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SOFA 2020

Nikolaj Nikitin • Head, SOFA

"There is now a big opportunity for new players and new approaches"


- We caught up with the head of SOFA - School for Film Advancement, Nikolaj Nikitin, to discuss the training programme and how it is being affected by current circumstances

Nikolaj Nikitin  • Head, SOFA

We talked to Nikolaj Nikitin, head of SOFA - School for Film Advancement, a training programme for culture managers and entrepreneurs developing new and innovative project ideas in the audiovisual field. SOFA will hold the second module of its seventh edition from 25-30 April, online.

Cineuropa: For the first time, you are being forced to conduct your workshop online. Can you tell us how this unprecedented situation fits in with the essence of the programme?
Nikolaj Nikitin: This is now the third year that we’re doing SOFA in three modules as a year-round training programme (the first was in Warsaw in August 2019, and the third is set for June in Vilnius), and we were about to kick off on Saturday with the second one, which is traditionally set in Tbilisi. This module is dedicated to financing and marketing, but the newest thing for us is the new reality we are living in. Right now, there is a feeling that there is a huge need and demand for our platform, as the situation is really changing, and whenever the pandemic is over, we are going to have a new media reality.

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Cinema is never going to disappear, but our sector is going to change, and I am happy, and also feel very responsible, that we can help new players who have a desire to develop the audiovisual sector, reflect on the new context of cinema, and find new ways and solutions to connect the audiences to content. We have spent the last few weeks preparing and experimenting with new tools to figure out the best methodology. We have the feeling that our training is now needed more than ever to keep the European film industry up and running in this new scenario, and to enable our participants to have access and develop perspectives on the new reality.

One such example is the Czech project Rosa&Dara.TV by Přemysl Martinek, a VoD platform for youth and children, focused on content from the Czech Republic, Slovakia and, at some point in the future, possibly also Poland. The big streaming platforms focus on adults, and yes, there is Disney+, but their content is limited, and it's only American. We know how strong Czech children's cinema is. It was already a marvellous project last year when we selected it, but now it is becoming more urgent and more necessary than ever.

There's a big opportunity right now for projects we are developing – another example is the world sales company endorphin Film Sales by Viki Antonopoulu, from Greece. Sooner or later, the content that is currently available will end, and there will be a huge demand for new players and new approaches.

How does SOFA help the participants realise their projects in their countries in Eastern Europe, where there is often little understanding in the government for such projects?
It's true that when young artists or culture managers come to a politician in Eastern Europe, they will not listen to them. It's something inherited from the old systems. But the people in power will often listen to someone coming from a bigger, richer country. So, as a training programme, we can offer sort of a seal of quality because the participants go through a strict selection process, and they receive knowledge and experience that is usually not available in their country.

Politicians often do not understand that investment in culture is really an investment in the economy. This economic dimension is not always clear, and this is something that we try to do at SOFA – to give our participants the intellectual and practical tools to be able to convince local politicians, decision makers or even private sponsors to invest. This will be the focus of the final workshop in Lithuania.

There is, however, funding available for culture on the international level, but many people don't know where to find it or how to access it. This is know-how that our tutors have, so it's about opening up the opportunities. Also, to be able to apply for many of these grants, you also need to have partners, and SOFA is not only about developing projects; it's about developing the professional skills of the participants and bringing them together so that they can also collaborate among themselves in the future on a common project. And it also provides an opportunity to reach well-established industry players: they are participating in SOFA as tutors and are sharing their wisdom and knowledge, but also their networks.

How do you see the situation for freelancers in culture today? What would be your advice to them?
Nowadays, it's very difficult to make a living as a freelancer in culture, so we tell our participants to properly include salaries for themselves and their teams in their projects. You can have a dream, but sooner or later, you have to make money and earn a living, and you will lose sight of your dream. It's much better to have a good business model that can actually help you to earn money for yourself and build up a company structure, so you can live off what you love.

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