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Although the public part of this year’s Karlovy Vary Film Festival — the key event for the film business in Central and Eastern Europe — was canceled, the festival pressed ahead with its industry section, Eastern Promises, which ran July 6-8 in an online format.

Eastern Promises selected 41 projects in development, production and post-production from Central and Eastern Europe, the Balkans, the former Soviet Union, the Middle East and North Africa, and presented them to potential co-producers, sales companies, international buyers and festival programmers.

An addition to the section this year was First Cut Plus, which featured eight films in post-production from Central and Eastern Europe. It also delivered a mentoring program that sought to improve the projects’ marketing and commercial chances. The sessions covered promotion, marketing, press, trailer-making, festival launch and sales strategy.

Ilaria Gomarasca, former festivals manager at Pyramide Intl., is head of First Cut Plus, and one of its mentors. Although she praises the great variety and creativity of the projects from Central and Eastern Europe, she says the producers need a “more international approach.”

“Producers have a very specific and clear vision of the market in their own country, but the international market is a new game for them — there are new players and what they are playing for is different,” she says.

A key moment in the life of most international films is its festival premiere, and one of Gomarasca’s tasks has been to help producers identify from “the vast panorama of festivals” the best platform to launch their films. Among the considerations when evolving a bespoke festival strategy are the film’s timeline, the filmmakers and producers’ ambitions, and the subject and style of the film, as “each festival has its own taste,” she says. One of the objectives of the strategy is to choose the best partners to handle the film’s foreign sales, and First Cut Plus has developed a “matchmaking” process to help them do this.

Mentor Katarzyna Siniarska, head of sales at New Europe Film Sales, says that due to the pandemic a key question is whether to launch films now at the small number of festivals that have digital editions — with the chance to shine when so many other pics are absent — or wait until the physical editions return, when there will be more to choose from.

Another issue with the festival cancellations, she says, is that producers may be tempted to let their local distributor release the film without waiting for a world premiere at an “A” festival, thus diminishing the impact of its launch.

It is also important to establish clear channels of communication with the festivals, rather than the producer and the sales company engaging in separate discussions with the programmers. “There has to be a unified message that is coming from one source,” she says.

It’s never too early to think about a film’s marketing and publicity, and if it can be integrated during the film’s development and production so much the better.

International publicist Michael Arnon of the Wolf agency, another of the mentors, says: “We are always telling people that they need to make their marketing, PR and positioning part of the storytelling process from an early stage.” However, Arnon adds that it is important to hold back images and information about a film “to make sure they come out at a time that really supports the project.”

Marketing specialist Boris Pugnet, formerly with French distributor Le Pacte, recommends that producers develop an in-depth knowledge of the markets in various countries. He points to the success in France of Netflix’s “Banlieusards,” about a Black family living on the outskirts of Paris, which surprised many in the business as they didn’t understand what young adult and diverse audiences wanted.

Such market knowledge will affect how a producer pitches and develops a project, and even the scriptwriting. “When you have a better knowledge of the market you even write differently,” Pugnet says. He adds that if a producer has a view about the possible marketing strategy for their film it can help them secure representation by a sales agent.

Many of the mentors recommend that producers hire a professional stills photographer on set, rather than rely on screen grabs, whose quality is far inferior. “It is so essential to determining how much leeway and how many options you have, and how much ambition you can have with your marketing. It all starts with the assets,” Arnon says.

Although the majority of the mentees were producers, Arnon says when directors attended sessions, “they were really involved and hands-on. It was a positive surprise to see their enthusiasm and acuity for international marketing.”

Producers should be open to accepting that the marketing campaign adopted in their home market may not work in foreign markets, Alexis Hamaide, formerly with French sales and production house Playtime, and now with L’Avventura Studio, says. “We wanted producers to grasp that their partners — whether it is sales agents or distributors — will market the film in different ways,” he says. The producer should be ready to deliver different marketing materials to suit the local strategy.

Sales companies also need producers to keep an open mind, Siniarska says. “It’s not that we expect the producer to have a certain set of [promotional] tools ready, it is more that we expect them to be open to dialogue, and quite flexible in terms of how we work with a film.”

 

WORKS IN PROGRESS

ABSENCE
(Iran/Slovakia/Czech Rep.)
Director: Ali Mosaffa
Producers: Ali Mosaffa, Arina, I/O Post, Hypermarket
Genre: Thriller
An Iranian man visiting Prague to find out about his father’s communist past is entangled in a death.

