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SOFA Training Program Adds Georgia Workshop, Expands Reach (EXCLUSIVE)

LONDON — SOFA, which runs a training program for up-and-coming film professionals in Central and Eastern Europe to help them launch new businesses, has expanded its operations.

The movie industry in Central and Eastern Europe has been on a high recently after films from the region won the foreign-language Oscar two years’ running. But it is still relatively hard for entrepreneurs to get innovative enterprises within the film business off the ground in that part of the world, and this inspired Nikolaj Nikitin, the Berlin Film Festival’s delegate for the region, to set up SOFA, which stands for School of Film Agents, in 2013.

The need for innovation has never been greater with the expansion of new forms of film business, such as subscription video-on-demand, that need to be embraced and harnessed, Nikitin says.

“We’ve studied culture and we know that just because a new media arrives, it doesn’t mean the old media is dying. We still have opera houses and opera will exist forever, and I’m sure cinema will exist forever, it will just function differently,” he says.

“We need to be aware of this and adapt, and not fight it. If we start fighting, we’ll lose. What you need is new ideas. It is not possible for you to apply the mechanism that was applied 30 years ago, because the market has changed completely. So we need to educate and train young professionals and even established professionals in new ways of distribution.”

The organizers of SOFA have maintained close contact with its alumni and keep themselves up-to-date on the latest developments with their projects. Many projects are on their way to becoming a reality. Take, for example, Angeliki Vergou’s VOD platform Octopus in Greece, a project that has secured finance and set up its organizational structure.

“The Greek situation is similar to that in Romania in that Greek cinema in the last few years has been super successful at film festivals, but the Greek audience don’t watch Greek cinema, so Angeliki has built up a VOD platform for Greek cinema,” Nikitin says. Vergou has support from the Greek Film Center and the Thessaloniki Film Festival.

Other successful SOFA projects include Ivan Kozlenkos’ Ukrainian Film Museum in Kiev, and the innovative Serbian project Festivalboxoffice, which has been launched in a BETA version and has secured national and international funding.

Then there is the Polish project Cinebus, which celebrated its official launch last year in Krakow in the presence of Hollywood actress Natalie Portman, and the Romanian VOD platform Cinepub 2nd Life, a project dedicated to the digitization of student films, which has recorded its first success with a grant from the National Center of Cinematography. The Lithuanian project F.R.O.N.T. is also making headway: the project plans to digitize seven cinema theaters and anticipates subsidies making it possible to do so for the next three years.

The fourth session of SOFA runs Aug. 19-28 in Poland’s Wroclaw, which is the European Capital of Culture this year. The deadline for submissions is May 5. Following the workshop participants will undertake internships with companies in Germany that operate in a similar field to their project.

In the light of the success of the first three editions, SOFA plans to expand its work by staging a second workshop in Georgia for April 2017. SOFA has also enlarged the area from which it draws participants to include Southeast Europe, the Caucasus region, which includes Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia, Central Asia and Germany.

“Georgia in my eyes, next to Poland, is one of the most interesting cinema countries in Europe. In Berlin we had some amazing Georgian filmmakers and being one of the newest members of the big European family it will be a great benefit for Georgia that we bring a lot of European professionals there, but it is also going to be a great experience for everybody from the classical European and new European countries to go to Georgia,” Nikitin says.

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