400,000 to € 1m within the next four years and there were plans to create a film industry incentive programme as well as apply to become members of European Film Promotion and Eurimages.

Berisha pointed out that € 30,000 had been invested by QKK in a minority co-production with Macedonia and € 100,000 development funding was allocated to Visar Morina’s feature debut Father about a father-son relationship set against the background of immigration to Germany. Morina studied at Cologne’s Academy for Media Arts (KHM) and graduated with the medium-length film Der Schübling.

Producer Peter Miskolczi, who was appointed one of the members of the grants committee at the new Hungarian Film Fund, explained that the revenue from his country’s national lottery would provide the film funding institution with a € 14m budget for 2012. He admitted that the Film Fund had been very rigorous in assessing the quality of the scripts for projects submitted for production funding. None of the 10 projects submitted so far this year had been recommended to receive funding.

Meanwhile, Maria Letowska of the Polish Film Institute (PISF) confirmed that her fund would be focussing in future on supporting Polish majority co-productions and to have more creative and financial input from Polish producers. “It is a natural way for the Institute to go,” she remarked, stressing however that PISF would not be closing the door to minority co-productions completely.

Connecting Cottbus also provided the venue for a meeting of the German members of the German-Russian Film Academy which had been active in lobbying politicians in Germany and Russia to conclude the German-Russian Co-Production Treaty.

It was also learnt during Connecting Cottbus that the Franco-Russian Film Academy, which was launched during St Petersburg’s Kinoforum last July, will have its first general assembly on November 25-26 during the Festival of Russian Cinema in Honfleur.

The Academy’s members will be discussing the range of possible support measures from the development stage through to distribution as well as presenting case studies of recent bilateral co-productions.

In addition, there will be a public pitching of 12 projects from France and Russia, which will be competing for two development grants, worth up to € 40,000 each, jointly financed by the CNC and the Russian Cinema Fund.