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REPORT: Sofia Meetings 2017

by Stefan Dobroiu

One of the most relevant industry platforms in Eastern Europe, Sofia Meetings, an event hosted by the Sofia International Film Festival, reached its 14th edition this year. Among other industry events, Sofia Meetings welcomed 25 projects in development, 15 of them presented across two pitching sessions, Second Film Projects, aptly consisting of directors' second features, and Plus Minus One Projects, consisting of either first or third features by the selected filmmakers. A third section, Projects in Bank, presented another ten projects. For the first time, Sofia Meetings also hosted a First Films First event (see the news), where eight first film projects were pitched to the invited film professionals.

Here is an overview of the projects presented. 

Second Film Projects


Director Sharon Bar Ziv and producer Marek Rozenbaum presenting Love Your Neighbour

Love Your NeighbourSharon Bar Ziv (Israel)
Focusfox Studio Award (€10,000 in post-production services)
Written and directed by Sharon Bar Ziv, and produced by Marek Rozenbaum, the project was presented as a “social drama about a single mother facing difficult times”. The protagonist will fall victim to her neighbours' machinations: wanting her apartment in order to open a store, the not so neighbourly family will start causing the protagonist all manner of problems. They will even convince the social services to take away her five-year-old son. The story also has a political aspect, as, according to the director, "there are 200,000 single mothers in Israel, and they are treated very badly by the state". The director also said, "Making this film for me is a mission, because the state can interfere in anyone's life, and we must fight this." As for the visual aspect, he plans to use long shots and close-ups. Producer Rozenbaum said a funding application will soon be submitted to the Israel Film Fund in order to cover at least part of the €700,000 budget. The team is looking for co-production partners.

One and a Half PrinceAna Lungu (Romania)
EastWest Filmdistribution Award (script consultancy equal to €5,000)
Written by Ana Lungu and produced by Anca Puiu for Mandragora, One and a Half Prince reflects one of the hottest topics currently under discussion in Romania: millions signed a petition asking for a change to the Romanian Constitution so that the family would be specifically defined as a legal relationship between a man and a woman. Lungu’s second feature-length project shows "not a traditional family, but a family nevertheless: a single woman, a father and his daughter, and their gay friend and his dog". Producer Raluca Păduraru, representing Mandragora, said that half of the approximately €900,000 budget was in place. As the screenplay includes a Hungarian character, a Hungarian co-production partner would be welcome, but Hungary is not the only country where Mandragora is searching for partners.


Creative partner Slava Doytcheva and director Ralitza Petrova presenting Dust

DustRalitza Petrova (Bulgaria)
YAPIMLAB Young Producer Award (project consultancy equal to €5,000)
The winner of the Golden Leopard with Godless (which also scooped the top award at the Sofia International Film Festival on Saturday – read the news), Ralitza Petrova ventures into dark comedy territory with her second feature, the story of an unhealthy relationship between a mother and her son. The mother is a rich hypochondriac and, fearing death, she forces her 40-something, deeply insecure son to take care of her. Petrova plans to cast non-professional actors. She also plans to use the mother's apartment as a third character in order to explore the concept of "prison": a prison of the body, but also a prison of the mind. "It is a story about the prisons we build ourselves because we believe we don’t deserve anything more," the director said, adding that this portrait of a family is also relevant to the mindset of Bulgaria's "lost generation", those who were teenagers during the transition from communism to democracy. The micro- to low-budget project is being produced by Poli Angelova. Production companies Aporia Filmworks and Screening Emotions are now searching for co-production partners. 

BedriddenByamba Sakhya (Mongolia)
Presented by director Byamba Sakhya and producer Ariunaa Tserenpil, Bedridden is set in modern-day Ulan Bator, where a 27-year-old writer decides to become bedridden. Sakhya said his feature would explore the sentiment of love – both love of others and love of oneself – but also the relationship between two generations of Mongolian society, as the protagonist's parents also play an important part in the story. Sakhya plans to make his film highly atmospheric, using hand-held cameras. For at least one character, he will use POV shots. The film is being produced by Guru Media, with a budget of circa €400,000.

