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REPORT: Sofia Meetings 2014

di Vladan Petkovic

The 11th edition of Sofia Meetings, which took place on 13-16 March at the 18th Sofia International Film Festival, presented 25 projects at various stages of development, split among three sections: Plus Minus One for first and third films by directors, Second Films Projects, and Projects in Bank for films with some funding already in place. Another eight films were presented in the Works in Progress section.

The awards in Second Films Projects went to Paul Negoescu's Never Let It Go from Romania, and Milko Lazarov's Nanook from Bulgaria.

In the Plus Minus One section, Cook, F**k, Kill by Slovakia's Mira Fornay and Dede by Georgia's Miriam Khachvani received prizes.

The Hungarian Filmlab Award for the best project in the Second Films Projects section, worth €10,000 in post-production services, went to Never Let It Go by Paul Negoescu (director and producer) and Radu Stancu (executive producer) from Romania.

Negoescu is known for his multi-award-winning short films Orizont and Derby, and feature film A Month in Thailand, which premiered at the 2012 Venice Critics' Week, and in 2013 won Best Debut in Romanian Film at Cluj. He and Stancu are developing Never Let It Go through his company Papillon Film, and have 20% of the €380,000 budget in place.

The story is about 38-year-old Petru, a man who has been unable to get emotionally involved with any woman since a traumatic break-up with a high-school sweetheart. He is in an on-and-off relationship with a 34-year-old woman, Irina, whom he can rarely achieve an orgasm with and sleeps with other girls. When Irina threatens to leave him, he proposes to her. But when he learns he is going to become the father of a baby girl, Petru panics that she could become a victim of men not unlike himself in the future.

"Since the spreading of online pornography, people tend to dissociate love from sex more and more often," says Negoescu. " Sex addiction, pornography addiction, masturbation addiction make people unhappy more frequently than ever. The film's intention is to study this effect and to provoke a debate on this subject."

According to the director, there will be three explicit sex scenes in the film, but he wants to "treat sex with decency, as a normal act of life, without any chastity nor vulgarity."

The project Nanook by director Milko Lazarov, co-written with Simeon Ventsislavov and produced by Veselka Kiryakova (photo) through the company Red Carpet, received two prizes: the Synchro Film Special Mention for a title in the Second Films Projects section, worth €5,000 in post-production services, and the Mediterranean Film Institute scholarship.

The new film by the director of Alienation, winner of two awards at Venice Days 2013, is a naturalistic story about an Eskimo family and how the modern world concerns their small communities. It looks at how those Eskimos, who are living in conditions that would be unbearable for modern people, have succeeded in conserving the delicacy of their interpersonal relations and perceive life with smiles and sympathy.

"I imagine the film with light narration and with long shots, as a delicate observation with classical vision and compositions of the frame," says Lazarov.

Nanook is an unusual project to come out of Bulgaria, and as Kiryakova told Cineuropa, "The first question we always get is: ‘Why would Bulgarians be making a film about Eskimos?’ Our answer is: ‘Why not?’"

The film has a budget of €700,000.

The Focusfox Studio Post Production Award,worth €10,000 in post-production services for the best project in the Plus Minus One section, went to Cook, F**ck, Kill by Slovakia's Mira Fornay.

Known for Foxes and My Dog Killer, the latter a winner of a Rotterdam Tiger, Fornay is a singular figure in Eastern European cinema. Her new project is just as singular, and has 25% of the €1.1 million budget in place.

The film describes a day in the life of a male perpetrator of domestic violence who does not hesitate to use deceit and terror against others; but these acts ultimately turn against him. The film deals with the tough and serious subject of domestic violence using edgy dark humour and absurdity in the vein of Haneke's and Bunuel's approach.

"I believe that my absurdist drama rendered in this nontraditional form will bring a novel perspective on intimacy, sexuality, violence and especially domestic violence in modern society," says Fornay.

The DIGIMAGE – LVT Post Production Award, worth €10,000 in post-production services for a project in the Plus Minus One section, was given to Dede by Miriam Khachvani from Georgia.  

Set in Svaneti, the highest mountainous part of Georgia, in around 1910-1920, among the people notable for their strict character, traditions, stamina and hospitality, Dede is a story of a young woman who falls in love with her fiancé's friend. She refuses to marry her fiancé in public and wins out over tradition, and the fiancé then kills himself. She marries his friend, they move away from the village and live happily until her mother dies. Her husband heads to the funeral but dies in an accident on the way, and she subsequently comes face to face with numerous admirers, eventually being forced to marry a man who threatens her family. The film takes place over the four seasons of the year, each representing a different stage in human life.

"I think Sofia Meetings is very important for Eastern Europe," Vladimer Katcharava (photo), the producer of Dede, told Cineuropa. "Here you can meet big European studios and sales agents, which is sometimes impossible in Berlin or Cannes. The pitchings are cleverly organised and are good not only for finding funding, but also for spreading awareness of the projects, which will later make it easier for them to get into festivals."

