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REPORT: Sofia Meetings 2018

by Stefan Dobroiu

A look at the projects presented at this year’s edition of Sofia Meetings, the industry platform of the Sofia International Film Festival

REPORT: Sofia Meetings 2018

One of the most popular industry platforms in Eastern Europe, Sofia Meetings, an event hosted by the Sofia International Film Festival, held its 15th edition this year. A total of 29 projects in development were selected, and 14 of them were presented in front of dozens of producers from all over Europe. The projects were divided into two pitching sessions, Second Film Projects and Plus Minus One Projects, the latter consisting of either first or third feature projects by the selected directors. An additional 15 features had representatives invited for meetings with the producers. Finally, eight first features were presented at the First Films First event, hosted by Sofia Meetings for the second year running. 

Here we present an overview of the projects presented during the two pitching sessions. 

Plus Minus One Projects

Nathalie Biancheri and Jessie Fisk pitching Wolf

Wolf - Nathalie Biancheri (Ireland)
Nu Boyana Film Studios - Danny Lerner Award - Grand Prix for Best Project (€50,000 in services and €5,000 in cash)
Directed by Nathalie Biancheri and produced by Jessie Fisk through Feline Films (Ireland), the film focuses on Jakob, a 17-year-old suffering from species dysphoria: he is convinced that he is a wolf trapped in a human’s body. Jakob is sent to a clinic, where he is treated with various therapies, but in spite of the doctors’ efforts, his instincts seem to become even more lupine. His attraction to a fellow patient will build up new layers to his existential crisis. Biancheri says her movie will try to answer a relevant question: do we sacrifice what we are for love? Producer Jessie Fisk revealed that the protagonist will be played by the increasingly famous young Irish actor Barry Keoghan (DunkirkThe Killing of a Sacred DeerLight Thereafter). The budget amounts to €1.2 million. Given the fact that much of the story takes place in a clinic, the producer also says that Wolf can be shot anywhere, which increases the co-production possibilities. 

March. April. May - Andrey Gryazev (Russia)
Cinelab Romania Award (€25,000 in post-production services)
Presented by Russian producer Vlad Ketkovich and produced by his company, Ethnoscope, the project is planned as a low-budget feature using documentary aesthetics. The budget amounts to approximately €400,000. The film follows Olga, a former athlete who becomes a teacher in a Russian provincial town, where she discovers that an alarming number of the school’s students have recently committed suicide. Her relationships with Maxim, a fellow teacher, and Iuri, a student, will add new layers to Olga’s experiences. Ketkovich says, “The suicides in the film are the ultimate form of escape from Russian realities,” adding that Gryazev and his writing partner, Oleg Negin, wrote the screenplay before the Blue Whale scandal blew up. Ethnoscope is close to securing co-production partners from Poland and the Netherlands, with two more co-production companies wanted before the start of the shoot. 

Ja Sam Ana - Ado Hasanovic (Italy)
FocusFox Studio Award (€10,000 in post-production services)
Written and directed by Bosnian director Ado Hasanovic, and produced by Massimo D’orzi through Italian production company Il Gigante, Ja Sam Ana promises a new perspective on the consequences of the Yugoslavian Wars. The director said the film was inspired by the daughter of a convicted war criminal, Ratko Mladic, whose actions in the 1990s caused the death of 35 members of Hasanovic’s extended family in his native town of Srebenica. However, the movie doesn’t focus on the victims, but rather on Mladic’s daughter, Ana, who is shocked to discover that her beloved father is a war criminal. “I want to discover how it feels when someone you love turns into someone you don’t actually know,” the director says. Producer D’orzi adds that the project needs co-production partners from the Balkans, as the film will mainly be shot in Serbia and Bosnia. The budget amounts to €1.4 million. “We hope the film will provide another point of view on Balkan history,” the producer also says. 

Vladimir Dembinski and Bogdan Crăciun pitching Crissea IV

Crissea IV - Vladimir Dembinski (Romania)
Mediterranean Film Institute Award (scholarship for the Script 2 Film workshop)
With Vladimir Dembinski serving as writer-director, and Tudor Giurgiu and Bogdan Crăciun on board as producers for Libra Film Productions, the project follows Adrian, the young owner of a fish shop in the Danube Delta. Learning that a cruise ship will be stopping off in the city of Tulcea, Adrian goes there hoping to find tourists willing to explore the Delta in his small boat. A surprising encounter on the gigantic ship will cause Adrian to face a dilemma. Dembinski says his film is about “all those people who dream about leaving for a better life”. Crăciun says that Libra Film has already applied for a grant from the Romanian National Film Center (with the results to be announced in April) and that shooting in the wild Danube Delta should not be an issue, as the production company has already shot several projects there. 

