New Horizons Cinema Agent of Change

Sofa runs August 19-30 in Wroclaw, Poland

It may sound like an organization that teaches wannabes how to swim with the big fish in Hollywood. But the School of Film Agents, announced at the recent New Horizons Film Festival in Wroclaw, Poland, is more an experiment in industry-building than a workshop for tenpercenters.

The School of Film Agents, or Sofa, is running Aug. 19-30 in Wroclaw, sponsored by a coalition of state-funded and private film agencies and cultural orgs from Poland, Germany, the EU and Eastern Europe. The org matches hopefuls with biz experts for two weeks of mentorship and training to develop ideas for strengthening the film biz among nations of the former Soviet bloc.

There are plenty of schools teaching people how to make films. But Nikolaj Nikitin, founder and director of Sofa, defines “film agents” as those who work within the movie business, but are not directly involved in production. Filmmakers need support in various areas, including film funding, promotion and distribution, as well as working with structures such as festivals, commissions, archives and education.

There were hundreds of Sofa submissions, with 10 chosen, including ideas to develop a crowdfunding website, collect data about films at festivals, and serve as an incubator to tyro filmmakers.

Nikitin considers such areas as crucial to a flourishing film culture: While a filmmaker might realize a project every two or three years, film agents discover and promote new talents daily. “Working in the European film industry for many years, I realized that there is no common training platform even for the top decision-makers in our field, where they could exchange ideas and experience,” he says.

The aim of Sofa is to train those with promising ideas, then deploy them back to their countries as agents of change; all Sofa projects are targeted at adding a missing piece to a country’s film industry.

In Hungary, for example, Sofa participant Gabor Boszormenyi wants to create a website to crowdfund arthouse cinema programming, similar to Tugg.com in the United States; in Estonia, Leana Jalukse noticed that the 30 or so local documentaries produced every year are starved for theatrical release. Her distribution network DocSpots would bring these films to the public.

A Serbian entry, Festival Box Office, plans to collect data from film festival screenings that can offer insight into what it is that makes a movie a success. Nikitin sees the project as one that could be used worldwide.

Jan Naszewski, head of industry and international promotion at the New Horizons fest and CEO at his own label, New Europe Film Sales, illustrates the type of pupil the school is looking for — one with a mix of new ideas and previous biz experience.

The ratio is strong: 11 participants among the 10 projects, mentored by 14 industry pros who bring a range of skills, from organizing festivals to running international sales companies and film funds.

Nikitin notes that finding mentors was as carefully managed as vetting the first batch of Sofa projects.

Mentors include Thorsten Ritter, exec VP of Germany’s Beta Cinema; Karel Och, creative director of the Karlovy Vary Film Festival; Marion Doring, director of the European Film Academy and producer of the European Film Awards; Ewa Puszczynska, project manager at production company Opus Film; and Roman Gutek, who established the Warsaw Film Festival in 1985, the New Horizons fest in 2001 and distrib Gutek Film.

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