Cottbus prize, popularity grow


LONDON -- The world's longest-running showcase devoted to film from Eastern Europe opens today in Cottbus, Germany with a prize purse worth a total of €56,500 ($72,399), up more than 25% from last year.

The 16th edition of the Cottbus Film Festival -- held in the small town between Berlin and Dresden in what used to be East Germany -- will screen more than 100 films from 23 countries, including 10 features in the main competition, nine of which will be international or German premieres.

Steady growth in the popularity of the festival as a key crossroads for both Eastern and Western European filmmakers has helped organizers secure an additional €16,500 ($21,200) from sponsors to fund a total of 15 prizes.

A new prize of €10,000 ($12,800) -- donated by regional film support body Medienboard Berlin-Brandenburg, one of the festival's main sponsors -- will subsidize distribution of the top prize-winning film. Another €3,500, from Potsdam-Babelsberg firm Gerhard Lehmann, will be given toward subtitling costs while Bucharest's Stage & Studio Romania Services for Film and Television has created an award worth €3,000 ($3,800) for outstanding talent for a film from one of the festival's "focus" countries this year: Bulgaria and Romania.

"The increased prize money reflects the growing strength and importance of the festival," festival director Roland Rust said. "It makes Cottbus more attractive for sponsors and those who donate prizes, and it encourages filmmakers and producers to commit their films or even premieres to us. It shows that Cottbus has become a key crossroads for European filmmakers and professionals."

In addition to the roughly 15,000 members of the public expected to attend the screenings, 500 producers, scriptwriters, filmmakers and other professionals are expected in town Nov. 16-17 for the festival's industry forum, Connecting Cottbus, which includes workshops, pitching sessions, funding and marketing opportunities.

This year's festival includes a rare chance to see a comprehensive survey of films made in Romania and Bulgaria between 1994 and 2006 and a retrospective of the little-known films of Cottbus region's Slavic-language minority, the Sorbs -- a distinct ethnic group that has inhabited the Spreewald region for more than a 1,000 years.

The feature films in competition are "12.08 East of Bucharest" (Corneliu Porumboiu, Romania); "The Paper Will Be Blue" (Radu Munteanu, Romania); "Christmas Tree Upside Down" (Ivan Cherlekov and Vassil Zhivkov, Bulgaria); "Monkeys in Winter" (Milena Andonova, Bulgaria); "Ode to Joy" (Anna Kazejak-Dawid, Jan Komasa and Majiec Migas, Poland); "Tomorrow Morning" (Oleg Novkovic, Serbia); "Franz & Polina" (Michail Segal, Russia); "The Indian and the Nurse" (Dan Wlodarczyk, Czech Republic) "The Wedding Chest" (Nurbek Egen, Kyrgyzstan); and "Taxidermia" (Gyorgy Palfi, Hungary).

The festival runs through Nov. 18.