Pacts bring local films to wider international audience

COTTBUS, Germany — National film bodies across Eastern Europe are using co-productions as marketing tools to bring local films to wider international audiences.

Relaxing rules on what counts as a minority or majority co-prod is helping get movies made in countries ranging from Georgia in the Caucasus, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Bulgaria in the Balkans, and Slovakia in Central Europe.

Georgia’s National Film Center (GNFC), founded in 2001 after a decade following the collapse of the Soviet Union when no films were made in the country at all, is prioritizing co-productions from next year to boost the local industry.

“We shall finance both minority and majority co-productions in order to bring interesting and extraordinary films to the international market,” Tamara Tatishvili, director of the GNFC, told a panel discussion on European film marketing Thursday at the Cottbus Festival of Eastern European Film.

Georgia also aimed to join Eurimages, the European Union’s cinema support fund, as another tool for raising its profile at international festivals and markets.

Two Georgian films had achieved international festival success in the past year, Tatishvili said — Levan Koguashvili’s gritty crime and corruption tale “Street Days” and George Ovashvili’s “The Other Bank,” a co-prod with France.

Other small countries in Eastern Europe also see co-productions as the way forward for greater international recognition.

Darko Baseski, head of the Macedonian Film Fund, which was set up three years ago, said co-prods were being used to help develop the skills and talents of young Macedonian directors, with applications for minority and majority projects accepted twice a year.

“We look for ideas, not necessarily connected to Macedonia; we are more interested in creative collaboration,” Baseski said, adding that recent co-prod partners had come from as far afield as Ireland and Sweden, as well as countries closer to home such as Bulgaria and Serbia.

In Slovakia, where post-Communist disruption and the country’s “Velvet Divorce” from Czechoslovakia in 1993 hit the film industry hard, recent developments that include setting up an audiovisual fund in 2009 are helping revive Slovak film, said Alexandra Strelkova of cultural body the Slovak Film Institute.

A dozen feature films were made in 2009, among them Vladimir Balko’s “Soul at Peace” — a film that paid tribute to classic Slovak film genres of the 1960s. It attracted 120,000 admissions, a big figure for a local film in country with a population of just five million.

Biggest co-prod partners are Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic.

Alexander Donev of Bulgaria’s National Film Center, said that recent government cutbacks were likely to hit projects already approved for funding, but the result would be time delays rather than cancellations.

Tighter budgets were driving a more open approach to co-productions where the priority was to fnd creative partners.

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