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While the coronavirus pandemic prompted the Sarajevo Film Festival to shift to an online edition just days before opening night, the organizers of CineLink Industry Days—Sarajevo’s buzzy industry confab—were prepared to go virtual from the moment that the virus began sweeping across Europe in March.

That means plans have long been in place for an online edition of the CineLink Co-Production Market, which has become one of the leading platforms for projects from Southeast Europe and the wider region, including countries from the Middle East, North Africa, and the former Soviet Union. Sixteen projects were selected for this year’s edition, with pitching sessions taking place from Aug. 15-18 on CineLink’s online platform.

CineLink industry coordinator Armin Hadzic says roughly 70% of the projects pitched in the market get produced within three years of appearing in Sarajevo, with most of those going on to get international distribution deals and festival premieres. Recent editions have launched films such as Adina Pintilie’s Golden Bear winner “Touch Me Not,” and Tamara Kotevska and Ljubomir Stefanov’s Sundance-awarded documentary “Honeyland” (pictured).

In spite of the pandemic, Hadzic says a record number of films were submitted, with the selection reflecting the emergence of a dynamic wave of young, diverse voices. “We are getting out of this old Balkan way of making films, to a much more…European style of filmmaking,” he says.

Audience habits and expectations in the region are changing, driven in no small part by the influence of global streaming platforms like Netflix and Amazon. That in turn has given a creative jolt to local storytellers. “All of a sudden you have…this generation that’s basically rebellious,” says Hadzic.

Emerging filmmakers in Southeast Europe are experimenting more than ever with genre and form. “We are getting content that is much more pleasant to watch for everyone, not following the [tradition] from Eastern Europe…but [moving] much more toward these market-driven arthouse films,” he says. “There is a way to tell stories with a much more engaging craft…. Ten years ago, it was very rare [to get] that.”

Among the highlights of this year’s market is “Melting of the Ruler,” from Montenegro’s Ivan Salatić, whose feature debut “You Have the Night” premiered in Venice Critics’ Week. Produced by Jelena Angelovski of Meander Film, it tells the untold stories of average villagers and their beloved ruler in 19th-century Montenegro.

“‘Melting of the Ruler’ is a film about the ordinary people and their condition which is always determined by higher forces, against whose winds they are trying to contemplate their own existence,” Salatić says.

“The very setting of the film in the mid-19th century opens up a space for experiencing an alternative perspective of man at the time, at the fringes of European culture,” he continues. “The film, therefore, deals with a certain human condition, an often arduous, Sisyphean relationship with power and authority, the burden of the dominating culture and the idea of the civilization through the eyes of those standing at its outskirts.”

Another buzz title is “Blue Banks,” Romanian director Andreea Cristina Bortun’s feature debut about a poor village woman who’s forced to leave her son behind when she finds a job in Marseille. Romania’s Atelier de Film is producing.

“The main inspiration for most of the films I have worked on has been the Romanian rural south and its women, the land that has raised me,” says Bortun, who in the past two years has interviewed close to 40 women from the region. “During this research, I discovered a reality very different from the one I remembered from my childhood. It was sometimes a harsh one, dealing with poverty and multiple forms of abuse which stood for normality. But at the same time I could see an unbelievable strength and dignity laying beneath. Humorous and determined, these women did not fall in despair.”

“It was then that I started exploring the relation between the fantasies people create in their own minds and the ways in which those fantasies manage to crush the realities they disregard, but still inhabit,” she continues. “I wanted to understand what obstructs and what encourages these women in building their own identity and not just mimicking what is at hand, where do their influences come from, what they dream of and how they make those dreams come true. ‘Blue Banks’ is about two parallel struggles: the inner fight of the spirit and the outer one for everyday survival.”

“The Otter,” from the Bosnian filmmaker Srđan Vuletić, is the story of a shy 16-year-old girl whose life begins to unravel after the sudden death of her father, forcing her to reinvent herself. It’s produced by Montenegro’s Artikulacija Film.

“What I like about this project is that it talks about really serious subjects in a hip, entertaining way. Which is rare now,” says Vuletić. “We don’t want to solve all the problems in the world with our movie.”

He continues: “We all know that feeling when…we have to pick ourselves up and start a new chapter. Our film is, above all, an empowering story, which I think is extremely relevant now, in these uncertain times. To encourage the audience that there is always a way out. To encourage audiences both young and old that you don’t have to fit the projections that others make for you.”

“Walls” is the first feature from Bosnia’s Amra Mehić. Produced by Relative Pictures, it’s the story of a couple whose seemingly happy home begins to fall apart when the wife starts to rebel against her husband’s strict rules.

“‘Walls’ is an intimate story about two people. We could even call it a love story, because in a way, it is,” says Mehić. “Yet, it is a story about having a choice that does not exist. It ultimately is a story of violence.”

“What happens when you realize that you are actually a victim of love?” she continues. “When that love causes feelings of fear and anxiety, when it takes away your self-respect and limits your freedoms and mobility? Is it still love? What happens when you realize that you are its hostage? And who can protect us if the answer to any of these questions is ‘yes’?”

The director says “Walls” will serve as a “warning” sign. “I want to make this movie for all the women close to me that have been through this and are still going through this,” she says. “For all those who are silent about it, and those who speak about it but can’t prove it.”

Here is the complete list of projects in the CineLink Co-Production Market. More information about each project can be found here.

“Blue Banks” (Romania)
Directed by Andreea Cristina Bortun
Produced by Atelier de Film

“Capturing Sami” (Romania)
Directed by Adi Voicu
Produced by Axel Film

“Flame” (Hungary)
Directed by György Mór Kárpáti
Produced by Proton Cinema

“Luna Park” (Albania, Greece)
Directed by Florenc Papas
Produced by On Film Production, Argonauts Productions

“Melting of the Ruler” (Montenegro)
Directed by Ivan Salatić
Produced by Meander Film

“Nothing to See Here” (Hungary, Germany)
Directed by Borbála Nagy
Produced by Elf Pictures, Zeitgeist Filmproduktion

“One Month” (Bulgaria, Romania, Sweden)
Directed by Maya Vitkova-Kosev
Produced by Viktoria Films

“Our Father” (Serbia)
Directed by Goran Stanković
Produced by This and That Productions

“Rattlesnakes” (Serbia)
Directed by Nikola Ljuca
Produced by Biberche Productions

“Spite” (Serbia)
Directed by Andrijana Stojković
Produced by BaBoon Production

“Suddenly” (Turkey)
Directed by Melisa Önel
Produced by Vigo Film

“Supporting Role” (Georgia, Estonia)
Directed by Ana Urushadze
Produced by Zaza Films, Allfilm

“The Gospel According to Kimon” (Greece, Albania)
Directed by Neritan Zinxhiria
Produced by PLAYS2PLACE

“The Otter” (Montenegro)
Directed by Srđan Vuletić
Produced by Artikulacija Film

“To Carnations a Song” (Turkey)
Directed by Bekir Bülbül
Produced by Filmcode Production

“Walls” (Bosnia and Herzegovina)
Directed by Amra Mehić
Produced by Relative Pictures

Guest Projects (in cooperation with the Doha Film Institute):

“Nezouh” (Syria, Lebanon)
Directed by Soudade Kadaan
Produced by KAF Production

“The Pearl” (Qatar)
Directed by Noor Al-Nasr
Produced by Doha Film Institute