As south-eastern Europe’s film-makers join forces with each other and with producers and financiers from outside the region, Vladan Petkovic explores their rising ambitions and the key role of the Sarajevo Film Festival (July 23-31)
Cirkus Columbia, Danis Tanovic’s first film set in Bosnia & Herzegovina since No Man’s Land, is a fitting opener for this year’s Sarajevo Film Festival. The story of a man returning to a small town in south Herzegovina on the eve of war, the film was co-produced by partners from Bosnia, France, the UK, Slovenia, Germany, Belgium and Serbia and reflects a growing culture of collaboration across south-eastern Europe and beyond.
Co-productions have become a necessity for local film-makers with ambitious projects. They also make sense creatively: the seven territories which make up the region ― Croatia, Slovenia, Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia, Bosnia & Herzegovina and UNMI Kosovo ― share similar culture and languages.
“The former Yugoslavia is still a common cultural space and people laugh and cry in the same way and for the same reasons,” says Jelena Mitrovic from Bas Celik. The Belgrade-based outfit co-produced two films in competition at Sarajevo last year: Antonio Nuic’s Donkey, a Croatia-Bosnia-Serbia-UK co-production, and Damjan Kozole’s Slovenian Girl, a Slovenia-Germany-Serbia-Croatia-Bosnia co-production.
Regional producers are also seeing increased interest from European partners and funds from Germany, France, Austria, Sweden and the Netherlands.
“If you come from our region and wish to make a film that costs $2.5m-$3.7m [€2m-€3m], then international co-production is the only realistic way to make it happen,” says producer Damir Ibrahimovic of Bosnia’s Deblokada, which produced Jasmila Zbanic’s Berlin competition entry On The Path with Germany’s Pandora Filmproduktion, Austria’s Coop99 and Croatia’s Ziva.
Alexander Ris from Germany’s Mediopolis worked with Bas Celik on Slovenian Girl, Srdan Golubovic’s critically acclaimed The Trap and Srdjan Koljevic’s The Woman With A Broken Nose, which premieres at Karlovy Vary this year.
Ris says working with companies in the region can lead to problems because they are not in the EU and have different currencies. “But it’s challenging and fulfilling to find universal stories in a different setting, and the region is full of them,” he adds.
Mike Downey of the UK’s Film & Music Entertainment (F&ME) also points to local stories and talent as a big attraction. “We’re not just coming to save money but to actively work with, learn from and develop the talent pool,” he says. “We love film professionals in the region and we love the kind of movies you can still make here.” Downey and F&ME have been producing in the region for 16 years, on titles including Donkey and Rajko Grlic’s 2006 film Border Post, the first co-production between all the territories of the former Yugoslavia.
European sales agents are also showing interest, with companies such as The Match Factory, the Co-production Office, Films Boutique, Wide Management, Wild Bunch and lately Celluloid Dreams and Elle Driver regularly picking up titles. Recently opened sales outlets Soul Food and Mandragora Sales ― based in Belgrade and Paris respectively ― aim to concentrate specifically on local fare.
The Sarajevo Film Festival has played a crucial role in the development of regional co-operation: its co-production market, CineLink, is a key meeting point for producers and film-makers.
The festival’s head of industry, Jovan Marjanovic, says: “Minority co-production partners for films from south-eastern Europe most commonly come from Germany, securing investments from different German regional funds,” as well as from ZDF/ARTE, France’s Fonds Sud Cinema, Austria’s Vienna Film Fund and Sweden’s Film i Vast.
Until recently, institutional support in the region was minimal but film centres are opening up and at the regional forum hosted by Screen International and CineLink at last year’s Sarajevo Film Festival, national film bodies agreed to set up a joint pavilion at Cannes this year.
Srdjan Vuletic’s Summer In The Golden Valley in 2003 was the first co-production between countries of the former Yugoslavia which tapped funding from two of the region’s national film funds. Co-produced by Bosnia’s Refresh and Slovenia’s Arkadena, with partners from France, the UK and Austria, it received financing from the Slovenian Film Fund and the Film Fund Sarajevo and won a Tiger at the International Film Festival Rotterdam.
