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REPORT: Sofia Meetings 2015

by David González

The 12th edition of Sofia Meetings, which took place from 12-15 March at the 19th Sofia International Film Festival, welcomed a total of 33 projects at various stages of development. Sixteen works were split between two pitching sections: Second Films Projects for the directors’ sophomore efforts, and Plus Minus One Projects for their first and third films. In the meantime, another 17 projects were included in the parallel Projects in Bank section, without pitching sessions. The event handed out five awards – two in the first section and another three in the second one.


Ali Jaberansari’s The Ladder (photo)
(Hungarian Filmlab Award for Best Project in the Second Films Projects programme – consisting of €10,000 in post-production services)

The Ladder is Jaberansari’s second film. After his 2013 title Falling Leaves, named Best International Newcomer at California’s Tiburon IFF, the Iranian-born, London-based filmmaker goes back to his ancestors’ homeland. The film is set in a traditional village in Northern Iran – a place that does not have a mosque and where, instead, a tall wooden ladder is used by Moazzen to climb onto the roof of his house and recite the call to prayer three times a day… but the ladder has also come to serve other less celestial purposes. The filmmaker intends to portray the collision between a theocratic imposed way of life and people’s creative solutions to living their own lives, citing stylistic inspiration sources such as Elia Suleiman and Aki Kaurismaki. Starring a non-professional cast and produced by UK-based Duccio Chiarini (the director of Short Skin, shown at Venice 2014’s Biennale College - Cinema section) and Babak Jalali for Here & There Productions, the film has already got half of its $222,000 budget in place, and was looking for German and French co-producers.

Dragomir Sholev’s Pig
(YAPIMLAB Young Producer Award – consisting of €5,000 for a one-week project consultancy in Istanbul and presentation to Turkish producers)

Pig is Sholev’s second film, after his successful debut feature, Shelter, which went on to win both the Best International Film and the Best Bulgarian Film Awards at the 2010 Sofia International Film Festival. The film tells a story of school bullying, focused on 13-year-old Pig, who is constantly targeted by the attacks of his classmates, and who runs away from his own life, just to find out what is really inside it. The director, also the producer alongside Elena Mosholova for Gorilla Film, wants to depict how the identity of each person is shaped through connecting with others, and what lies behind all of that. The film, now at its early stage (developing its first draft, after attending Script & Pitch at Torino Film Lab) and with 5% of its $210,000 budget in place, was mainly looking for technical co-production and post-production partners.

Kristina Grozeva’s The Father

One part of the filmmaking duo responsible for one of the most successful Bulgarian films in recent years, The Lesson, will be back behind the camera with her second film, The Father. This time around, Grozeva has chosen a story about a father, a son and a dead mother who apparently phoned a neighbour to pass a message on to them, one meant to fulfil her last wish (a very worldly one). Grozeva intends to tackle the topics of miscommunication and misunderstanding in a post-communist society, through a deadpan comedy-style road movie. The cast is already in place (with Ivan Barnev and Ivan Savov already attached), while the €262,322 budget is yet to be found. Produced by Grozeva herself and Petar Valchanov for Abraxas Film, the movie was looking for film funds interested in financing it, as well as co-producers and partners for the next stages.

Dimitar Kotzev’s My Father, My Mother, My Sister

Kotzev (Lora from Morning till Evening, 2011) returns to the feature-film field after working in TV and documentaries. His project My Father, My Mother, My Sister centres on a family (two teenage sisters, one father and two mothers, living in different houses) after their lives are turned upside down because of the father’s coma after undergoing a routine operation. With this film, the director asks whether death can represent the ultimate act of love, although the movie doesn’t aim to be the undisputed judge on this matter, as it only gives one of the possible answers. The title, budgeted at €530,200, has already got €320,000 in place and is looking for the rest. Produced by Kotzev himself and Nayo Titzin for Spotlight, the shoot is scheduled to start this summer.