GaumarjosGeorge Varsimashvili (Georgia)
The director, writer and producer of this comedy, George Varsimashvili, explained that the film's title, which in Georgian means "victory", is often used in drinking toasts. With the tagline "Finding light in the darkness", the story is set in the 1990s, in Tbilisi, focusing on the misadventures of a group of young people. The project was presented as an ensemble film based in a city where every day there are power cuts, while the lack of water and gas is omnipresent. But amidst these harsh conditions, young people living in poverty still find ways to entertain themselves. Gaumarjos is conceived as a series of storylines separated by sequences in which the main characters express their feelings through toasts. "I am trying to make this film as international as possible," said the director, adding that he planned to shoot it next year. As the film has French characters, a French co-production partner may soon be attached to the project. The budget amounts to €270,000.

GingkoGábor Rohonyi and Monika Mecs (Hungary)
Based on real events that happened 17 years ago, the story will explore how one can move on following a tragic situation. Hungarian director Gábor Rohonyi said his film was inspired by a violent car accident: an Irish driver kills two Hungarian children on the road. The Hungarian parents and the driver's family meet only once, with their distinct calvaries forming the backbone of the screenplay. "Our aim is to have an objective view, so that the viewers have their own opinion on the matter. We want to explore as much truth as we can from both sides of the story," said Rohonyi, adding that half of the events in his film actually happened in reality, while the rest is fiction. Producer Andras Muhi said that €1 million of the €1.27 million budget had been granted by the Hungarian Film Fund. Part of the film will be shot in Ireland. 

Nobody Likes MeTomáš Weinreb and Petr Kazda (France/Czech Republic)
Staged by French producer Guillaume de Seille, of Arizona Productions, the movie follows what happens after a young woman and a young man meet. They start dating, but they seem to have problems with being intimate with each other. Relationships with strict parents, certain aspects of sexuality, and the image we have of love and happiness will also be explored in the feature. Describing the project as a "strange story set in the present day", de Seille said the first draft of the script would be finished in a few weeks. The team is eyeing spring next year for the shoot. The budget amounts to between €1.2 million and €1.4 million, with €500,000 already in place. The project is also being produced by Czech production companies Love.FRAME and Black Balance.

Plus Minus One Projects 

The team behind The Tentmaster's Daughter with their Danny Lerner Award

The Tentmaster's DaughterIsabel Anderton (United Kingdom)
Nu Boyana Film Studios "The Danny Lerner Award" – Grand Prix for Best Project (€50,000 in post-production services and €5,000 in soft money)
The story of a teenage girl, Jess, who joins her estranged father and his new family in their life with a travelling circus, The Tentmaster's Daughter is based on real events. Isabel Anderton said that she wanted to convey both the glamour of the circus show and the grittiness of the day-to-day life of the circus. "I want to show the audience aspects of the circus life that they have no chance to see," she said, adding that a consultant who has been a circus tentmaster for ten years would help the film's team to achieve the most authentic look. For the actress playing the protagonist, Anderton wants a new face, so she plans on organising street castings for this part. Producer Christine Hartland said the screenplay was at an advanced stage of writing. The budget amounts to €1 million, and the production company is Patchwork Productions.


Co-writer Decho Taralezhkov presenting Black Money for White Nights

Black Money for White NightsKristina Grozeva and Petar Valchanov (Bulgaria)
Presented by Petar Valchanov as an "unromantic, post-communist tragi-comedy", the title of Black Money for White Nights originates from a word play on a popular expression in Eastern Europe, "white money for black days", which refers to money intended to be used when a family faces a problem. Co-writer Decho Taralezhkov (also a co-writer on the directorial duo's latest feature, Glory) said the story followed Georgi and Marina, an ageing, childless couple. In order to fulfil their dream of enjoying the White Nights in Saint Petersburg, the couple start using shady methods in order to raise the amount needed for their trip. A series of misadventures and revelations about their past will hijack their plans. Valchanov said the three writers were currently writing the first draft of the screenplay. The two main actors have already been confirmed, and the team plans to submit the screenplay in the grant competition organised by the Bulgarian National Film Center. Valchanov also said that this Abraxas Film production would not round off the "paper-clippings trilogy" that began with The Lesson and continued with Glory, but "might start a new trilogy". 