This year, Vuletic gained funding for The Scab from Film Centre Serbia as a minority co-production between Bosnia’s Refresh, Serbia’s Yodi Movie Craftsman and Slovenia’s Restart.
“Bosnia has a very small fund for film productions, so we had to hunt for co-producers everywhere,” says Vuletic. “But from this perspective, it was a good thing because we were forced to start making films the way they’re done in Europe, in every sense.”
Some Other Stories, an omnibus film by five female directors from Croatia, Serbia, Bosnia, Macedonia and Slovenia, also tapped funding from all the co-production territories’ national film bodies (it was also made with Irish partners Dig Productions and Octagon Films, had funding from the Irish Film Board and posted in Dublin). “It has become a necessity in the region and some sort of institutional co-ordination will have to be reached to facilitate this kind of project,” says executive producer Nenad Dukic.
Many are calling for a regional co-production fund to be set up in addition to the local funds, and the issue is sure to be raised at the second annual regional forum hosted by Screen International and CineLink.
DISTRIBUTION IN THE REGION
Yugoslavia used to be a considerable market with a population of 22 million, theatres in every town and a healthy interest in Hollywood product. When it fell apart during the war which began in 1991, six territories were left in disarray. Now box office is finally rising in most of the territories due to the introduction of multiplexes and 3D screens. Other territories, which had seen drops in admissions because of rampant piracy, are at last seeing these declines slow.
Croatia, with a population of 4.5 million, leads the box office in the region with 3.29 million admissions in 2009 from 117 screens. Serbia, the largest country with a population of 8 million, has 125 screens and had 1.7 million admissions in 2009, a rise of 38% compared with 2008. This is mostly thanks to a new 11-screen multiplex in the capital, Belgrade.
The major US studios have contracts with local distributors in Serbia, Croatia and Slovenia who then sub-distribute the titles through other partners in Bosnia, Macedonia, Montenegro and Kosovo ― except for Bosnia’s Art Servis which distributes product from Walt Disney SMPI directly.
Independent titles are always bought by local distributors for the whole region. Serbia’s MCF and Continental in Croatia and Slovenia buy together and distribute across the former Yugoslavia, using sub-distributors in smaller territories, as do Serbia’s Cinears, Croatia’s Discovery and Slovenia’s Cinemania.
Digital roll-out across the region will be boosted by a Eurimages Theatres Working Group initiative to switch to digital projection in Europa Cinemas’ member theatres. The new digital equipment, part-funded by Eurimages and national film centres as well as exhibitors themselves, could see an initial 25 screens converted to digital.
SARAJEVO FILM FESTIVAL
The Sarajevo Film Festival (July 23-31) is south-eastern Europe’s leading film event. This year’s competition includes four world premieres: Barbara Eder’s Inside America, Nedzad Begovic’s Jasmina, Nikola Lezaic’s Tilva Ros and Jasmin Durakovic’s Karim, as well as Tender Son ― The Frankenstein Project; Tuesday, After Christmas; Pal Adrienn and Bibliotheque Pascal.
In addition, this year’s event will present a strong In Focus programme, which includes titles such as Cristi Puiu’s Aurora, Jessica Hausner’s Lourdes, Jasmila Zbanic’s On The Path, Reha Erdem’s Kosmos and two omnibus films: Some Other Stories and Tales From Kars.
The backbone of the industry section is CineLink, a development and financing platform for local feature projects. Since its inception in 2003, CineLink has a 60% rate of realised projects. This year’s selection features projects from directors including Romania’s Tudor Giurgiu, Slovenia’s Damjan Kozole, Turkey’s Orhan Eskikoy, Hungary’s Arpad Bogdan, Serbia’s Srdan Golubovic and Croatia’s Zvonimir Juric.
In 2009, the festival and Screen International hosted the first annual forum on the state of the region’s film industry. This year’s forum will focus on the future of the regional film industry, and runs July 28-29.
|Feature films produced, 2005-09|
|Bosnia & Herzegovina||3||6||9||7||6|
Source: national film centres/various