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Funding shortfall can’t stop Sofia fest

Event pushes on despite drop in private coin

Bulgaria’s economy overall has been lagging since well before the global economic downturn, but its prime film event has managed to surf the troubled waters in style, Sofia fest topper Stefan Kitanov says.

“We needed two more major sponsors (for this year’s edition, the 13th), but didn’t find them,” he admits. Nonetheless, he adds, the event hasn’t lost enough corporate backing to affect operations. “I doubt (the shortfall) will be visible,” he says.

As with most fests in Eastern and Central Europe, private-sector funding is now key. Ironically, in the days of Communist rule, there was ample coin for cultural events — as long as they didn’t stir up trouble. But since the Iron Curtain fell, most film fests in the region have had to be savvy self-promoters, mixing limited money from culture ministries with that of film funds, regional funds and businesses.

In Sofia’s, case, Kitanov says, the state has carried even less of its share than is common in the region — roughly 15% of the fest’s budget — which was fortunately bolstered by the EU’s Media program, upping the total to 40%.

Sponsors, foundations and foreign cultural institutes covered the rest.

In the last couple of years, however, thanks to the rising reputation of the fest among critics and scouts from the West, state and EU sources have boosted funding to about 60% of costs.

Now, Kitanov says, “We have to work harder to win back the corporations.” One backer who hasn’t wavered, Jameson Irish Whiskey, says the Sofia fest affiliation has boosted sales significantly. Such are the pragmatic factors an Eastern European emerging film maven has to master these days.

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