Saving One Who Was Dead - Vaclav Kadrnka (Czech Republic)
After winning the Karlovy Vary Crystal Globe with his second feature, Little Crusader, writer-director Vaclav Kadrnka is now developing a very personal drama, Saving One Who Was Dead, based on his own experiences from two years ago, when his father suffered a severe stroke that put him into a coma. “I would like this film to be very light, a chamber piece with an intimate mood,” says the director, adding that the movie will have only three main actors and a number of extras. The film has already received support from the Czech Film Fund. Also a producer, Kadrnka is now looking for co-production partners in Central and Eastern Europe, planning to shoot in the autumn of 2019. The budget amounts to €650,000, and the production company is Kadrnka’s own Sirius Film

Tonislav Hristov and Kaarle Aho pitching The Good Driver

The Good Driver - Tonislav Hristov (Finland/Bulgaria)
A Bulgarian director based in Finland, Tonislav Hristov goes back to the same town he explored in his Sundance-selected, EFA-nominated documentary The Good Postman, this time with the fiction feature The Good Driver. Hristov considers his new project a “thematic sequel” to The Good Postman, as it follows the life story of one of the characters in the documentary. The screenplay written by Konstantin Bojanov (Light Thereafter) together with Hristov and producer-writer Kaarle Aho follows Ivan, a taxi driver at the Golden Sands resort, who dreams about visiting his ex-wife and his son now living in Ukraine. Ivan’s involvement in a terrorist attack and his adventures on the right and the wrong side of the law will also be explored in Hristov’s fiction debut. Producer Aho says the project needs a third production company besides Making Movies (Finland) and Soul Food (Bulgaria), and that the team is currently in negotiations with a German production firm. The budget amounts to €1.2 million. 

The Pleasure Is All Mine - Sacha Amaral (Brazil)
Arguably the most exotic project at the 15th Sofia Meetings, The Pleasure Is All Mine will be the first feature project by Sacha Amaral, a Brazilian screenwriter known for the Berlinale-selected So Long Enthusiasm (2017). His debut feature will focus on Lee, a convict who is released from prison and reunites with her transsexual daughter and her son, a drug dealer. Amaral plans to explore this dysfunctional family’s wild, decadent background and how its members relate to each other while facing various challenges. The director plans to shoot in Brazil and promises that, despite his story’s exotic, marginal elements, “The film will not be similar to those of Pedro Almodovar.” The budget amounts to €316,000, and production company Ritmo Visual Filmes is currently on the lookout for European co-production partners.

To Flee - Lubomir Bakchev (Bulgaria/France)
Inspired by events in the director’s life, To Flee will focus on Nikolai, a very young photographer who dreams about making it big in the art world. His only problem is that he lives in communist Bulgaria, and to follow his dream, Nikolai decides to flee the country. He is caught and imprisoned, but his relationship with photography is not severed in jail, as he befriends the prison photographer. A story about one’s relationship with one’s talent and a discussion on the various aspects of freedom, the project already has three production companies on board: Klas Film (Bulgaria), Eagles Team Entertainment (France) and Les Films Velvet (France). Bulgarian producer Rossitsa Valkanova says she and her co-production partners are searching for a German co-production partner, but companies representing other countries are also welcome to join the project. The budget amounts to €850,000, and the shoot is tentatively scheduled for the end of the year. 

