Marjorie Bendeck • Director, connecting cottbus
"Now the participants get their feedback before the pitches"
- Marjorie Bendeck, the new director of coco, looks back on the 20th edition of the event, which has just taken place, and describes how she approached it
As the second day of the connecting cottbus East-West co-production market (aka coco) was nearing its end, we strolled through the streets of Cottbus in the company of its new director, Marjorie Bendeck, to discuss the 20th edition of the event.
Cineuropa: What led to your taking over the direction of coco?
Marjorie Bendeck: I wasn't totally unaware of the East European region (I had worked for the Tbilisi Pitch Forum in Georgia and ScripTeast), but as I come from Honduras and my father is Palestinian, the regions I initially specialised in were Latin America and the Arab countries. Now I have lived in Germany for 15 years, I have worked with the Berlinale, and five years ago, Martina Bleis, who was already an advisor for Cottbus, and Bernd Buder, now the festival director, invited me to join the team, and for five years, this time of the year has always been coco time for me. When Rebekka Garrido left after freshening up the market, the organisers asked me if I would take over, so I applied.
What does Eastern European cinema mean to you?
As I studied in Cuba, I got to know about Russian or ex-Yugoslavian filmmakers there, but it still seemed so far away and exotic, even after coming to Berlin. For me, Eastern European cinema embraces a lot of passions linked to the political and cultural clashes in the region. Imposing a political system throughout a whole region deeply changes the way people are, too, so the cinema of Eastern Europe is deep in that sense, and emotionally intense, like Greek tragedy. You often get to laugh, too, about things that are miserable, and I find that fascinating.
More and more people apply with projects every year – there were 147 applicants this year. Did you notice any specific trends?
Well, amongst all the applicants, there were a lot of young filmmakers trying to get daring things done, which is always attractive but always risky, because when you do a selection, you also think of the industry participants, the potential partners, and therefore you cannot have 13 projects all with a big risk factor, by a director and a producer with no experience in feature films. It is a business after all, a market. So we decided to mix levels of experience, to offer attendees the possibility to jump into different types of projects. About half of the projects were by debut directors in this year's selection, but most of them were not attached to a first-time producer.
There seemed to be an increased focus on the pitched projects this year, and less so on the parallel events.
Previously, the preparation period was shorter for the project participants, but we changed that to give them a full day of prep. The cocoLab format launched three years ago was modified: now, instead of getting feedback after the pitches, the participants get their feedback before, and the idea is not so much to "meet the experts", as it was initially conceived, but rather to give the participants more collegial advice, more outside views from people who are strong in this or that aspect of film production and who have read the project in detail beforehand. As a result, the participants modified their pitches a lot already, even before the event. We helped to optimise their catalogue texts, and they attended lab meetings with various producers specialised in project development. For instance, Linda Beath from EAVE gave some concrete feedback on the projects' financing plans, and there were three sales specialists. Everyone asked for feedback about marketing, and everyone got feedback from at least three advisors.
So we really tried to work around the main event this year. Last year, we had several events happening at the same time, but we decided not to do the same this year, because coco is small, with 160 participants altogether, and the project participants are concentrated on their pitching and meetings. We did organise, around the core event, a couple of presentations on influencer marketing and blockchain, because it is the type of conference that producers might not get to attend at bigger festivals for lack of time, but will happily go to if we offer them the possibility to talk about these hype subjects on a platter.
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