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COTTBUS 2019 Connecting Cottbus

Athlete raises the bar at Connecting Cottbus

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- The Turkish project has snatched the Avanpost Pitch Packaging Award at the 21st edition of coco, with the apocalyptic sci-fi story Vesper Seeds getting a Special Mention

Athlete raises the bar at Connecting Cottbus
l-r: Athlete producer Arda Çiltepe and director Semih Gülen, jury members Oscar Alonso, Jelena Mitrovic and Cristian Nicolescu, and coco director Marjorie Bendeck

The celebratory, 21st edition of the Connecting Cottbus East-West Co-production Market (also known as coco, 6-8 November) hit the high notes with the announcement of its award winners – chosen from among the 13 cocoPITCH and six cocoWIP projects. “It’s really all about the familiar atmosphere – the incredible energy of the conversations, of ideas and films, of talking about how to make them happen,” said director Marjorie Bendeck about the fully grown event prior to the awards ceremony. “What have we been doing [at coco] for the past 20 years? It’s precisely this: we had 254 projects pitched, and out of these, over half have been realised, and half of these have premiered at an A-list festival and had a successful theatrical release. I think these numbers are really satisfying,” she added.

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Sponsored by German post-production studio D-Facto Motion, the D-Facto Motion WIP Award, worth €35,000 in post-production services (plus €5,000 for additional expenses), went to Blindfold by Taras Dron, produced by Valeria Sochyvets (Contemporary Ukrainian Cinema) from Ukraine. “Our common choice for the D-Facto Motion WIP Award is a film with international potential that captured us with its unique story and strong female protagonist who is fighting against obstacles to gain her independence,” argued the jury, consisting of Christine Dollhofer (Crossing Europe Film Festival), Valeska Neu (Films Boutique), and Robert Wunsch and Philipp Haenel, of D-Facto Motion.

The coco Best Pitch Award, voted for by industry participants, was given to Carbon by Ion Borș from Moldova, a road movie set during the armed conflict in Transnistria in the early 1990s. It also snagged a cash prize of €1,500 and the Producers Network Award, an accreditation for the Producers Network at the Marché du Film at Cannes 2020. The MIDPOINT Consulting Award (consisting of in-depth script consultancy) went to three projects, one of which was Convenience Store from Russia, directed by Mikhail Borodin and focusing, as he pointed out, on “global problems: modern slavery and migration. But at the same time, it’s a very touching story of motherhood, justice and love. And dreams.” Israel’s No Land For Me by Ram Nehari was also singled out, as was Wet Monday from Poland, directed by Justyna Mytnik and set during Easter.

“These celebrations are a fusion of pagan spring rituals and the holy customs of Catholic traditions,” explained the director during the pitch. “On Wet Monday, teenagers go crazy during water fights. I was intrigued by the blurry boundaries between violence, eroticism and play, and that context seemed perfect for a story about teenage sisters struggling with their sexuality.” One of these characters is a 15-year-old girl who was raped on Wet Monday but didn’t tell anyone about it. “She just wanted to forget it all,” said Mytnik. “But 11 months later, she wakes up from a nightmare about carnivorous rabbits licking blood off the snow. That’s when my movie starts – eight days before the anniversary of the rape. She can’t pretend any more.”

Finally, the Avanpost Pitch Packaging Award – and in-kind services worth up to €15,000 – was handed out to Turkey’s Athlete, directed by Semih Gülen and Mustafa Emin Büyükcoskun. Jurors Cristian Nicolescu (Avanpost), Jelena Mitrovic (Film House Bas Celik) and Oscar Alonso (Latido Films) argued: “We were deeply moved by the portrait of a female character who makes sacrifices and struggles in a harsh society today, and in particular by the change she experiences after all the endeavours, resonating with all of us.” Nicolescu also decided to present an additional award to the sci-fi project Vesper Seeds by Kristina Buozytė and Bruno Samper from Lithuania. Set in the “new dark age”, it shows the world after people’s attempts to prevent ecological crisis by using biotechnology and bioengineering backfired, causing a full-on collapse, as well as wiping out most of the humans, animals and plants.

“It’s about a woman who tries to make a better life for herself,” director Semih Gülen told Cineuropa after accepting the award for Athlete. “She is willing to do anything it takes, but not being well-educated, she can only use her body – she is a weightlifter. This journey changes her, in a way. In Turkey, we are only good at two things in sports: wrestling and weightlifting. I want to show her struggle, but also through her body.” Although told by two men, Gülen and his producer, Arda Çiltepe, were adamant that this wouldn’t affect the story. “I was raised by a single mother – it’s a world I can understand. I think that when people read the script, they can immediately see it’s not about taking sides and being a male or a female. Sure, it was something we had at the back of our heads, but we managed to address it,” added Çiltepe. “We made a conscious decision to work with female athletes and listen to their stories, trying to approach our main character as humanely as we possibly could.”

Connecting Cottbus is supported by Medienboard Berlin-Brandenburg, Creative Europe MEDIA, MDM Mitteldeutsche Medienförderung and the Ministerium der Justiz und für Europa und Verbraucherschutz Brandenburg (MdJEV).

Here is the complete list of winners:

Avanpost Pitch Packaging Award
Athlete - Semih Gülen and Mustafa Emin Büyükcoskun
Producer: Arda Çiltepe (Turkey)

Special Mention
Vesper Seeds - Kristina Buozytė and Bruno Samper
Producers: Asta Liukaityte, Daiva Jovaišiene and Kristina Buozytė (Lithuania)

MIDPOINT Consulting Award
Convenience Store - Mikhail Borodin
Producer: Artem Vassiliev (Russia)

No Land For Me - Ram Nehari
Producer: Yifat Prestelnik (Israel)

Wet Monday - Justyna Mytnik
Producer: Marta Gmosińska (Poland)

Cannes Producers Network Award
Carbon - Ion Borș
Producer: Sergiu Cumatrenco Jr (Moldova)

D-Facto Motion WIP Award
Blindfold - Taras Dron
Producer: Valeria Sochyvets (Ukraine)

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