REPORT: Sofia Meetings 2016
by Stefan Dobroiu
The 13th edition of Sofia Meetings took place from 17-20 March as part of the 20th Sofia International Film Festival. Among a plethora of industry events, the edition welcomed 26 projects in development, 13 of them presented across two pitching sessions, Second Film Projects, consisting of directors' second features, and Plus Minus One Projects, consisting of either first or third projects by the invited directors. A third section, Projects in Bank, presented another 13 projects.
SECOND FILM PROJECTS:
Agnieszka Smoczyńska's The Fugue (Poland)
(Focusfox Studio Award equal to €10,000 in post-production services)
Written by Gabriela Muskala (also the leading actress), directed by Agnieszka Smoczyńska and produced by Agniesyka Kurzydło, The Fugue centres on an amnesic woman, Alicja, who wanders the streets of a big city. After a petty crime, she is arrested and the police force her to choose between prison and mental treatment. After a young doctor discovers her family, Alicja is surprised to find out that she has a husband and son, but she also realises she doesn't want her former life back. The style of the film, the sound design and visual elements will emphasise the difference between the protagonist's new and former lives. The director said she "would like the audience to wonder what would happen if they lost their memory", while the producer described the film as an "art-house film with genre elements". The budget amounts to €1.5 million, with €700,000 in place. The team plans to shoot next winter in a big city, but "not necessarily Warsaw".
Svetla Tsotsorkova's Sister (Bulgaria)
(Hungarian Filmlab Award equal to €10,000 in post-production services)
Svetla Tsotsorkova, whose first feature Thirst received the Best Bulgarian Feature Film Award in the main competition of the Sofia IFF, is preparing family drama Sister, inspired by the director’s childhood. Growing up in a village, she would invent stories in order to escape her familiar world. The film’s main character is a girl living with her older sister and her mother in a small contemporary town. A daydreamer, the girl tries to make her life more interesting by imagining it differently. One day she invents a story about her sister's boyfriend, shattering her family’s fragile happiness. Tsotsorkova said her film would be a "funny, bright, but also dramatic story". Producer Nadejda Koseva said the project was in very early stages of development. Production company Front Film evaluated the budget at €600,000. The project is currently on the lookout not only for co-production partners, but also for sales agent and distributors.
Vanja Sviličić's Closed to the Public (Croatia)
(YAPIMLAB Young Producer Award, consisting of consultancy in Istanbul and presentation to Turkish producers)
Written and directed by Vanja Sviličić and produced by Maxima Film, the film is based on true events, which, according to the director, show that "Croatian women are still trapped in traditions". It is the story of Tina, a young mother who kills her violent husband during a fight. The film will follow her trial in chronological order, but the heroine's feelings will be revealed through flashbacks channelling dream logic. Sviličić also plans to let secondary characters look at the protagonist directly, showing her point of view. Maxima Film plans to shoot next year in September, with a budget of €1.2 million.
Tina Gharavi's The Good Iranian (UK)
Following her BAFTA-nominated first feature I Am Nasrine, Iranian-born director Tina Gharavi will explore maternal abandonment and the fight between good and evil in the form of an energetic genre film. Centred on Fereshteh, an 18-year-old girl who escapes from Iran and meets her mother in Paris, The Good Iranian is written together with Nicolas Peufaillit (A Prophet) and has a promising tagline: "Iranian. Women. Gangsters". Fereshteh will discover that her mother, Shoreh, whom she hasn't seen since she was ten, is now the leader of a crime syndicate. Gharavi said her film would be a commercial one, made with a wide audience in mind, an audience "who likes crime stories and action, but also Iranian cinema. I am refining tone and keeping the balance of the relationship/family aspect with the crime tension". Produced by UK-based production company Bridge + Tunnel, the film has a budget of €2.5 million. Gharavi hopes to shoot at the end of 2016 or in early 2017. She hasn't ruled out shooting in Bulgaria: "I've seen Bulgaria sitting in for Iran in very good films", she said.
Uri Bar-on's The Untamed Memories (Israel)
Having already secured €600,000 of its €2.8 million-budget, The Untamed Memories is inspired by the life of Marek Hlasko, a Polish writer who wrote the screenplay for Petla, a film selected at Cannes in 1958. The writer's furious statements against the communists resulted the authorities expelling him from Poland and Hlasko finding himself in the underground of Tel Aviv, with a serious case of writer's block. "The film will be his life, but spliced with the adaptation of a short story he wrote after he left Tel Aviv", said the director. The team has cleared rights with the writer's family and is now looking for production partners in Poland and in Eastern Europe. Railroad Film will produce. The screenplay is being developed in the Torino Film Lab, with plans to shoot next spring. "It would be natural to shoot in Israel", said Uri Bar-on.
Eric Boadella's Attila (Spain)
Pitched by producer Hermes Marco, Attila will need €800,000 (€400,000 already in place) to tell the story of Arlet, a young woman who finds out that her father has died, just days before getting married to the man she loves. Her father was a fantasy writer and Arlet's hometown, nestled deep in the Pyrenees, seems to be influenced by his writings. Trying to reconnect with her father and her childhood, Arlet will soon find herself in the forests surrounding the town, forests now filled with the creatures from her father’s imagination. The project's cinematographer, Marco said the film was also about "how we pass from childhood to adulthood renouncing our fantasy in the process". Presented as "a surreal adventure through the hidden magic (or madness) of the Pyrenees", the film is looking to start production in June 2017. The dialogues will be in Spanish, Catalan, French and an invented language. The team is searching for co-producers and a sales agent.
