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Stefano Centini • Producer, Volos Films

“Without a doubt, European festivals are the platforms which offer Central Asian films the most exposure”

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- The Italian juror on the Bishkek CAF Pitch chatted with us about his work as a producer and the potential offered by the Central Asian region

Stefano Centini • Producer, Volos Films

We met with Volos FilmsStefano Centini, a producer who featured on the jury of CAF Pitch, which unspooled within the Bishkek International Film Festival. Over the course of our conversation, we spoke about Centini’s production company (headquartered in Italy and Taiwan) and possible collaborations between the Central Asian region and the rest of the world.

Cineuropa: Could you tell us a bit about your work and your production company which is split between Taiwan and Italy?
Stefano Centini:
I trained at the Centro Sperimentale in Lombardy but after a time studying Chinese language and culture in France, I travelled to Taiwan where, in 2018, I founded my company, Volos Films. I’ve always seen the role of a producer as someone who doesn’t only take care of the financial side of films, but also the artistic side, or rather its development, the choice of collaborators, the style and how the financial structure reflects all of these artistic elements which were specific to the films I wanted to create, with a strong arthouse quality. Volos was developed with the aim of focusing on this kind of cinema, mostly through international co-productions. [..] When Volos Films was founded, Taiwan was opening itself up to these kinds of collaborations with dedicated funds created by TAICCA, an agency founded by the local Ministry of Culture to internationalise local talent and companies. Since then, we’ve managed to produce an average of four films per year, using both local talent [one example of which being Elvis Lu’s documentary, A Holy Family [+see also:
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, which won the Grand Prize at the Taipei Festival and was nominated Best Film in 2022 by the Taiwan Critics Association] and international talent, and acting as minority producers in Cannes-selected films such as The Settlers [+see also:
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by Felipe Gálvez, Tomorrow is a Long Time [+see also:
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by Jow Zhi Wei which screened in Berlin, and The Human Surge 3 [+see also:
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by Teddy Williams which screened in Locarno. I also opened Volos Films Italia in 2022 to determine whether the same type of approach would work here, in terms of opening the minority co-productions fund, but also because I could see a new generation of directors and producers emerging who, I feel, are more curious and open to these kinds of international collaborations. In the first two years, Volos Italia mainly produced Asian films as a minority partner, including Essential Truths of the Lake [+see also:
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, Viet and Nam [+see also:
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and I, The Song, which is supported by the Italian Ministry of Culture and is currently in post-production.

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From next year onwards, thanks to my tireless colleagues in Taiwan who are taking increasing responsibility for the Taiwanese side of the firm, I’d like to start working with Italian authors, and I’m initiating discussions to this effect.

You were a jury member on this year’s Bishkek CAF Pitch. How much potential did the presented projects offer?
This year, we listened to ten pitches by producers and directors from the region, and the other four jurors and I awarded a total of five prizes. There were four to begin with, but we wanted to add an unplanned-for special mention. Awarding an extra prize reflects our desire to recognise the work that goes into preparing each project, and the strong desire they have to open themselves up to the international market, which we didn’t only see during their pitches, but also during their interactions in the masterclasses which each of the jurors led, focusing on the funds available in each of their countries. [..] The projects selected reflect the energy of this new generation which is now taking shape. They consist of a series of projects both by more established directors and by young authors, covering an array of genres. I’m particularly happy to bring to mind Cradle Homecoming by Tajik director Iskandar Usmonov, whose first film, The Telegram, did the rounds in various festivals, including Busan, and Balyk by the young Kyrgyz director Tolomush Zhanybekov. The former is the story of an artisan who crafts cots for newborns according to the local tradition but, following a series of misfortunes, he finds himself manufacturing coffins for war victims in Russia; Balyk, meanwhile, tells the tale of a stammering teen who finds the courage and strength to overcome his fears thanks to the platonic love he shares with his teacher. What I especially liked, as demonstrated by these two examples, is how different projects can take inspiration from small, everyday stories and characters in this region, who find themselves faced with universal predicaments.

How do you believe the Central Asian market can interact with European partners and festivals in future?
Without a doubt, European festivals are the platforms which offer Central Asian films the most exposure. And the festival circuit is definitely waiting for film producers from this region, which is trying to open itself up to international markets, as the Bishkek Festival proves. I think it will be important to check the degree to which this willingness will be supported by local authorities going forward, in a politically unstable region, and how much of a boost co-production between countries in that region will give to the development of inter-regional projects too, as well as the extent to which cooperation with European partners could provide the exchange of talent needed to produce films with greater visibility, both on the festival circuit and, we hope, on the wider distribution circuit too. [..]

There’s definitely been a lot of interest in possible collaborations with Italy after Roberto Stabile’s visit in April 2023 and the subsequent discussions around the potential signing of co-production agreements, and many directors and participants of CAF have expressed curiosity in the possibility of co-producing with Italy. As is often the case, the first step will be finding the right projects to develop and devise together and, in this sense, Biskkek’s CAF can act as an important platform.

What projects are you currently working on?
From Taiwan, I’m developing Elvis Lu’s new documentary and my first series, The Fundamentals, which is set and shot in Taiwan but written by Singapore director Yeo Siew Hua (the winner of the Golden Leopard in Locarno via A Land Imagined [+see also:
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) [..]  In Italy, I’m currently preparing Kenneth Dagatan’s third film, Molder, which will take part in Bifan’s projects market in Korea. It will be shot in Italy in the first half of 2025 with a mixed cast of Italian and Filippino actors.

I’m also co-producing Matteo Zoppis and Alessio Rigo de Righi’s second film, Testa o Croce, together with Ring Film’s Tommaso Bertani and Cinema Inutile’s Alex Lo. [..] And I’m finalising post-production on a short film alongside Venezuelan director Jorge Thielen Armand, with whom I’m also developing a feature film project called Death Has No Masters. We took the project to the Cannes Film Festival’s Investors Circle and we’re now completing funding with a view to shooting the movie in the second half of next year.

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(Translated from Italian)

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