When the organizers of the Sarajevo Film Festival’s CineLink Industry Days surveyed the local TV landscape several years ago, they recognized the chance to make an impact. “We decided five years ago that we need to do something,” says CineLink industry coordinator Armin Hadzic. “The [regional] TV and public broadcasters were coming from another age.”
Hadzic and his colleagues traveled to industry events across Europe for inspiration. He recalls being floored by the quality of TV Drama Vision, the Goteborg film festival’s annual Nordic drama showcase. “It was light years away—not just for us, but for the rest of Europe,” he says.
Working with the likes of Goteborg and Berlin’s Drama Series Days, CineLink launched its first drama platform in 2016. The program – which this year expanded its focus beyond the ex-Yugoslavia to include neighboring countries – has grown by leaps and bounds. “The level is incomparable to three years ago,” says Hadzic. “In three years we came from this old, traditional way of producing to these new, exciting shows.”
Five series in development will be presented during the CineLink Drama pitching session to key European and regional broadcasters, VOD platforms, and distributors, followed by one-on-one meetings. CineLink Industry Days will also award a €10,000 ($11,000) cash prize sponsored by Film Center Serbia.
One example of the platform’s success is “The Paper,” a gritty political crime thriller commissioned by Croatian national broadcaster HRT and produced by Zagreb-based Drugi Plan. The series was acquired by Netflix in Sarajevo last year. Drugi Plan is also producing the first local-language series for HBO Adria, “Success.”
“I think the region has really picked it up,” says Hadzic. “Right now, we have shows that you can compare to anywhere in Europe.”
Just as other major festivals have added buzzy TV components to their programs, Sarajevo has found its drama strand to be an audience favorite. “This is one of the most exciting programs of the festival,” says Hadzic. The fest will screen five drama series that are part of the fall TV slate, and all of the gala screenings have sold out.
In a world where this year’s local standout can be next year’s global smash, Hadzic says the Balkans are poised to make a splash. “The big players are much more open to talent here than three years ago. They realize they can have wonderful shows from this region,” he says. He credits the Scandinavian countries with creating an appetite for local dramas with global streaming services and distributors. “I think they realized that the content is there, and the audience wants to watch it and will watch it.”
For many European producers and broadcasters, what until recently might have seemed like a novel idea – to become the next “Money Heist” – is increasingly becoming part of the business plan. “The European market realized that it can’t produce series for the audience of these small countries,” says Hadzic. The breakout success of a series like “The Paper” is just the latest sign that the line between local and global stories has blurred.
“In the next three or five years,” he says, “the industry will be able to think about any show from anywhere in the world as an international show.”
This year’s CineLink Drama participants are:
Creator: Triera Kasumi Berisha, Blerta Zeqiri
Director: Blerta Zeqiri, Lendita Zeqiraj, Izer Aliu
Writer: Keka Kreshnik Berisha, Blerta Zeqiri, Lendita Zeqiraj, Izer Aliu
Producer: Triera Kasumi Berisha, Keka Kreshnik Berisha
Production company: Dynamic L.L.C.
Logline: A true story of the Kosovo’s best scuba diver, who cannot help but answer the cries of families, by recovering their loved ones’ bodies from water during Yugoslavia’s fall, war and fragile peace.
Creator: Višnja Skorin
Director: Sara Hribar
Writer: Višnja Skorin and Sandra Antolić
Producer: Lado Skorin
Production company: 3D2D Animatori
Logline: A counselor at the Center for Teenage Pregnancy and Mothers battles the state laws and demons from her own past. After a law criminalizing abortion is passed, the center is threatened with closure.
Creator: Daria Keršić
Writer: Daria Keršić
Producer: Nebojša Taraba, Miodrag Sila
Production company: Drugi plan
Logline: Viki has to stay at the children’s home when her adoption falls through, and she starts her new high school by making trouble. Luckily, she meets friends who help her through the issues of growing up.
Creator: Goran Stanković, Vladimir Tagić
Director: Goran Stanković, Vladimir Tagić
Writer: Goran Stanković, Vladimir Tagić
Additional writer: Maja Pelević
Producer: Snežana van Houwelingen
Production company: This and That Productions
Logline: A political thriller series based on real events, focusing on a female journalist investigating the murder of the Serbian Prime Minister, in a corrupted justice system.
Creator: Michaela Taschek
Director: Barbara Albert, Sandra Wollner
Writer: Michaela Taschek
Producer: Ursula Wolschlager
Production company: Witcraft Filmproduktion
Logline: When the snow is gone, old secrets see the light of day.