THE ALLEYS
(Jordan)
Director: Bassel Ghandour
Producer: Rula Nasser, the Imaginarium Films
Genre: Drama
In a claustrophobic neighborhood where gossip and violence police people’s behavior, the lives of residents intertwine.

BLACK MEDUSA
(Tunisia)
Directors: Ismaël and Youssef Chebbi
Producer: Utopia Films
Genre: Drama
Nada leads a double life: By day she is a video editor, living a lonely and uneventful life; by night, she wanders from bar to bar hunting men.

FIELD
(Georgia)
Director: Lasha Tskvitinidze
Producers: Pansionati, Terra Incognita Films
The life of a couple, Nika and Salome, changes radically: Nika becomes a murderer, while Salome converts to a religious sect.

SNOW WHITE DIES AT THE END
(North Macedonia)
Director: Kristijan Risteski
Producer: Darko Popov, Vertigo Visual
Genre: Comedy-drama
Seven stubborn citizens pay a harsh price for staying true to their own values.

STOP-ZEMLIA
(Ukraine)
Director: Kateryna Gornostai
Producer: Vitaliy Sheremetiev, Viktoriia Khomenko, Natalia Libet, Olga Beskhmelnytsina, Esse Production House
Genre: Drama
A true story of a teenage girl who, rather than appreciating the time with her loving friends before their post-school futures begin, pines for someone who doesn’t want her back.

TROUBLED MINDS
(Latvia)
Directors: Raitis Abele, Lauris Abele
Producer: Tritone Studio
Genre: Dramedy
To get his creative juices flowing for an upcoming art exhibition bipolar Martin locks himself in a black 2×2 meter cube.

WIAROŁOM
(Poland)
Director: Piotr Złotorowicz
Producers: Munk Studio, Canal Plus Poland
Genre: Drama
After years away, a young woman comes back to her village and reunites with her childhood love.

FIRST CUT PLUS (WORKS IN PROGRESS)
BROAD PEAK
(Poland/Italy)
Director: Leszek Dawid
Producers: Maciej Rzączyński, Dawid Janicki, Krzysztof Rzączyński, Paweł Rymarz, Pola Łangowska – East Studio
Genre: Drama/biopic
The tale of incredible determination that pushes a man toward the edge.

DESKMATE
(Turkey/Romania)
Director: Ferit Karahan
Producer: Kanat Dogramaci, Asteros Film
Genre: Drama
In a boarding school cut off in the Anatolian mountains, a boy falls mysteriously ill.

IMACULAT
(Romania)
Director: Monica Stan, George Chiper Lillemark
Producer: Marcian Lazar, Axel Film
Genre: Drama
When young Daria enters rehab, she gains the protection of the mostly male junkies inside, but soon learns that the special treatment comes at the cost of her own desires.

JANUARY
(Bulgaria/Portugal/Luxembourg)
Director: Andrey Paounov
Producer: Vanya Rainova, Portokal
Genre: Drama
The story of two men and a bird trapped by a snowstorm, who try to solve a mystery while it slowly devours them.

I AM FINE, THANKS
(Lithuania)
Director: Ernestas Jankauskas
Producer: Gabija Siurbyte, Dansu
Genre: Dramedy
A scientist hides her breakdowns that manifest itself as crazy hallucinations in order to maintain her social image.

THE RUNNER
(Lithuania/Czech Rep.)
Director: Andrius Blaževičius
Producer: Marija Razgute, M-Films
Genre: Love story/thriller
After her boyfriend has a psychotic episode and disappears, Maria decides to let nothing stop her from helping him. Grabbing at every clue about his whereabouts she embarks on a fast-paced odyssey through the city.

THE USERS (Serbia)
Director: Ivan Ikic
Producer: Milan Stojanovic, Sense Production
Genre: Drama
Three teenagers living in an institution for people with special needs have to navigate newfound feelings of desire as well as envy when an unexpected love triangle forms among them.

WILD ROOTS
(Hungary/Slovakia)
Director: Hajni Kis
Producer: Julie Berkes, Proton Cinema
Genre: Drama
A lonely, ex-con bouncer is reunited one day with his wild child daughter. The two outsiders bond, but the father’s vehement nature and a family secret stand between them.