New helmers get global exposure at Meetings

It’s not unusual to spot scouts from Cannes, Berlin, Venice, Karlovy Vary, Moscow, Sarajevo and Thessaloniki on the streets of Sofia in March. Each of them is hoping to get the edge on the next big discovery from Eastern Europe.

After 13 years, what began as a hippie-esque music and film fest spawned in the heady post-Communist days of Bulgaria’s re-emerging artistic freedoms has become a prime industry event in the region.

A good place to take the temperature of the biz is this year’s sixth Sofia Meetings, where new helmers come face-to-face with buyers and funders from abroad.

One new phenom of note: the rise of the docu genre in the Balkans. Nonfiction film development org Sunny Side of the Doc will hold a roundtable sesh on that topic, says Sofia Meetings director Mira Staleva. Veteran Bulgarian documakers Andrey Paounov (“The Mosquito Problem and Other Stories”) and Boris Despodov (“Corridor 8″) will be at the event, she adds.

“Sofia Meetings started as a market focused on second-film projects,” Staleva says.,”but it developed into a fruitful event for all the newcomers.”

The fest’s focus on British and Turkish film, appearances by Michael Palin, Wim Wenders, Bent Hamer and Chulpan Khamatova and a retrospective of Jim Jarmusch pics featuring producer Jim Stark, have generated buzz.

Fest opener is Bulgaria’s “The Billy Goat,” by Georgy Djulgerov. The 12 competish pics indicate the fest’s priorities of giving emerging talent a boost.

The formula is working. Road movie “The World Is Big and Salvation Lurks Around the Corner,” a Bulgarian-German-Hungarian-Slovenian co-prod that generated heat at last year’s fest, set local B.O. records. European distribs are mulling “World Is Big,” which would be a big break for Bulgaria if picked up. Meanwhile, the Sofia fest may soon add a prize category for Eastern European docs, organizers say.

TIP SHEET

When: March 5-15, 2009

Where: Sofia, Bulgaria

Web: www.cinema.bg/sff/2009/bg/

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