Al Jazeera Balkans and Croatian national broadcaster HRT are negotiating TV rights for Sarajevo Film Festival’s competition films.

Al Jazeera has picked up Danis Tanovic’s An Episode In The Life Of An Iron Picker for the territories of the former Yugoslavia, and HRT took the film for Croatia.

HRT is also negotiating acquisition of TV rights for the territory for all the films from Sarajevo Film Festival’s feature competition and most of the films from the documentary selection with running times fitting TV programming slots.

This amounts to a total of nine features and twelve documentaries, including Pjer Zalica’s Slave, Arsen Oremovic’s winner of the Human Rights Award Married To The Swiss Franc, Katherina Mückstein’s Talea and Daniel Hoesl’s Soldate Jeanette, which have already been picked up.

 “Both competition selections this year are so good that it’s a no-brainer,” says Djelo Hadziselimovic, acquisition manager at HRT. “We have a regular slot for regional films and this will certainly increase the quality of our programming.”

Al Jazeera Balkans is currently the biggest TV buyer covering the region when it comes to documentaries, and, as agreed with the Sarajevo Film Festival, will acquire rights to four films from this year’s documentary competition: Married To The Swiss Franc, winner of Special Jury Prize The Cleaners by Konstantinos Gergousis, Chris Leslie and Oggi Tomic’s Finding Family and Nebojsa Slijepcevic’s festival hit Gangster Of Love.

 “In the past two years we have acquired most of the recent titles which are form-wise somewhere between art and current issue documentary and we already screened some 25 of them, such as Village Without Women and Face Of The Revolution,” says commissioning editor Sead Kresevljakovic. “In the search for content we found out that this production in the region is not very large, it takes a lot of effort to fill our slots with quality documentary programming. Also the problem for us as a broadcaster covering the whole region is that the rights to films are held by various distributors for various territories.”

Public and private funding for documentaries in Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro and Macedonia is almost non-existent and Al Jazeera sees the need and the room for investment through commissioning.

“Acquiring rights to films is good for us because this way we get content, but these amounts are small and they are not something that a sustainable production can be based on,” explains Kresevljakovic. “Our intention is to become the leader in production of documentary content in the region and we hope to fill this space and establish a long-term cooperation with some of these companies and film-makers.”

Right now the TV station is commissioning in Bosnia and Serbia and is planning to expand to Macedonia, Montenegro and Croatia.

These will not be big-budget productions because, as Kresevljakovic says, “It is more important for us to support the quantity of production and for the independent producers to see financial sense in exclusively making documentary films instead of relying on providing services and other side activities in order to survive.”

In less than a year, Al Jazeera has produced 40 episodes of various documentary series about Balkan culture, music and other subjects important for the region. The plan is to make at least two series a year in each territory with different independent production companies.