Going BlindHaci Orman (Turkey)
A €1.2 million project, Going Blind follows Sinan, a blind musician. Desperately yearning to see, he agrees to undergo an experimental operation carried out by a famous surgeon, but he will find himself stuck between the world of seeing and the world of touching. The director presented the surgeon as the antagonist of the film. "I believe the conflict between doctors and patients is very important," he said, adding that the protagonist's blindness would deeply influence not only the visual aspect of the film, but also the sound mixing. The audience will experience how Sinan sees the world, as empathy for his handicap is of paramount importance in terms of directorial approach. "The camera will be very close to the actors, prying deep into the emotions of their characters," Orman said. The exploration of the fragility of human existence is another purpose of the story. Producer Nermin Aytekin said that the project had received funding from the Turkish Ministry of Culture. She is now negotiating with a Turkish television channel for the film's broadcasting rights. Production companies Praksis Film and Sade Cinema are attached, but co-production partners are needed.

HoldMikel Gurrea (Spain/Iceland)
Directed by Mikel Gurrea and produced by Eva Sigurdardottir, Hold focuses on the generous topic of teenage resilience. The director presented his story as an "initiation story based on a personal experience". The protagonist is Alex, an insecure 15-year-old climber, who faces a threefold challenge: his relationship with Sara, the girl he is attracted to, his relationship with his coach, and a climbing competition. A co-production between Iceland (Askja Films) and Spain (Irusoin), Hold will be shot in San Sebastián, with a significant part of the story expected to be shot in Germany. A German co-production partner is needed, but Sigurdardottir said the team was open to companies from other countries, too.

Nights and DaysKonstantin Bojanov (Bulgaria)
Selected in the festival's competition with his second feature, Light Thereafter, Konstantin Bojanov presented the family drama Nights and Days, described as "a radical departure for me in filmmaking". The feature centres on Hristo, a young gay man who falls victim to a vicious homophobic attack in a small town. His mother, Vera, decides it's high time the family moves to more gay-friendly Sofia, so that her son can enjoy a normal life. Hristo thrives in Sofia, but the same thing cannot be said about Vera. Bojanov said he didn't see Nights and Days as a social drama, but rather as an endeavour "to dissect humanity with the help of a few characters". A feature about trust, Nights and Days is being eyed by Bojanov as the first film in a trilogy, with the other two films dealing with the topics of hatred and love, respectively. Producer Katya Trichkova said the film may be shot in the autumn of 2018, with a budget of €500,000. Contrast Film is the production company.

Protected SpeciesHristo Simeonov (Bulgaria)
Another title being produced by Katya Trichkova through Contrast Film, Protected Species originates from the real-life experiences of two forest rangers in the context of Bulgaria's alarmingly increasing illegal deforestation. "I want to tell the story of the battles that average people are fighting today in order to hang on to their moral values," said Simeonov, adding that he favoured a naturalistic, almost documentary-like directorial approach. Katya Trichkova presented the project as the story of a contemporary hero in a society that doesn't need heroes. The film focuses on Nikola, a 40-something forest ranger who clashes with a small-town oligarch in order to save the local forests. The €500,000 project will be shot in a provincial town near the Balkan Mountains.

Sincerely Mine (The Diary of My Holidays in Sicily) Alfredo Covelli (Italy/France)
Born while director Alfredo Covelli was producing a documentary about Palermo gangsters, Sincerely Mine is a love story between two very different teenagers. One is Salvatore, a thief climbing the ladder in the Sicilian Mafia, and the other is Marianne, the daughter of a French intellectual visiting Sicily on her family's yacht. They may seem different, but they are so very similar, says Covelli, who plans to unfold their love story over the course of seven days. The cast is already attached, and shooting is planned for the summer of 2018. Producer Dominique Marzotto said that virtually the entire budget was in place. The production companies are Meproducodasolo and TBC Productions.

Vassilis ArvanitisEirini Vachlioti and Panagiotis Kleitharas (Greece)
An adaptation of a Stratis Myrivilis novella of the same name, the feature is set on the island of Lesbos at the beginning of the last century. Greece is still under Ottoman rule, and Greeks and Turks live together on the island, but the Greeks are increasingly discontent with the political situation. Presented by Vachlioti as an existential drama, the project centres on the title character, a young man unable to observe the rules of any social system. "The film's structure is that of a modern Greek tragedy," said Vachlioti. As for co-director Panagiotis Kleitharas, he said the feature is a "manifesto to bring back poetic realism", while exploring "man's inner thirst for freedom". Planned to be shot in black and white, Vassilis Arvanitis has a budget of circa €850,000. The production company is View Master Films.

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