If the 18 participants selected to take part in the Emerging Producers program of the Ji.hlava Intl. Documentary Film Festival aren’t entirely sure what to expect from this year’s edition, they’re not alone. “I don’t know how to define it,” says Italian producer Paolo Benzi, who along with Irena Taskovski is tutoring the group.

Over the course of five days during the festival, participants come together to question, debate, joust, reflect, and “discuss what it means to produce films nowadays,” Benzi says. “[Emerging Producers] isn’t a training in the strict sense of the word. It’s kind of an awakening of awareness of what we do.”

The program was born out of a 2012 encounter between Benzi and Ji.hlava head Marek Hovorka, where the two discussed the scarcity of places in the documentary field “where you could really get the time or the space to think about what you were doing as a producer,” Benzi says.

Often in training labs and similar initiatives, he noted, there’s “a kind of touristic attitude — you go to this program, you get tools. There are very few moments when you can seriously and actively engage.”

Each year at Ji.hlava, organizers select 17 European producers, as well as one producer from a guest country, to take part in the five-day program. Applicants are expected to have produced at least one fiction or documentary film, either mid-length or feature, which has had theatrical distribution or been screened at festivals.

A key difference with Ji.hlava’s Emerging Producers program is that participants aren’t selected to workshop or pitch a particular film. As Hovorka once put it to Benzi, the producers themselves are the projects.

Each participant offers a presentation to the group, as well as industry professionals gathered at the prestigious Czech doc fest. While the organizers largely maintain a free-flowing approach to sessions, even informal meetings with industry counterparts are meant to foster a collaborative spirit that can eventually bear fruit onscreen. “In the end, we’re making films,” Benzi says.

The producer pushes participants to think beyond dollars and cents. “Of course you need money, because this is what you actually go after when you need to make a co-production. Is that enough? Probably not,” he says. “There is something I think more precious and more important in what we do.” He adds, “If you only think in terms of money, it doesn’t last.”

Since its first edition in 2013, Emerging Producers has hosted 112 participants, and last year added an additional four-day session in Berlin in February, with producers then giving presentations during the Berlinale.

Despite the program’s success so far, making the most of each edition still requires a certain strange alchemy. “Every year it’s a challenge. There are years where there’s very strong energy. Other years where the dynamic is more complicated,” Benzi says. “Given the fact that all these people are coming from different countries, different political contexts…all these variables come into play, and it’s very alive.”

This year’s participants are: Anamaria Antoci (Romania); Anna Herza Tydlitatova (Czech Republic); David Lindner Leporda (Germany); Elin Kamlert (Sweden); Georg Tiller (Austria); Giedre Zickyte (Lithuania); Isabel Orellana (Chile); Katja Lenarcic (Slovenia); Kristof Bilsen (Belgium); Laura Collado (Spain); Lelde Pruse (Latvia); Lorenzo Cioffi (Italy); Renata Sancho (Portugal); Stanislaw Zaborowski (Poland); Victoria Thomas (U.K.); Viki Reka Kiss (Hungary); Wanda Adamik Hrycova (Slovakia); and Zoran Galic (Bosnia and Herzegovina).