Second Film Projects

Meritxell Colell and Belén Sánchez pitching Duo

Duo - Meritxell Colell (Spain)
YAPIMLAB - Young Producer Award (€5,000 in project consultancy services)
A fiction film made with a documentary approach, Duo is meant to form a cinematic diptych with Meritxell Colell’s first feature, Facing the Wind (shown in competition at the Sofia IFF). The movie focuses on two protagonists, Monica and Colate, two professional dancers on tour in small towns in Argentina, Bolivia and Chile. They created their show two decades before, and now they feel like their relationship isn’t working any more. The cast is already confirmed, and the film already has co-production partners in Argentina and France, but other countries are welcome for co-production deals. The director plans to shoot this summer, as the film’s team will travel through Argentinian towns, with the two protagonists performing their dance routine in local squares. The budget amounts to €740,000, and the film is being staged by Spanish production company Polar Star Films

The Crown of Creation - László CsujaAnna Nemes (Hungary)
EastWest Film Distribution Award (€5,000 in script consultancy)
A film about “a monster who becomes human”, The Crown of Creation follows Edina, a professional female bodybuilder who lives with her very controlling coach, Adam. The couple dreams of winning an important international competition, but as they focus so intensely on their goal, neither of them has time for a normal job, which prompts Edina to earn money as a BDSM escort. A client of hers will cause her to renegotiate the relationships in her life. Anna Nemes said that Edina was created by her environment. “Our movie is about how falling in love makes a puppet become a person,” she adds. The directorial duo plans to shoot on film, in two different visual styles, so that Edina’s life as a sportswoman is sharply contrasted with her actions as a sex worker. Producer Andras Muhi, representing FocusFox Studio, says the budget amounts to €1.2 million, with approximately €200,000 coming from Hungary’s tax incentive system.

Beggar - Nadejda Koseva (Bulgaria)
A film about the conflict between a corrupt, powerful businessman and an ordinary man, Beggar is Nadejda Koseva’s second feature project, following Irina, now in post-production. Beggar is set in a small town on the Danube, where the film’s antagonist is desperate to close a deal for a radioactive dump. To sweeten the deal, he plans to impress his Canadian investors by organising a spectacular hunt, for which he needs the protagonist’s dog, which becomes the starting point for a conflict between two very different perspectives on civic responsibilities. According to producer Vladimir Andreev, representing production company Borough Film, the project will soon be applying for funding in Bulgaria. The budget amounts to €1.1 million.

Amnesty - Jonas Karasek (Slovakia)
The project with the biggest budget presented at this edition of Sofia Meetings (€1.8 million), Amnesty is an adaptation of a thriller novel that explores events from before and after the Velvet Revolution of 1989. The protagonists will be several convicts in the much-feared Leopoldov prison, with each character having a different perspective on freedom, communism and the Secret Police. Karasek plants to shoot this August, with parts of some scenes to be filmed in the Leopoldov prison. Producer Natasa Duricova says the film, produced by her company, Azyl Productions, already has a Czech partner and a broadcast deal with the Slovakian National Television. A similar deal is expected to be signed soon with the Czech National TV. The film’s domestic release is tentatively planned for November 2019.

Gyorgy Kristof and Katarina Krnacova pitching Bunker

Bunker - Gyorgy Kristof (Slovakia)
Presented as a non-verbal science-fiction thriller, Bunker will explore an underground labyrinth, where several people are imprisoned. They are freed by an earthquake, a catastrophe that will force them to seek freedom. Movement, dance and choreography will be used to convey the film’s message, that of a parable of the political situation after the fall of communism. Director Gyorgy Kristof described his project as “a film about power, abuse of power, and corruption”, as we see the protagonist, VII, gaining telekinetic powers after he accidentally comes into contact with a mysterious substance. Kristof wants a striking location for his feature, with the Turda salt mine, a very popular tourist attraction near the Romanian city of Cluj-Napoca, given as an example of a perfect setting. Plans are being made for shoots in the summer of 2019. As the film has no dialogue, the cast and members of the production team can come from all over Europe. Bunker already has production partners in France, the Czech Republic and Hungary. The budget amounts to €1.25 million.

Earthquake - Idan Haguel (Israel)
“My biggest fear in life is growing old alone, which is the topic at the heart of the story,” said writer-director Idan Haguel about his second feature project. Earthquake follows Yehudit, an ageing teacher whose life spirals out of control when a devastating earthquake ruins her trip to Nepal. Yehudit is determined to put this traumatic experience behind her and move on with her life, but her determination won’t be enough, as she will soon find herself stripped of a well-planned-out future as a pensioner and grandmother. Producer Saar Yogev (Black Sheep Film Productions) says his project will need a VFX specialist for the earthquake scene and that this scene may be shot in Kathmandu if the budget allows.

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