Bogdan Mustata's In Between (Romania)
Following Wolf, his feature film debut selected in competition at the 2013 Sarajevo IFF, Bogdan Mustata is preparing a €550,000 psychological drama about a man, Cristi, and his wife, Cami. Following a car accident, Cristi is in the hospital and has no idea what has happened with his wife. As he now has memory problems, he feels his identity depends on her. Mustata presented the film as a tango between the two protagonists: after the accident their lives are changed and they have to cope with this change, but also they need to re-invent their relationship. The first draft of the screenplay is now finished, with a second draft under way. Producer Marcian Lazar said the team wanted to shoot in Bulgaria, as the Bulgarian seaside has more deserted, flat spaces than the Romanian coast. The team is not only searching for Bulgarian co-producers, but also third party co-producers.
PLUS ONE MINUS ONE PROJECTS:
Dea Kulumbegashvili’s Daisi (Georgia)
(Nu Boyana Studios Award for Best Project in the main sections, consisting of €50,000 in post-production services and €5,000 in cash)
The director’s first feature film, Diasi, which has a €550,000 budget, is set in a little village in the Georgian mountains. Taking place against a background of conflict between Orthodox Christians and an increasingly powerful community of Jehovah’s Witnesses, the film tells the story of a father and son as well that of a man and a woman. Alex, a 40-year-old man, comes back to the village after more than two decades exploring the world as a sports photographer. Alex plans to leave as soon as his ill father dies, but starts a relationship with Yana, a Jehovah's Witness. The director said she was still connected with her childhood village and she had access to the community there. American producer Jim Stark presented the film as a universal story told with the specifics of a certain time and place. The dialogues will be in Georgian. Kulumbegashvili plans to use professional actors for the main roles and amateurs for the rest of the characters.
Goce Cvetanovski's John Vardar vs the Galaxy (Macedonia)
The only animation presented at the 13th edition of Sofia Meetings, the project was described as a "Christmas space opera comedy for the entire family". Cvetanovski’s first feature film centres on the titular character, a "totally un-exceptional man kidnapped by Zark, a narcissistic robot" together with whom he starts a space adventure. When the galaxy is invaded by space pirates, these two unlikely friends will be forced to save it. Cvetanovski said the animation would offer a mix of genres, but would also talk about tolerance, as the woman with whom John Vardar falls in love is an alien. Production should start in September, with English-language dialogues. The team is searching for co-producers for the music and animation and plans to turn the film into a franchise. There are two video games featuring John Vardar that the project can use as marketing tools. The film’s budget amounts to €800,000.
Paolo Borraccetti's Savana Padana (Italy)
A feature film debut developed at Torino Film Lab, the Jump Cut production is determined to create a whole new genre, the "polenta western". Savana Padana is set in Northern Italy, in a small town near Padua, where a statue filled with treasures will spark a brutal clash between the local gangsters of diverse ethnicities. Borraccetti presented the film as a very politically incorrect story inspired by the long years he spent in the US. The screenplay will use the unclear status of the local crime leader as a source of humour. Romanian Gypsies are also involved in the story. The film is now in an advanced stage of development, with a budget of €1.5 million. The team is currently negotiating with RAI Cinema for funding. The main language is Italian, and production should start in summer of 2017. Borraccetti said the satiric elements that define Savana Padana made the film interesting for a wide audience.
Lachezar Avramov's A Picture with Yuki (Bulgaria/Canada/Japan)
A drama mixed with absurd comedy, A Picture with Yuki is Lachezar Avramov's first feature. It centres on a Bulgarian-Japanese couple living in Canada and visiting Bulgaria. While driving their car, the couple hits a Gypsy child: he seems fine after the accident, but he dies the next day. It is the starting point for an analysis of guilt and destiny and how Bulgarians, Gypsies and Japanese deal with these notions. "It's not a story about crime, it's about chance and accidents, and how they affect our lives", said Avramov. Producer Borislav Chouchkov explained the film's title: while visiting the boy's parents, the couple is asked to take a picture of him, so that his family can remember him. Production is slated for autumn, with €540,000 of the €700,000 budget already in place.
Stefan Malešević 's Usud (Serbia)
Usud is the story of a young man who, after his father dies, is discontent with the fact that his brother doesn't help with working the land. He confronts him and the property is split between them, but no matter how hard he works, nature now seems against him: grains don't grow and fruits rot. The protagonist will start searching for Usud, the deity who determines destinies, in a desperate attempt to improve his life. Malešević plans to shoot in "dramatic places" in Bulgaria, Greece or Bosnia. The director also said he would employ magic realism devices to tell this universal story that focuses on the cultural heritage of Balkan countries. The team plans to shoot in 2018. The film's dialogues will be in Old Slavonic. The budget amounts to €515,000.
Konstantin Bojanov's The African Shore (Bulgaria)
The director plans this adaption based on the homonymous novella by Rodrigo Rey Rosa to be the final part of a trilogy started with Ave (2011) and continued with I Want to Be Like You (now in post-production). Set in Tangier, the film will show, from two opposing angles, how someone can escape the prison of their own life. The two characters are Hamsa, a Moroccan shepherd who wants to make a new life in Europe, and Angel, a Colombian copywriter stranded in Tangier after he lost his papers. Bojanov wants to show two parallel stories of men in existential crisis, desperately fighting to change their identity and future. “I reflect upon the world through these two personal stories”, said the director, adding that his film would also touch on the refugee crisis and a more universal theme: chasing utopias.