Tom Shoval’s Shake Your Cares Away (photo)

Israeli filmmaker Shoval is preparing his second film, Shake Your Cares Away. After his debut, Youth (2013), the director has decided to film a moral and ethical dilemma by following Alma, who leads a double life as the daughter of the richest family in Israel and a modest volunteer in a soup kitchen. The personal experiences of the director himself led him to be interested in this idea, invoking Ingrid Bergman’s moral journey in Roberto Rossellini’s Europe ’51. The film, produced by Gal Greenspan for Green Productions and Sol Bondy for One Two Films, is budgeted at €1,800,000 and has already got €750,000 in place, from Israel. The team was looking for financing and a French partner, mainly.

Milko Lazarov’s Dora

Bulgarian director Lazarov, whose Alienation was selected for Venice Days 2013 and whose other project, Nanook (read more), one of the biggest in development in Bulgaria at the moment, finds itself in pre-production, is also trying to find partners for Dora. A film about beauty, both physical and emotional, it tells the story of an 80-year-old actress and her relationship with a couple of younger ones. Citing Tennessee Williams’ Portrait of a Madonna as an inspiration, the film is produced by Veselka Kiryakova for Red Carpet, has a €500,000 budget (still to be found), and was looking for co-producers (except France and Germany, which they have already got covered) and partners for the final stages.

Árpád Bogdán’s Genesis

Hungarian filmmaker Bogdán, known for his 2007 film Happy New Life, selected in the Berlinale’s Panorama section, is back with Genesis. A film about the concept of family, in all its possible shapes and sizes, Genesis takes a look at three different characters: a middle-class woman who tries to become a mother, a Roma boy who loses his family and a teenage girl who lives in the midst of her dysfunctional family. The film, produced by Andrea Taschler for Mirage Film Studio (already a producer for the Isaach de Bankolé starrer Mirage), is budgeted at €1,200,000, €15,000 of which is already in place for script development. The team was looking for co-producers.

Valentin Hotea’s I Hate Berlin

Hotea premiered his debut film, Roxanne, at Locarno in 2013 and has been working ever since on the idea for his next movie. Curiously titled I Hate Berlin, he intends it to be a dark, bittersweet comedy inspired by his own personal experiences while living in the German capital. The script follows a character well into his midlife crisis, swinging between Bucharest and Berlin and two women. Set in three different places (both cities and an ecovillage near the latter one), the film is being produced by Ada Solomon and Ioana Draghici for Hi Film Productions (a usual partner of Radu Jude's, recent Best Director winner at the Berlinale). The budget is €1,200,000, €8,000 of which has already been granted by the Romanian CNC. The film was mainly looking for German co-producers, as it is still at an early stage.


Grigol Abashidze’s Neighbours (photo)
(Focusfox Studio Award for Best Project in the Plus Minus One Projects programme – consisting of €10,000 in post-production services)

Georgia’s Abashidze, the director of several short films, is now ready for his first feature, Neighbours. The film, which takes place in one of the yards of Old Tbilisi, depicts the relationships between a group of neighbours living in the surrounding buildings, an apparently big, happy family whose situation changes rapidly when an investor comes and offers them a large sum of money for their houses. The concept, based on actual events that happened to the film's co-writer, has been chosen by Abashidze in order for him to tackle issues such as the clash between society and the individual, and the struggle for dignity. The film is produced by Lasha Khalvashi and Tinatin Kajrishvili (the director of 2014's well-received, Berlinale-premiered Brides) for Artizim and Gemini, and has already achieved pre-agreements with well-known Georgian actors. The project was granted funds by the Georgian NFC, and half of its €400,00 budget is already in place. The team was mainly looking for co-production and post-production support.

Hüseyin Karabey’s Misty Illumination
(Synchro Film, Video & Audio Special Mention – consisting of €5,000 in post-production services)

After the success of his second film, Come to My Voice, which was awarded the Cineuropa Prize at the Istanbul Film Festival, among other accolades garnered from all around the world, Karabey is preparing Misty Illumination. The filmmaker has decided to talk about the problems created by the conflict between the Turkish state and Kurdish guerrillas over the last 30 years through the story of a hospital, its emergency patients and its doctors, who represent the incommunication and injustices of Turkish society. Referred to as a claustrophobic tale à la Lars Von Trier's The KingdomMisty Illumination has Karabey and Su Baloglu on board as producers for Asi Film. The film is budgeted at €455,300, and since it is at a very early stage (the first draft of the script is almost ready), it was looking for French and German co-producers.

