The fast-track rise of dozens of film festivals in Eastern and Central Europe has created a proving ground for scores of emerging filmmaking talents, creating tight competition for fests striving to present the brightest new visionaries in the region.

One event that draws the attention of scouts despite freezing winter weather, the Black Nights fest in Tallinn, Estonia, offers a handy overview of Baltic talent.

Tallinn-born helmer Tanel Toom, whose 2010 short “The Confession” was Oscar-nommed and screened in the festival’s shorts sidebar, is now prepping his feature debut, sci-fi thriller “Gateway 6,” according to its programmer Hannes Aava, who is eagerly awaiting a look.

Another Estonian filmmaker to watch, musicvideo maker Triin Ruumet, won the jury prize last year for her debut “Days That Confused,” a wild ride through teenage wasteland, at Karlovy Vary’s East of West section, which focuses on films from the former East Bloc.

Estonian Vallo Toomla, meanwhile, sold nervy home-invasion thriller “The Pretenders” (pictured above) to Wide Management following its San Sebastian debut last year. And Latvian Ranars Vimba, whose feature debut “Mellow Mud” won the Generation 14Plus kudo at Berlinale last year, is another filmmaker fests are keeping their eyes on.

Serbian Ivana Mladenovic won praises for her documentary “Turn Off the Lights” at Tribeca, following up with an impressive acting turn in Radu Jude’s Locarno jury prize-winner “Scarred Hearts.” Her upcoming feature debut, based on Romanian novel “Soldiers,” parlays an “intense yet toxic gay affair” between an ex-con and an intellectual music scholar.

“It is the first major Romanian film dealing with a strong and daring gay topic,” says Transilvania Intl. Film Festival artistic director Mihai Chirilov.
Theologian and filmmaker Daniel Sandu, meanwhile, recently made his feature debut, “One Step Behind the Seraphim,” based on his own upbringing in an Orthodox seminary in Romania, a project repped by Indie Sales and produced by indie vet Ada Solomon (“Child’s Pose”).

Former film critic Andrei Cretulescu, whose third short, “Ramona,” was selected for Cannes in 2015, is in post-production on feature debut, “Charlton Heston.” The tense grief story was honored as a work-in-progress at the Thessaloniki fest last year. That’s impressive, says Chirilov, “for a film that is pretty atypical for a Romanian production: an uber-stylish and tender melodrama with cynical and tongue-in-cheek undertones, packed with smart cinephile references.”

Karlovy Vary artistic director Karel Och is perpetually on the lookout for emerging Czech talent. He cites three “incredibly talented young filmmakers,” each now working on feature debuts: Zuzana Spidlova and Michael Hogenauer, both scored attention at Cinefondation. Spidlova won in 2008 with student film “Baba.”

Meanwhile, Ondrej Hudecek is following up his jury prize at Sundance last year for queer romance short “Peacock” with “Bohemian Rhapsody,” based on the illicit romance of celebrated playwright Ladislav Stroupeznicky.

And, adds Och, L.A.-based director Martin Krejci, known for stylized and over-the-top commercial spots, will shoot his first feature narrative this summer in English.

One summer ritual that’s a must for scouting new talent, the Sarajevo fest, is also a window into compelling new Balkan visions, says fest director Mirsad Purivatra. The fest’s Talents program and CineLink event are set up “to discover and support the emerging talent even before we screen their films at the festival,” he says.

The farm team system has proven its value with directors such as Laslo Nemes (“Son of Saul”) and Nana Ekvtimishvili (“In Bloom”), among others. “In 2017,” Purivatra adds, “keep your eyes on Alen Drljevic’s debut fiction feature ‘Men Don’t Cry.’”

The Warsaw fest is also adept at discovering talent, as Pawel Maslona’s upcoming feature debut “Panic Attack” bears out, according to fest director Stefan Laudyn.

Agnieszka Elbanowska, who scored the top short prize in Warsaw with her absurdist doc “First Pole on Mars,” is another find, he says, as is documentarian Anna Zamecka, whose feature-length “Communion” won Critics’ Week in Locarno along with Warsaw’s top doc kudo.