'Hard' times all good for Cinelink

Sarajevo project incubator paying off for Balkans cinema

With four films in this year's Sarajevo Film Festival, including two in the main competition, Eastern European film development market Cinelink is proving to be an increasingly key component of the festival and a boon for regional filmmakers seeking financing and distribution for their projects.

The project incubator, which kicks off Wednesday, is expected to draw some 300 industry professionals from around the region, organizers said.

Case in point is Bosnian director Srdan Vuletic's "It's Hard to Be Nice," a Bosnia and Herzegovina, Slovenia, Serbia, Germany and U.K. co-production that opened the Sarajevo festival on Friday. The film first got off the drawing board at Cinelink when Leipzig-based state film fund MDM stepped in with development funds.

Others soon came on board, impressed by the story of a Sarajevo taxi driver who finds turning over a new leaf and dedicating his life to good a challenging experience in a city torn apart by endemic corruption and crime. The film has now been picked up for international distribution by Holland's Fortissimo Films.

Producer Ademir Kenovic of Sarejevo-based Refresh Production said that Cinelink has become an extremely important venue for regional filmmakers.

"People can see projects from a region that has close to 200 million people and includes 13 countries that encompasses the ex-Yugolsovia and beyond as far as Austria and Turkey," he said. "This is a market with serious potential."

Said Pierre Spengler, the film's British co-producer and managing director of London's Clubdeal Ltd.: "Once MDM stepped in, that set the ball rolling. We did the post-production in London, which allowed the film to qualify as a British film and enabled me to bring in the funds I needed to bring."

Macedonian director Teona Strugar Mitevska's third feature, "I Am From Titov Veles," a beautifully choreographed and ultimately tragic tale of three sisters living in a heavily polluted industrial backwater in the heart of the small Balkans state, also received a major boost when it started out in script development at Cinelink.

"Cinelink was amazingly helpful," said producer Labina Mitevska, who also plays the lead character in the film. "We came with a script at second draft and, with the help of script doctors, reached the 14th draft, as we had decided not to proceed further until it was perfect."

The film, which screened in Sarajevo on Saturday, is now scheduled for festival appearances at Toronto, New York, Pusan, Warsaw, Reykjavik and Rotterdam, Mitevska added.

Amira Baksic-Camo, head of Cinelink, which runs through Saturday, said the event has developed at a time when regional cinema is moving into the limelight.

Combining project incubation, co-production meetings and a "platform to enable things to happen," Cinelink clearly filled an industry need, she said.

"This would not have happened were there not a need for a regional market," she said, adding that Cinelink now hopes to encourage more regional distributors and sales agents to recognize its value for promoting films within the region.

Additionally on Monday, Bosnian Prime Minister Nedzad Brankovic announced the establishment of a new fund to support the development of new filmmaking talent in the Balkans republic.

Using the occasion of the launch of the first talent campus at the Sarajevo Film Festival, which opened Friday, Brankovic said that state budget money will provide seed funding for a new institution to give force and focus to existing designation of Sarajevo as a "City of Film."

Brankovic did not specify the amount of funding to be provided but Culture Minister and Deputy Prime Minister, Gavrilo Grahovac, said later that it will be "in excess of €50,000" ($67,400).