Sarajevo Festival Showcases the Best of Regional Filmmaking Talent

On the sun-drenched terrace of Sarajevo’s Hotel Europe during the Bosnian city’s film festival, which runs Aug. 11-18, you’ll find the leading lights of the film business in Southeast Europe, a region of more than 140 million people. The hotel is the venue of the festival’s industry section, CineLink, and serves as the main meeting point for the region’s movie professionals during the year.

Since the festival was founded in 1995 — while Sarajevo was under siege during the Bosnian War — it has established itself as the place to be for international festival scouts, producers, sales agents and distributors to discover emerging talent and promising projects from Southeast Europe, and has also expanded its focus to include the Middle East and the Caucasus countries.

Brigitta Manthey, a film-funding adviser at Germany’s Medienboard Berlin-Brandenburg, says it’s a great place to network — the festival attracts almost 1,000 film professionals — and see projects from emerging talent.

CineLink’s Co-Production Market, which seeks to match promising projects from the region with international producers and film funders, is skillfully curated. “You really find the best projects here,” Manthey says.

Frederic Boyer, artistic director of the Tribeca Film Festival, has been attending Sarajevo for the past decade, and finds CineLink’s Work in Progress section an invaluable opportunity for sneak peeks at the top projects from the region.

Last year, Boyer selected Israeli comedy “Holy Air” for Tribeca’s competition section after it was presented at Sarajevo. The film was picked up by sales agent Jan Naszewski, who runs New Europe Film Sales, and Samuel Goldwyn Films later acquired North American rights.

Naszewski praises the festival for its skill as a very reliable scout, scouring the region for high-quality projects, saving professionals like him valuable time. “You can’t be everywhere,” he says. “In terms of scouting projects this is the strongest [festival] in the region.”

Festival director Mirsad Purivatra says Sarajevo offers a one-stop shop for those seeking talent and pics from Southeast Europe. “In four steps we cover all aspects of the [region’s] film industry,” he says.

There is the competition for student films; the Talents Sarajevo program for filmmakers at the start of their careers; CineLink for more experienced filmmakers seeking to finance and distribute their projects; and finally, the main competition selection.

Among those films competing for the Heart of Sarajevo Award, designed by fashion designer Agnes B., are three world premieres: two films from first-time feature directors, Gentian Koci’s “Daybreak” from Albania, which was previously presented at CineLink’s Work in Progress, and Emanuel Parvu’s “Meda or the Not So Bright Side of Things” from Romania; and “Grain” by Turkey’s Semih Kaplanoglu, who won the Berlinale’s Golden Bear with “Honey” in 2010.

CineLink chief Jovan Marjanovic says the section seeks to address the needs of the region’s film business, but those needs have shifted over time. As the biz in that part of the world has matured and public film financing sources have become more stable, the focus has moved to improving the circulation of movies. In recent years they have had success at major festivals, with Greece’s “Son of Sofia,” directed by Elina Psykou, winning at Tribeca, for example. Now, the emphasis is increasingly on selling to foreign distributors and streaming platforms, via leading sales agents, and Marjanovic strives to ensure he has the right guests mingling on the terrace of Hotel Europe — those best placed to help films complete their financing and find buyers.

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