Second features by Javor Gardev, Babak Jalili and Gabriel Achim [pictured] and debuts by Ron Segal and Duccio Chiarini are among 14 projects being pitched at the ninth edition of the Sofia Meetings which kick off in the Bulgarian capital on Thursday (March 15).

Bulgarian filmmaker Gardev, whose feature debut Zift was a popular title on the international festival circuit, will be presenting his new project Contra about an inventor trying his conscious transferring (ConTra) programme with himself as a guinea pig, while Romanian producer Dan Burlac will pitch the second feature by Gabriel Achim, Raw and Cooked, about a rescue attempt for the ousted dictator Ceausescu and his wife in December 1989, which has France’s Arizona Films attached as co-producer.

Meanwhile, Iranian-born Babak Jalali (Frontier Blues) and producer Ginevra Elkann will be in Sofia with his new film Land, a Modern Western set in the American Plains, which is being planned as a Italian-UK-Iranian co-production.

Other second features looking for partners at the Meetings include Nina Kustrurica’s My Sun and Oleg Sentsov’s Rhinoceros.

The Plus One Minus One pitching session will provide a platform for debuts by such filmmakers as Italy’s Duccio Chiarini whose Mediterranean Film Institute-developed project On The Couch won two awards at last year’s Crossroads Forum in Thessaloniki, and Ron Segal, a graduate of the Sam Spiegel Film & Television School in Jerusalem, whose adaptation of his novel Delicate will be the first animated feature to portray the memories of Holocaust survivors.

In addition, the Meetings’ 150 participants, including sales agents, distributors and film funders, will have an opportunity to meet the producers of 10 projects “in the bank” ranging from Azeri director Elvin Abigozal’s Far From Moscow, to be produced by Arizona Films’ Guillaume de Seille, the Bulgarian omnibus film Pawn Shop and Peter Kerek’s Romanian-German co-production 4 Blows.

As in previous years, the Sofia Meetings will host the Balkan Screenings showcasing more than 70 films and works-in-progress from Bulgaria and the Balkan Region. The selection includes Kristina Nikolova’s Faith, Love And Whisky, Kamen Kalev’s The Island, Jan Cvitkovic’s Archeo, and Andrijana Stojkovic’s The Box as well as first footage from Dusan Milic’s Travelator, Kiril Stankov’s Krapetz and Ana-Felicia Scutelnicu’s Panhida.

Apart from the pitchings and screenings, the Sofia Meetings will again feature an extensive programme of workshops and talks given by Germany’s Robert Bosch Stiftung, the MEDIA-funded pilot project IN VITRO, Jamie King and Jan von Meppen of VODO, the Apulia Film Commission, and PR agent Richard Lormand, among others.

This year will again see Europa Distribution having a closed session over two days during the Meetings for its members who will also have an opportunity to catch some films in the Balkan Screenings.

Meanwhile, UNESCO’s regional office in Venice has teamed up with the Sofia Meetings, the Sofia International Film Festival, Bulgaria’s Ministry of Culture and the Municipality of Sofia to organise a day event on Saturday (March 17) to discuss the future of policies to support creativity in the South-East European region in the future.

The UNESCO Forum will see filmmakers Kamen Kalev and Catalin Mitulescu discussing with CineLink head Amra Baksic Camo, Transilvania International Film Festival’s president Tudor Giurgiu and Ahmet Boyacioglu, head of Turkey’s Ankara Cinema Association, about the role of innovative film festivals, key industry promotional events and various support schemes such as Sarajevo Talent Campus and Operation Kino to sustain and promote the film industry in South-East Europe.

A second panel with representatives from Bulgaria, Albania, Croatia and the European Commission will focus on “the role of urban policies and planning in enhancing culture and creativity, and the promotion of ‘creative cities’ in South-Eastern Europe.“

A set of strategic recommendations to reinforce schemes for the promotion of cultural industries in South-East Europe (SEE) will be discussed during the Forum, then formalised during the conclusions, and brought to the attention of the next Ministerial Conference on cultural heritage of SEE Ministers of Culture, to be held in Sofia in September 2012, with the support of UNESCO.