Francesco Costabile’s The T Factor (photo)
(Mediterranean Film Institute Award – consisting of a scholarship by the MFI to participate in the MFI Script 2 Film Workshops)

Italian filmmaker Costabile is readying his first feature after having won Best Short at the David di Donatello Awards for his short film Dentro Roma. The T Factor will explore the issue of sexual identity and transgenderism, as it tells a story about development and personal discovery through the character of a teacher who leads a normal life as a man while he is outside his house but who becomes a woman when his home's walls separate him from the world. The film, produced by Alessandra Grilli for Controra Film, has €10,000 of its total budget of €1,000,000 in place, and was looking for co-producers (especially from Eastern European countries, given the origin of the main character), as well as training, funds and development support.

Emmanouil Oikonomou's Border Line

Greek filmmaker Oikonomou, who has until now directed short films, is eyeing Border Line as his first feature. The film, a modern socio-political drama based on real events, follows a wife and mother in her 40s, as well as her family, who have been involved in a scandal related to genetically modified food in the countryside. Oikonomou wants to depict the changes and the conflict inherent in these lives that have now been turned upside down, in a film produced by Athanasia Michopoulou for Inkas Film Production and budgeted at €520,000, with 20% already in place, thanks to grants from the Greek Film Center. The team was looking for co-producers, chiefly in Scandinavia.

Sonia Lisa Kenterman's Tailor

With Tailor, Greek-German director Kenterman is preparing an intimate movie set against the epic backdrop of the economic crisis in Greece. It is about a master tailor whose family's shop is a failing business, and who decides to come back to rural Greece to find a better way to live. Kenterman wants to depict how people can find their way out of the system after it turns against them. The film, produced by Fenia Cossovitsa for Blonde, has 10% of its €800,000 budget already and was looking for co-producers. 

Giedre Beinoriute's Breathing into Marble

After making a name for herself in the documentary world with films such as Conversations on Serious Topics, Lithuania's official Oscar entry for Best Foreign-language Film in 2013, Beinoriute has her first fiction project in her sights, entitled Breathing into Marble. The film is a psychological analysis of a woman's soul, through the story of a lady, with an epileptic son, who decides to adopt the meanest and most secretive boy in a foster home. The screenplay is based on the eponymous novel by Lithuanian author Laura Sintija Cerniauskaite. The film is produced by Dagne Vildziuanaite for Just A Moment and has €290,000 out of its €620,000 budget in place, as well as interest from German and Latvian co-producers. The team was looking for co-producers and financiers.

Terry McMahon's The Dancehall Bitch

Charlie Casanova and Patrick's Day are the first and second pictures by Irish filmmaker McMahon, who now wishes to produce his third film, The Dancehall Bitch. The film tells the story of a frustrated writer and dreamer who finds himself tangled up in a criminal act in order to look for inspiration for his new book. The director will attempt to generate complex emotional outrage and substantial debate around moral, philosophical and sexual manipulation. The film, produced by Tim Palmer for Ignition Film Productions, was looking for European co-producers. At the moment, it has already secured €400,000 from the Irish Film Board, thus making a considerable dent in its €1,150,000 budget.

György Kristóf's Out (photo)

One of the biggest projects to take part in Sofia Meetings, first-time Hungarian filmmaker Kristóf's Out already spans five different countries in terms of production outfits. The film is produced by Marek Urban for Sentimentalfilm and co-produced by Andrea Taschler for Mirage Film Studio, Guillaume de Seille for Arizona Production, Jiri Konecny for Endorfilm and Ivo Cepleivcs for Film Angels Studio. The project has been selected for the prestigious Cannes 2015 Atelier, which takes place in the coming month of May, and recounts the odyssey of a 50-year-old wandering through Eastern Europe from job to job and life to life, caught up in a whirlwind of absurd events. Out of its €1,200,000 budget, the film has €112,000 in place, and was looking for more funding and co-producers.

And there were more Sofia Meetings prizes: two selected producers have won themselves free accreditation for the Producers Network at the Cannes Film Market, one project was selected at the Moscow Business Square, and another project was selected at the Crossroads Co-Production Forum. The industry section of the Sofia IFF also included a screening programme of works in progress and panels for professionals, such as the one led by Europa Distribution (read more).

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