Film support system grows global awareness

Festivals and film support orgs in the Czech Republic and its neighbor Slovakia are doing more than ever to foster local talent — and make sure it doesn’t stay local. From Karlovy Vary’s high-profile competish to the ArtFilm fest in Trencianske Teplice, the network has grown impressively in recent years, with an increasing number of experts from abroad lending a hand in schooling local filmmakers in the ways of Western sales agents, distribs and co-producers.

“Every year we have more and more buyers and distributors coming, and many of them take this as an event they cannot miss,” says Andrea Szczukova of the Karlovy Vary Film Fest’s Industry Office.

Fest has developed the East of the West competition sidebar to spotlight promising new work from Central and Eastern Europe, and unspools a works-in-progress section of regional pics in post that do not yet have international sales reps. Distribs, fest programmers and buyers fill an ornate hall of the Hotel Pupp to check out the new crop, invariably containing strong Czech and Slovak talent.

One recent pic from the works-in-progress program, the Polish film “All That I Love,” graduated to a Sundance berth this year.

“The goal is to give the chance for buyers and distributors from around the world to learn about the new films and filmmakers from Central and Eastern Europe in a short time,” says Szczukova, “to discover the talents and on the other hand to help the producers from this part of Europe with the international presentation of their work.”

Jefe Brown, producer of the just-completed Czech pic “Mamas and Papas” by Alice Nellis, says local fests indeed do much to boost domestic production.

“The exposure it offers is very important to the overall success … especially with a director such as Alice Nellis, who has achieved significant success in the Czech market and for whom we hope to achieve some success outside of the country. She could be on the cusp of achieving such in Europe and elsewhere, and festival recognition helps.”

Such talents sometimes skip Karlovy Vary and win accolades abroad, as Nellis did at San Sebastian, and Brown acknowledges that a sprocket opera with a stronger international component and bustling markets, such as Berlin, Cannes or Venice, may help get a sales company or even a distribution deal more than a local event.

But even a Czech-only fest such as the Pilzen Finale can offer useful feedback and encouragement, which may be why Nellis has screened there. Dozens of other local filmmakers turn out each spring for its Czech Film Center-sponsored screenings of upcoming work.

Jana Cernikova, director of the center, bills Pilzen as the best gauge of the new crop of work available. She should know: The industry-founded CFC has grown into a database of resources for filmmakers on the rise and actively promotes them through newsletters and promotions at Cannes, Berlin and beyond.

The Bratislava fest, though on a far smaller scale than Karlovy Vary, is determined to advance the same cause, and program director Mathieu Darras, who also believes Slovak film needs to win back the attention of Slovaks themselves, cites a recent marketing workshop that drew international film biz mavens. December’s fest also featured a workshop where local producers could hear from industry professionals about winning strategies for getting attention abroad.

Held in the light of recent work that made an international splash, including several unconventional docus such as Slovakia’s “Cooking History” and “Blind Loves,” the session prompted the director of the Vienna Film Fund, Peter Zawrel, to jokingly ask what the workshop’s point was since Slovak filmmakers seem to be breaking out regularly already.

But Slovak Film Institute director Alexandra Strelkova, not content to rest on laurels, is dedicated to improving the exchange of expertise. Many Western bizzers agree that the ways of film distribution and sales are still new to otherwise promising talents from the former East bloc. The institute, a support org that dates back to 1963, also reps local work through its Film Events Dept., which screens Slovak films in the country and abroad. It’s also the liaising partner for programmers of far-flung fests.

But local fests have been a boon to many other Czech and Slovak pics. With Czech and Slovak docus exporting more than ever, it’s clear the Jihlava docu fest hasn’t been slacking either, with a market, workshops run by foreign pros and a video library that links directly to industryites’ emails.

Then there’s the Czech Cinematography Fund, which has scored new levels of coin from the state of late, making it a critical component in the arsenals of nearly every local production budget.

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