Rising from the rubble of the Bosnian War to become one of Southeastern Europe’s leading film and TV industry events, the Sarajevo Film Festival has plenty to celebrate as it marks its 25th edition this year.

The festival was established in 1995 during the four-year siege of Sarajevo as part of an effort to help the reconstruction of society and save the cosmopolitan spirit of the city. Today Sarajevo not only plays a vital role for the region’s growing film and TV industries, it is also becoming an increasingly significant conduit to global partners in Asia, the Middle East, Africa and the Americas.

“From the very start, we have been inspired by art and it helped us create new values and break the existing social and cultural barriers,” Sarajevo Film Festival director Mirsad Purivatra says.
Indeed, UNESCO is honoring the fest this year for its promotion of “dialogue and tolerance through the arts.”

Screening in this year’s feature film competition, which opens with Bosnian director Ines Tanovic’s “The Son,” are works from across Southeastern Europe, including Turkish helmer Emin Alper’s “A Tale of Three Sisters,” Radu Dragomir’s Romanian drama “Mo,” and Albanian filmmaker Florenc Papas’ “Open the Door.”

The festival has become a major hub for film professionals from the region thanks in large part to its CineLink Industry Days section, which is playing a crucial role in the expansion of feature film and ever more TV productions in Southeastern Europe.

CineLink comprises events such as the Co-Production Market, Works-in-Progress, the TV-oriented Drama section, Docu Rough Cut Boutique and True Stories Market, which focuses on projects revolving around the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s.

CineLink has become “absolutely central” for Southeastern Europe’s film and TV industry, Jovan Marjanovic, the Sarajevo Film Festival’s head of industry says, adding that the projects that have gotten their start at Works-in-Progress and the Co-Production Market attest to its importance. “This is a must-attend industry event in this region.”

One of this year’s competition titles, “Cat in the Wall,” by Bulgarian directors Mina Mileva and Vesela Kazakova, was initially presented at the CineLink co-pro market a few years ago and at Works-in-Progress in 2018. Other recent films that came out of CineLink include Tamara Kotevska and Ljubomir Stefanov’s 2019 Sundance award winner “Honeyland,” and Berlinale screeners like Teona Mitevska’s “God Exists, Her Name Is Petrunija,” Nimrod Eldar’s “The Day After I’m Gone,” and Burak Cevik’s “Belonging.” Maya Vitkova’s upcoming family drama “Afrika,” presented at Works-in-Progress last year, is expected to hit the festival circuit this fall.

CineLink’s increasingly global profile is evident in Sarajevo’s growing international links, Marjanovic notes, adding: “We try to work strategically to find partners in new regions.”

In China, CineLink has been collaborating with the Pingyao Film Festival for the past two years to bring Chinese projects to the Works-in-Progress section and this year there is a delegation from the Shanghai Film Festival heading to Sarajevo. In India, the fest partners with the National Film Development Corporation, in the Arab world with the Doha Film Institute, and those global connections are expanding. Reps from Nigeria’s Nollywood have expressed interest in visiting this year’s event.

“That’s something we try to follow up on, to bring key producers from these countries to Sarajevo,” Marjanovic says. “We try to react or anticipate which regions will be open for cooperation and try to carve new paths of cooperation.”

On the TV front, the CineLink Drama section “has been growing exponentially,” Marjanovic adds, noting that the region is seeing growing financing opportunities from telco players like Serbia’s Telekom Srbija, which is investing millions in content.

In another positive sign for the region, Funa Maduka, Netflix’s director of international original films and acquisitions, will attend this year’s fest as a member of the feature film competition jury, headed by Swedish filmmaker Ruben Ostlund (“The Square”).