The rising stars of south-eastern European cinema will be showcased at this year’s Sarajevo Film Festival (July 22-30) in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

As one of the most important film events in south-east Europe, the Sarajevo Film Festival (SFF) boasts high- quality programming in all sections, from the regional Competition and Focus sections to sidebars featuring daring arthouse fare and festival crowd-pleasers.

Last year, more then 100,000 tickets were sold to enthusiastic local audiences while the festival’s strong industry strand includes the co-production market CineLink, its sister programme Work in Progress for projects in post-production, and the Regional Forum debating the state of the local industry.

The competition showcases around 10 new regional features, 20 documentaries and 15 short films. Many of the competition titles are subsequently selected by other international festivals, often winning significant awards. In the past these have included Men On The Bridge from Turkey’s Asli Ozge, The Blacks from Croatia’s Zvonimir Juric and Goran Devic, and I Am From Titov Veles from Macedonia’s Teona Mitevska.

“The aim of our Competition is to discover new talent and show the best films from the region, so the quality of the films is vital for the selection,” says Mirsad Purivatra, director of the SFF. “We are not primarily focused on world premieres, but the Competition brings those too and their number keeps rising every year.”

This year, the festival will open with Aki Kaurismaki’s popular Cannes competitor Le Havre which will screen out of competition. Competition titles include Catalin Mitulescu’s Romanian drama Loverboy, which featured as a project at CineLink and premiered in Un Certain Regard at Cannes this year, and the world premiere of anticipated Slovenian film A Trip by first-time director Nejc Gazivoda.

With its large and diverse audience, SFF is crucial for international distributors testing the reception of their films in the region, thanks to its largely common cultural background.

Potential crowdpleasers are screened at the 3,000-seat Open Air venue, its sheer size an ideal launch pad. Audiences following SFF’s edgier sidebars often prove to be quite representative for reception of films destined for limited releases and further festival exposure.

“The list of films that came on to the world stage after their SFF premieres is long and impressive. In the last year alone there were films such as Circus Columbia and Tilva Rosh, not to forget our own Inside America,” says Martin Schweighofer, CEO of the Austrian Film Commission, who regularly visits the festival with films he has backed.

Most of the business in Sarajevo is conducted at CineLink which is aimed at regional projects in the pre-financing stage. A significant number of the attendees are independent producers looking for partners; the rest are representatives of various public funds, sales companies, TV commissioning editors, major distributors and exhibitors from south-east Europe, festival programmers, heads of co-production markets, training bodies and a growing number of service providers.

Generational shift

This year’s CineLink tie-up, with seven out of 14 projects by feature film debutants, seems to indicate a generational shift in the cinema of the region. Most of the first-timers have enjoyed significant success with short films, including Romania’s Paul Negoescu who will be at CineLink this year with 365 New Year’s Eves, after three shorts in a row in the Berlinale competition. The projects by experienced directors include Yozgat Blues by Turkey’s Mahmut Fazil Coskun and Portuguese/Austrian director Hugo Vieira da Silva’s Tideway, co-directed with Heidi Wilm.

Selection to CineLink can be a major springboard to a project’s success. Florin Serban’s If I Want To Whistle, I Whistle was developed through both CineLink and Work in Progress in 2008 and 2009 respectively, and went on to win a Silver Bear at the 2010 Berlinale.

The Work in Progress section presents up to eight films in post-production to selected festival programmers, sales agents, distributors and financiers. It aims to facilitate the completion, international festival presentation and theatrical release of the selected films.

The Regional Forum is the annual conference for the south-east European film industry, co-hosted by the festival and Screen International. It brings together around 100 key players from all the countries in the region, from both private and public sectors, to network and discuss issues facing the industry.

Talent award - support for new voices

Charlotte Rampling is to curate the Katrin Cartlidge Foundation Award for 2011, and has intimated she will award a young film-maker from the Arab world. The annual prize is presented with a cash bursary at a red-carpet event during the Sarajevo Film Festival.

The annual award is given by the foundation, which was created after Cartlidge’s death to give new voices, perspectives and visions a chance to be seen and heard.

In 2010, the bursary was awarded to the new and only film school in Haiti, the Ciné Institute. Young Haitian film-maker Keziah Jean came to Sarajevo to collect the award for her school.

Previous recipients have included Juanita Wilson (2009) who went on to make the feature As If I Am Not There, Faruk Sabanovic (2008) who is in production on Bosnia’s first 3D animated feature Birds Like Us, and Cary Fukunaga (2007) who has directed two features, Sin Nombre and Jane Eyre.

For more informatrion see www.katrincartlidge