email print share on Facebook share on Twitter share on LinkedIn share on reddit pin on Pinterest

“A smart festival strategy is crucial for the success of every film”

Industry Report: Produce - Co-Produce...

Tonia Mishiali • Producer, Bark Like a Cat Films


The Cypriot director-producer discusses the challenges inherent in international co-productions, distribution strategies and the influence of professional networks

Tonia Mishiali • Producer, Bark Like a Cat Films

Cypriot writer-director-producer Tonia Mishiali, of Bark Like a Cat Films, has been selected for this year's edition of European Film Promotion's Producers on the Move programme in Cannes. Mishiali worked for eight years as co-artistic director of the Cyprus Film Days International Festival, and for five years as vice-president and board member of the Directors Guild of Cyprus. She directed the short films Dead End (2013), Lullaby of the Butterfly (2014), I Don’t Like the Wind I Like the Sun (2020) and Daphne (2022), which have been selected for more than 100 international film festivals. Her feature-length directorial debut was Pause [+see also:
film review
interview: Tonia Mishiali
film profile
. We talked to her about the journey towards embracing her creative side, the challenges inherent in international co-productions, plus distribution strategies, alongside touching upon her festival strategies and the influence of professional networks on her career, as she prepares to present four feature-length projects on the Croisette.

(The article continues below - Commercial information)

Cineuropa: Transitioning from a background in hotel and catering management to film, how did you bridge that professional skill gap?
Tonia Mishiali:
I was always a filmmaker at heart. I was very creative and a dreamer, and I used to love films when I was young. However, I never thought I could pursue filmmaking as a career. I come from a very small country, and in the 1990s, studying filmmaking was not common or even an option for a “respectable” future as far as my family was concerned. So, I chose to study hotel and catering management, the only relief being my love for cooking. Three years and one diploma later, and with my family’s blessing, I finally embraced my artistic nature and pursued my love for film, by studying film production. Watching movies from an early age was definitely pivotal in my development as a filmmaker. I remember my mum taking me to the cinema when I was very young, while I was still playing with dolls. My love for photography also played a major role. I learned the art of photography during my hotel studies and fell in love with it. My position as artistic director of Cyprus Film Days for eight years was also one of the most crucial experiences that helped me develop further as a filmmaker.

You've successfully steered international co-productions across various markets. Can you discuss the logistical and creative challenges you face in such partnerships?
International co-productions are challenging. I have done a couple so far, and I am learning every day. There are a lot of parameters that one needs to consider: how to structure the production, which countries and which companies are the best partners, whether you are similar creatively to your co-producers, what elements will be created in which country, when to apply to each film fund, etc. So, you are basically juggling things continuously.

With your films being distributed in theatres, and on the Amazon Prime USA and HBO Europe platforms, could you detail the decision-making process behind choosing distribution channels?
Whenever a distribution offer comes along, I discuss it with the sales agent and the director, and decide what is best for the film. We consider if the offer falls within our distribution strategy, if it will favour the film and if it will [enable us to] reach the biggest audience, because at the end of the day, we make films to be seen by as many people as possible and create the maximum impact.

As a regular at international film festivals, could you elaborate on your strategy for selecting and preparing for such gatherings?
A smart festival strategy is crucial for the success of every film. For me, it’s crucial to be honest about what kind of film you have in your hands and to aim for the right festivals. It all depends on the time of year the film is finished, whether it’s a world premiere and so on. Again, this is all decided together with the sales agent and the director, so that the festival strategy also serves the distribution plan. We consider the target audience but also the marketing plan, and how we will manage to reach that audience in the most efficient and successful ways possible.

You are part of networks like the European Film Academy and the European Women's Audiovisual Network; how have these influenced your professional opportunities and project development?
Industry networks, such as the European Film Academy, offer recognition of your name in the industry, and this is crucial. It’s like a validation of your work. At the same time, these networks offer support in many ways, one being networking opportunities at various festival industry events, where you get the chance to connect with possible collaborators and promote your work.

What projects are you bringing to Cannes?
I am presenting four features that are good examples of the type of films that I like to make: movies that involve strong female characters, character-based stories, and stories of characters who live on the sidelines. Emilios Avraam’s debut, Smaragda - I Got Thick Skin and I Can’t Jump [see the news], is a bittersweet existential drama about a middle-aged single woman, now in post-production. We received funding from Creative Europe – MEDIA and the Cyprus Deputy Ministry of Culture, and it was selected for many prestigious workshops and markets.

Alexandra Matheou’s debut, Shibboleth, is a drama with metaphysical elements, now in development. It is being co-produced with France’s La Cellule Productions and Greece’s Homemade Films. It has so far received funding from Creative Europe – MEDIA and Cyprus, plus four awards at major markets.

Maya is a fantasy-drama, a dark fairy tale, which I am also directing. It received development funding from Cyprus and the SEE Cinema Network, and was awarded at Sofia Meetings [see the news], while it was also selected for many other important workshops and markets. I am now developing Maya with Italy, Ireland and Germany.

Nala and Stella, my other project as a director, is a drama with two female protagonists, also in development, with funding from Creative Europe – MEDIA and Cyprus. It was presented at Crossroads, and I am now exploring my options for co-production.

(The article continues below - Commercial information)

Did you enjoy reading this article? Please subscribe to our newsletter to receive more stories like this directly in your inbox.

Privacy Policy