In some ways it’s a year of transition for the Sarajevo Film Festival, which sees former industry head and co-director Jovan Marjanović take the helm as festival director, while long-time staffer Maša Marković takes over as head of industry. For Marković, who began her career at the long-running Bosnian fest 15 years ago, the change “was kind of organic,” offering the kind of smooth transition that has allowed Sarajevo to retain its position as the leading industry confab in Southeast Europe.
For nearly three decades, the festival has identified and launched local talent while serving as a think tank of sorts for the region’s rapidly evolving screen industries. This year’s CineLink Industry Days program will stick to that time-tested formula, even as it tries to adjust to dramatic shifts in the way that content in the region and around the globe is being produced and distributed.
The disruptions of recent years are almost impossible to overstate. Just as producers had begun to adapt to the swift rise of streaming services as dominant players in the market, along came the coronavirus pandemic to seemingly rewrite the rules on the fly. For the past two years, festivals and markets — no less than the filmmakers they serve — have been struggling to find their footing.
“I think it’s challenging for any kind of market to find its way and find its relevance,” Marković tells Variety on the eve of the 28th edition of the festival, which runs Aug. 12 — 20. “We have built such a hub to nurture [local] talents and to follow them. From our point of view, we need to be a bridge between those talents we have been supporting…and also serve the needs of the [global] companies that are accessing the market in Southeast Europe.”
This week marks the first time since 2019 that the Sarajevo Film Festival will host a full-fledged, physical event, with industry executives from around the world bringing the buzz back to the terrace of the historic Hotel Europe, which hosts the bulk of the CineLink Industry Days events.
While certain online elements of the past two hybrid editions are likely to be incorporated into future festivals, industry talks, one-on-one meetings, pitching sessions and works-in-progress screenings will all take place in Sarajevo, with Marković insisting: “We really believe that the industry needs to gather and exchange ideas.”
Festival leadership expects a turn-out on par with the last, record-breaking, pre-pandemic event in 2019. Roughly 20% of this year’s industry guests will be newcomers, including executives from Vimeo and WeTransfer, while global players such as Mediawan and Fremantle are among the roster of high-profile attendees making the trip to the Bosnian capital. “They recognize that we are the place to discover this part of the world,” said Marković.
This year the influential CineLink Co-Production Market celebrates its 20th anniversary and will present nine new feature film projects from the region currently in development, while the event’s Drama strand will showcase seven new dramatic series.
A new wrinkle at this year’s event will be the Female Voices CineLink Award, which will be given to one project in development participating in the CineLink Co-Production or Drama strands, where according to Marković more than half of the projects are typically produced by women, while 65% are directed by men. “We wanted to establish an award that’s really supporting female directors and writers, and also to encourage them more,” she said.
Such initiatives, as well as the newly launched CineLink Producers’ Lab – a training and networking program for 19 young producers from around the region – reflect the ongoing efforts by Sarajevo’s industry team to nurture creative talent in the Balkans and beyond, allowing not only the region’s filmmakers but the festival itself to keep pace with a rapidly changing landscape.
Proof of its ability to adapt to the times lies in the growing CineLink Drama strand, which has become the premiere event to pitch, finance and launch dramatic series from the region. Recent success stories include “The Last Socialist Artefact,” created by Croatia’s Ankica Juric Tilic, which won the best series award in the International Panorama at Series Mania last year, and “The Silence,” a Croatian-Ukrainian crime drama produced by Croatian broadcaster HRT and Zagreb-based Drugi Plan, which was picked up by HBO Max.
This year Oscar winner Danis Tanović (“No Man’s Land”) and former Sarajevo industry head Amra Bakšić Čamo will debut their new crime drama “The Hollow” in Avant Premiere Series, the festival’s sidebar showcasing six hotly anticipated regional drama series.
Those premieres will get the same red-carpet treatment as feature films in Sarajevo, with the festival also expanding its Heart of Sarajevo Awards in recent years to include TV productions. It’s a reflection of the way prestige drama has gained in influence and artistic value in the region, something that Marković only wants to encourage. “We need to help work on the co-production of series in the same way that we helped to establish co-productions in the fiction field, that we have been doing for 20 years,” she said. “It’s a different market. It’s really a very unique position for emerging producers in the region.”
Seizing this moment is the driving force behind what Marković and her colleagues are trying to achieve, a task for which the Balkan event is uniquely suited. “We can use the power of all the professionals coming to Sarajevo to help grow a new generation of producers. And producers who will be working differently,” she said. “There is a logic behind it. It has a long-term plan to build the industry in the region.”