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European training program School of Film Advancement (SOFA), which aims to strengthen regional film industries across Europe with a focus on Eastern partnership, has launched its ninth edition and 2022-2023 project selection.

The first SOFA workshop, running through Sept. 30, kicked off on Sunday outside the Polish capital of Warsaw.

After two virtual years, the program returns with an expanded edition that comprises a line-up of 16 projects and 20 participants, composed of up-and-coming film industry executives, curators and cultural managers from 17 countries including Ukraine, Belarus, Poland, the Czech Republic, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Croatia, Hungary, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Lithuania, Bulgaria, Denmark, Bangladesh, Switzerland and Germany.

In the program’s opening session, participants emphasized the need for creative cooperation across borders between the Eastern Partnership countries and the EU, given the fraught political situations in a number of European countries.

SOFA’s 2022-2023 project selection includes business and institutional projects focused on environmental activism, mental health in the film industry, film education, indigenous cultures, sustainability, inclusion and accessibility, and the preservation of independent film journalism and criticism, as well as remote learning.

Projects are selected based on their “quality and practicability” in evolving the film culture and industry in their countries of origin and should “carry the ambition to foster structural change or new forms of cooperation in the regional film landscape.”

Projects include Cinema Nutsa from documentary filmmaker and 2021 Sundance/Berlinale alumna Salomé Jashi (Georgia), which aims to establish the first arthouse cinema in Tbilisi; the creation of a Council for Audiovisual Production in Azerbaijan by Gunel Gadirova; and Sane Cinema from Louise Højgaard Johansen (Denmark/Czech Republic), an international consultancy focusing on mental health in the film industry and developing tools for organisations and individuals. Other projects include Warszawa\Praga Studio, a digital media and video production facility connected to the redevelopment of a gritty neighborhood in Warsaw, and MoreFilm.Fun by Olga Zhurzhenko and Sia Titova (Ukraine/Poland), a distribution company focused on children’s content.

SOFA’s intensive one-year program, comprised of three focused workshops complimented by regular virtual sessions, aims to support, nurture, and bring to fruition the “dream projects” of the participants, who apply with a specific project plan in the fields of distribution, education, funding, exhibition, curation, or criticism. The projects are then tracked over the course of the year, with each of the intensive workshops focusing on project development, marketing strategies, as well as financing and business plans.

SOFA director Nikolaj Nikitin said: “Projects supporting activism, free expression or the establishment of institutions that help evolving pan-regional cultural industries are highly valued by SOFA this year. In challenging times, together with the development of new companies and independent institutions, it’s a clear priority to support projects that conceive of film and AV-Media as a force for free speech, resistance and strengthening through our common work the civil society.”

Added Berenika Partum, SOFA project manager for Poland/Hungary: “The heart of SOFA is to nurture and connect the human infrastructure that can support a positive, cooperative impact of a film industry and culture across Europe and further.”

SOFA’s decision makers include Ewa Puszczyńska (Poland), producer of the films “Cold War” and “Ida”; Tine Klint (Denmark), founder of sales agent and aggregator LevelK; Jan Naszewski (Poland) of New Europe Film Sales; Iza Kiszka-Hoflik IKH Pictures Production (Poland); Michal Bregant (Czech Republic), CEO of Národní filmový archiv, Prague, and President of ACE – Association des Cinémathèques Européennes; Karel Och (Czech Republic), artistic director of Karlovy Vary International Film Festival; Marit Van Den Elshout (The Netherlands), former Head of IFFR Pro; Jay Rinsky (U.S.), who runs Little Cinema; producer Peter Rommel (Germany); and former head of the Israel Film Fund Katriel Schory.

The 2022-23 SOFA participants are:

  • Leonid Kalitenya and Natalia Bruzhnik (Belarus / Lithuania) with the project BFN – Belarussian
    Filmmakers Network
  • Dániel Botos and Máté Körösi (Hungary) with the project CinemaJam
  • Bibesh Roy and Arifur Rahman Khan (Bangladesh) with the project TALKIES – A Cinematic Pleasure
  • Olga Zhurzhenko and Sia Titova (Ukraine / Poland) with the project MoreFilm.Fun
  • Pavel Ruzyak (Czech Republic) with the project Filming without Barriers
  • Gunel Gadirova (Azerbaijan) with the project Council for Audiovisual Production
  • Salomé Jashi (Georgia) with the project Cinema Nutsa
  • Grzegorz Czyż (Poland) with the project Warszawa\Praga Studio
  • Louise Højgaard Johansen (Denmark/ Czech Republic) with the project Sane Cinema
  • Elena Rubashevska (Ukraine / Poland) with the project IFCH – International Film Critics Hub
  • Teimuraz Chkhvimiani (Georgia) with the project Deli Residency at Svaneti IFF
  • Joanna Wyrwa (Poland) with the project Film for Better
  • Nadejda Koseva (Bulgaria) with the project CITE – Cinema International Teenage Education
  • Aleksandar Arsovski (North Macedonia/Croatia) with the project Short Fits – Film Market
  • Danijela Radulović (Montenegro) with the project PROFILMIA LAB – Virtual Film Lab
  • Anja Mayer (Germany / Switzerland) with the project My Remote Knowledge Guide