To see your first film become a hit is the dream of every film-maker. But the process often takes a serious toll on the directors, who have put all their effort into their project from start to finish.

When all goes well, the first film wins awards at festivals, the reviews are positive and good word of mouth can lead to world sales.

Co-producers and financiers are eager to work with the film-maker on their next project.

But the first film is often a labour of love into which a film-maker pours their heart and soul, divesting them of their creative resources when it comes to a follow-up. Directors often find they are their own toughest act to follow.

The Rome Film Fest's New Cinema Network Focus Europe will showcase 14 projects by directors whose first film has been released in the past 18 months.

The projects are selected by a committee comprised of Italian co-production expert Rosanna Seregni, Paris-based Oscar-winning producer Cedomir Kolar, whose credits include Danis Tanovic's No Man's Land and Hell, and Simon de Santiago, producer and sales executive for Spain's Sogepaq and Sogecine.

The trio have an impressive array of experience at co-production markets as well as screenwriting and film-maker training programmes in locations from continental Europe to Latin America.

Their collaborations are numerous. Kolar works regularly with Ateliers du Cinema Europeen (ACE), Sarajevo's Cinelink and the Edinburgh-based Moonstone International Screen Labs.

De Santiago has worked with UK screenwriting workshop Arista, European Films Crossing Borders, the Sundance Institute, Equinoxe in France and the Mediterranean Film Institute in Greece. Seregni has acted as docent with Argentina's Buenos Aires TyPA Foundation, and is on this year's jury at the Amiens International Film Festival in France, which allots funds for screenplay development.

The follow-up challenge

With so much experience racked up working on film proposals in various phases of development from all over the world, the three know a good project when they see one. What is more, they have a passion for second-time film-makers. 'It is the hardest film to make,' says Kolar.

'After a success, a director has put so much into their film and you add that they are starting again from scratch. But this time there are expectations that you don't have for the first film,' concurs de Santiago.

When selecting each project, the three view the film-maker's first film and a synopsis or treatment of their proposed second project.

'We already have a judgment on a completed work, which is interesting, and we work with directors on the story and how it can be developed in a European context,' says Seregni.

'That is why the second film method is so interesting, you can see how they work, what film language they rely on - even if they change it, that makes it interesting.'

Themes and variations

The group are enthusiastic about the projects being presented. Some titles are very localised, rooted in the origins of the film-maker, while others offer a beguiling mix of locations and cultures.

'They are not all small-budget productions,' Kolar says about projects with ambitious profiles.

A diverse range of themes run through this year's projects, including a child's discovery of a pygmy chimpanzee (Slawomir Fabicki's Bonobo Jingo), a look at the plight of unmarried women in the German aristocracy (Julia Von Heinz's The Preserver) and a love story between a dead woman and the detective investigating her death (Gerald Hustache-Mathieu's Like Marilyn).

'The objective of the New Cinema Network is to get a co-production going,' says Seregni. 'To help that process along, directors have three one-on-one encounters with producers and buyers or world sales companies.'

De Santiago points out that the New Cinema Network is as valuable an event for financiers as it is for film-makers.

The selection process means investors are being introduced to a high calibre of projects. 'We are making a decision on a past film but that is not the only criteria,' de Santiago explains.

'We look at the whole thing, and we look at the director as a director, and if it is a feasible project we look to see how the director can handle the material.'