Radu Stancu, the executive producer of Never Let It Go, agrees. "We had 15 one-on-one meetings with potential co-producers and post-production companies. We got a lot of useful feedback, as we don't have the script yet, and we are sure some of these producers will join us on the project."

Veselka Kiryakova, the young producer of Nanook, said: "The pitchings were very important for me because I am not experienced at this kind of thing and it was stressful at first, presenting the project in front of so many people. We are still developing the script, but now I am confident in the project, as we received two awards and there is a good energy around it."


The rest of the Second Films Projects included:

Bulgarian film Call Me Shakespeare, by writer-director Valeri Yordanov, and producers Borislav Chouchkov and Maria Metodieva. The second film by the director of Sneakers has €20,000 of the €850,000 budget in place and is a story of a young man of 17 who has two exceptional talents: theatre and boxing. He has been adopted by an ex-convict and quickly has to find money to save the life of the man who has adopted him. It is being developed through production company Chouchkov Brothers.

Lithuanian project Dancers Without Defects by director Ignas Jonynas (who debuted with the acclaimed The Gambler), co-written with Kristupas Sabolius and produced by Ramojus Petrauskas and Aurimas Pukevicius through outfit Revoliucios Ideja, and budgeted at €1.16 million, is an ironic thriller about a blind dancer, who is involved in a TV dance contest and forced to confront his past crimes. The film deals with the relationship between truth, deception and manipulation in the media era.

I Want to Be Like You, by Bulgaria's Konstantin Boyanov (director of the 2011 festival hit Ave), and producer Mila Voinikova, through Multfilm and KB Projects East, has €715,000 of its €1.4 million budget in place. The road movie tells the story of Pavel, a 16-year-old who lives in London and dreams of becoming an artist like his idol, the legendary French painter Arnaud. When his mother's new boyfriend invites her to join his band on tour, she decides to send Pavel back to Bulgaria. But he has his own plan, and goes on to Amsterdam, Paris and finally Provence, looking for his secluded idol.

The US-French-Italian-Canadian co-production The Whale by director Andrea Pallaoro, known for last year's Venice prizewinner Medeas, co-written with Orlando Tirado and produced by Benjamin Millepied through For There We Were Production, is a merciless, yet compassionate, lyrical and daring character study of Hannah, a Polish woman in her sixties, as she copes with the accusations of paedophilia and incest directed towards her husband of over 40 years. Charlotte Rampling is set to star in the €2.2 million film.


The rest of the Plus Minus One projects included:

Romanian project Scarred Hearts by Radu Jude, director of Everybody in Our Family and The Happiest Girl in the World, co-written with Florin Lazarescu and produced by Ada Solomon's (photo, with Sofia Meetings director Mira Staleva) Hi Film Productions, and with €47,880 of its €1.2 million budget in place, is the story of a young man suffering from bone tuberculosis who is subjected to treatment which consists of painful punctures and being continuously immobilised in plaster. It is based on the novel by Max Blecher, the “Romanian Kafka”, as Eugene Ionesco called him, and Blecher's own life.

German film The Sound of Stones by writer-director Jan Speckenbach (Reported Missing), produced by Sol Bondy and Jamila Wenske through One Two Films, is a musical budgeted at €5 million about four women living and working among the rubble of post-war Berlin, and paints a portrait of the period from 1945 to 1949.

Greek film Cosmic Candy, the first feature by director Rinio Dragassaki, written by Katerina Kaklamani and produced by Fenia Cossovitsa and Konstantinos Kontovrakis through companies Blonde and Agat Films, has 20% of its €1 million budget in place. It is a “pop-girlish” story, a coming-of-age film in reverse, in which 35-year-old Anna, a loner on the brink of depression, makes the transition to adulthood with the help of a child.

Israeli project Echoes, co-written and co-directed by Amikam Kovner and Assaf Snir, produced by Keren Michael through Handsome Serge Productions, and with €30,000 of its €660,000 budget in place, is a love-triangle story disguised as a mystery. The main character is investigating whether his wife is cheating on him, by secretly recording one of her phone conversations. Before he gets the chance to confront her with the evidence, she is killed in an accident, so the only person he can turn to is her lover.

Serbian film God Is Returning Home, by writer-director Petar Ristovski (photo), co-written with Vladimir Djurdjevic, and produced by Gorana Grozdanic (photo) and the director's father, one of Serbia's most famous actors, Lazar Ristovski (photo), through Zillion Film, has 52% of its €780,000 budget in place. It is a socially and politically engaged film set in Kosovo, aiming to discuss the vicious circle of hatred in which the chain reaction of causes and effects is reflected in the endless stupidity and hatred among fellow humans.

Lastly, Azerbaijani project The Accordion, by first-time filmmaker, artist and musician Ali Hasanov, co-written with producer Irada Baghirzadeh, has €52,000 of its €300,000 budget in place. It recounts the tale of a 13-year-old girl who loses her mother and younger brother, and is left to take care of her grandmother, a doctor who is rapidly becoming senile.


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