Film festival, which ended Aug. 20, turns 15

SARAJEVO — Launched when the city was still under siege from Serbian forces in the hills around it, the Sarajevo Intl. Film Festival today has become a leading force behind the revitalization of film in southeast Europe.

Marking its 15th anniversary, this year’s edition — which ended Aug. 20 — added a three-day forum on the state of the film biz in the region to its packed program of industry sidebars.

Fest director Mirsad Purivatra believes the event is fulfilling its vision of becoming a “leading voice for the regional film industry.

“One of the main goals when we started the festival in 1995 was to encourage the regional film industry and link regional filmmakers with the international film business,” Purivatra says.

Purivatra sees the fest’s industry programs as key to a founding concept of a festival that reflects, promotes and is involved in regional filmmaking.

The creation, seven years ago, of CineLink — a program designed to help develop local films that will eventually screen the festival’s feature competition selection — was the first step toward the integrated industry approach that now draws producers, directors, film commission heads, funding boards, buyers and sales companies from all across Europe.

CineLink now includes a co-production market for selected projects, development workshops and work-in-progress screenings.

A talent campus, set up with the collaboration of the Berlinale Talent Campus, pulls in 80 of the brightest and best student filmmakers from the region for high level workshops and lectures with top international filmmakers.

And the Sarajevo City of Film initiative, launched two years ago, enables five teams of filmmakers drawn from the talent campus to make shorts on location in the city to help bring budding talent to the attention of a wider audience.

It is an integrated approach to using the festival both as a means and an end, to giving film from southeast Europe — a region that the festival defines as including the Balkans, Austria, Hungary, Greece and Turkey — a platform to find wider connections, audiences and distribution.

The success of the festival vision can be seen in the films that have emerged from its industry programs and the annual flood of leading European film professionals who make it a must on their business calendars.

More than 100 projects have been funneled through CineLink with some 60 made over the past seven years, including Romanian director Tudor Giurgiu’s 2006 tale of incest “Love Sick,” which played in Berlin’s official selection, and “I Am From Titov Veles,” by Paris-based Macedonian director Teona Strugar Mitevska, which screened at Cannes.

“Making co-productions in this region is now the rule rather than exception, which reflects the success of CineLink in giving film from this region a wider context, but what we are also noticing now is that films are being made between countries in the region and not only with partners from key players like Germany, France, Holland or the U.K.,” says Jovan Marjanovic, the festival’s head of industry.

Co-productions with wealthier European countries remain an important part of the recipe in the region’s industry revitalization.

Manfred Schmidt, head of Leipzig, Germany-based public film fund MDM, has been picking up co-production projects at Sarajevo for the past five years. Such has been the impact of his fund’s participation in Sarajevo-incubated films that this year the fest gave him a  special Heart of Sarajevo award.

“Over the past five years MDM had supported more than 30 films from the southeast European region, several of them directly through CineLink, and I’ve always found the festival to be very concentrated in industry matters and yet there is always enough time to meet and discuss wider issues, other projects and ideas with people from the region,” Schmidt says.

Sarajevo is more important for regional filmmakers than Cannes or Berlin, says producer Nehat Fejza, whose shingle, Concordia Pictures, is based in Pristina, Kosovo.

“There is no chance to meet everyone you need to, or have the time even if you do, at bigger festivals like Cannes and Berlin. Sarajevo’s industry sidebars give a focus and structure to the festival. You get to meet producers, funders, buyers and sellers.”

Laurent Danielou, managing director of Paris-based sales and distribution shingle Rezo Film, agrees that Sarajevo is the place to be if you want to be involved in regional films.

“Of the newer festivals in Europe, Sarajevo is the strongest — because of the program and the quality of films and projects here. There is always something here for me, particularly now they have this works in progress section to CineLink, which enables me to quickly see what films might work for Rezo from this region.”

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