Sarajevo fest opens arms, city

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The Sarajevo Film Festival is set to open today in the Bosnian capital for what looks like a bumper 13th edition, organizers said, with plans that include a special late-night walk through the city's historic old town.

The Balkans- and Southeast Europe-focused fest — which launched when Sarajevo was under siege in 1995 during the final days of the civil war in the former Yugoslavia — has become a focus for professional forums and traditional festival glitz.

More than 500 correspondents from media organizations representing 31 countries are expected to cover the event, organizers said Thursday, with wide daily coverage anticipated from wire agencies and television stations.

"The very fact that this year's Sarajevo Film Festival will be covered by a total of 40 television stations is indication enough of the awareness that audiences in Europe and around the world have for the programs and news from the Sarajevo Film Festival," organizers said.

After the festival's opening screenings, the entire city and guests will be invited "to celebrate together the beginning of the most important film festival in this part of Europe" with a walk through the historic Bascarsija district, where licensing hours for restaurants and cafes have been specially extended to 3 a.m. to mark the occasion.

"In order to contribute to the atmosphere, many of (the restaurants and cafes) will organize special music programs and other events for their visitors," festival organizers said.

The fest's strong emphasis on professional industry events continues this year with the fifth edition of CineLink, a project incubation sidebar that opens Monday.

CineLink draws producers from Europe and beyond keen to participate in regional productions. This year, it has a record project priming fund worth €50,000 ($67,000), including €30,000 ($40,200) in project development grants to be shared equally by CineLink 2007's top three selected projects. The funds are provided by longtime supporter Holland's Hubert Bals Fund as well as new strategic partners, Sweden's Goteborg International Film Festival Fund and France's CNC Fonds Sud.

The long-standing in-kind awards worth €2,500 ($3,350) each in laboratory services provided by Vienna-based company Synchro Film and Video are boosted this year by a one-off in-kind award worth €7,000 ($9,380) from Serbia's Novi Sad-based MagicBox Multimedia. The regional in-kind award follows "the revival of the service sector in the region," the festival said.

A training-support award for one of CineLink's projects will give the winner the opportunity to gain high-level professional development via a prestigious European Audiovisual Entrepreneurs' scholarship.

In a new program, Sarajevo is launching its first talent campus, which also opens Monday.

A range of director and producer workshops, presentations on the relationships between filmmakers and agents, and lectures and public interviews with special guests that include French actress Juliette Binoche and U.S. actor-director Steve Buscemi add new elements to the festival.

In the festival's main feature program, a slate of 10 movies from countries across an extended Balkans and Southeast Europe range will compete for a prize purse worth €40,000 ($53,500).

The festival runs through Aug. 25.
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