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When Dumitrana Lupu took over as the head of the Transilvania Film Festival’s industry program earlier this year, she was tasked with a two-fold mission of continuing to discover and boost emerging talents from the host country, as well as ensuring that the Romanian festival remains a vital meeting place for filmmakers from Southeastern Europe and the surrounding region.

To do so, she and the organizing team revamped some of TIFF’s industry sections while ensuring that long-running programs provide continuity for a festival that unspools its 21st edition from June 17 – 26.

With a focus on the Black Sea region and its neighboring countries, the Transilvania Pitch Stop has emerged as one of the leading co-production and co-financing platforms for the region’s filmmakers. Among the films supported by the TPS since its inception in 2014 include “Apples,” by Greece’s Christos Nikou, which opened the Horizons sidebar of the Venice Film Festival; “The Man Who Surprised Everyone,” a Horizons prize winner from Russia’s Alexey Chupov; and “La Civil,” by Teodora Ana Mihai, which won the Prize of Courage in the Cannes Film Festival’s Un Certain Regard sidebar last year.

The selection features 10 films from first- and second-time directors searching for European partners. Lupu admits that this year’s call for projects was not easy: among the countries eligible to participate are Ukraine – Maksym Nakonechnyi, a 2019 participant, bowed his debut “Butterfly Vision” (pictured) in Cannes’ Un Certain Regard section this year – as well as neighboring countries that have been disrupted by the ongoing war. Lupu and the Transilvania organizing team had no idea what to expect.

Yet a robust crop of submissions, including several from Ukraine, proved that filmmakers from the region remain determined to tell their stories. Among the projects being pitched in Cluj is “Sasha-Oleksanda,” by Ukrainian director Andrii Ivaniuk, whose first feature “Eastman” premiered at the Odesa International Film Festival in 2019. Festival organizers have been busily navigating the logistical hurdles to bring Ivaniuk and producer Volodymyr Filippov from Kyiv to Transilvania.

This year’s selection suggests a generation of emerging filmmakers looking to find a voice in a world of growing uncertainty. “People are really writing about their personal experiences,” says Lupu. Still others are using genre conventions to tell ambitious stories. Five of the projects will receive a tailored script consultation from veteran script editor and film consultant Christian Routh, while all of the filmmaking teams will be coached by consultant and producer Agathe Berman ahead of their pitch to industry guests.

A noteworthy shift in Transilvania this year is the expansion of the Drama Room, a sidebar and industry strand dedicated to high-end TV series. Last year the festival launched a pilot edition in collaboration with the Midpoint Institute, a Prague-based training and networking platform that supports writers, directors and producers from Central and Eastern Europe. The three-day event brought industry professionals from across the region to Cluj for a series of workshops and masterclasses on producing scripted drama.

For its second edition, the organizing team wanted to develop a program that was tailormade to meet the needs of the country’s nascent TV industry. “Romanian filmmakers…do not know how to develop drama series for the international market,” Lupu admits. To that end, this year’s Drama Room is being presented in collaboration with Netflix, which will send creative talent director Christopher Mack and Anna Nagler, director of local-language originals for Central and Eastern Europe and Russia, for closed-door mentoring sessions with the teams behind five selected projects.

Another notable change in this year’s industry section is to the Talent Lab, which was launched a decade ago as a program for up-and-coming film school students and recent graduates. In recent years, it evolved into a workshop for exhibitors and cinema managers, presented in partnership with Europa Cinemas.

That initiative has been rebranded this year as the Innovation Days Lab, while the Transilvania Talent Lab will return to its roots, with 12 filmmakers under the age of 35 from Romania and neighboring Moldova taking part in a five-day series of lectures and masterclasses during the Transilvania festival.

Lupu describes the initiative as a “career kickstarter” for emerging filmmakers. The next step, says TIFF founder Tudor Giurgiu, is to raise funding for a dedicated, tailored, year-round mentorship program that will support 3-4 emerging directors. That goal reflects a concerted effort from festival leadership to capitalize on a growing wave of up-and-coming Romanian filmmakers.

“There are new talents coming every year on the international scene,” says Giurgui, citing directors like Alina Grigore, who won the top prize in San Sebastian last year with “Blue Moon,” and Alexandru Belc, whose “Metronom” won the best director award in Cannes’ Un Certain Regard sidebar this year. “We really want to prepare these young people and to offer them a chance for international exposure.”

Other industry highlights at this year’s Transilvania Film Festival include First Films First, a Goethe Institut-backed training program that supports young filmmakers from Southeast Europe developing their first feature-length films, and the First Cut Lab, which provides personalized consulting for three selected feature films from Romania or Moldova in the editing stage.