The Sarajevo Film Festival, which runs Aug. 12-20, has become the top creative and industry catalyst for filmmakers and producers in the Balkans, Southeast Europe, and beyond, 22 years after its launch during the Bosnian civil war, as the city was under under siege. The winner of this year’s foreign-language Oscar, Hungarian Holocaust drama “Son of Saul,” was spawned by Sarajevo’s CineLink co-production market. During its upcoming edition, HBO will launch a call for projects to commission the first international TV series to come out of the Balkans. As a regional platform, it’s come a long way.
Documentaries are a key component of the selection since “the region has so many untold stories, so many secrets,” says fest founder and director Mirsad Purivatra. “Scream for Me Sarajevo,” a doc by Tarik Hodzic about a concert held by Iron Maiden frontman Bruce Dickinson and his solo band in 1994, with the city still under siege, will open the documentary competition.
The eight-title feature film competition is dedicated to the cream of the cinematic crop from the region’s roughly 20 countries. The selection includes world premieres such as Montenegrin first-timer Ivan Marinovic’s “The Black Pin,” about a small seaside parish priest who clashes with his flock when he opposes a big property sale, and such regional bows as “Album,” the debut of Turkey’s Mehmet Can Mertoglu about a couple in Antalya who fake a pregnancy to cover up an adoption.
“The accent is on first works, new visual language, good storytelling from young generations,” says Purivatra. Presiding over the jury is Palestinian auteur Elia Suleiman.
The CineLink co-production market will introduce roughly 15 handpicked regional film projects to some 70 select international industry pros, including reps from Germany’s Medienboard Berlin-Brandenburg film funding organization. Purivatra is also launching an initiative called Dealing With the Past, which he hopes will become an open source for stories that can help heal wounds of past conflicts in the former Yugoslavia.
“We believe that in order to deal with many unresolved issues left by the conflict in the former Yugoslavia, the impact of which is still widely felt today, we need sincere, clear-eyed discussion around a painful past,” says Purivatra. The project is set up in collaboration with several NGOs to collect those stories and offer them to directors, producers, and TV commissioning editors. Six will be pitched to industryites at a True Stories Market.
The Sarajevo Talent Campus, a breeding ground for young actors, directors, cinematographers, producers, and screenwriters, will be looking to Mexican writer-director Amat Escalante as inspiration. Escalante took director honors in Cannes in 2013 with his third feature, “Heli,” a hyper-naturalistic look at Mexico’s drug wars. Escalante will hold question-and-answer sessions after screenings of his films plus a broader onstage conversation.
“We always choose directors with a very specific film language and a social aspect,” Purivatra says. Sarajevo’s Talent Campus program, founded a decade ago in tandem with the Berlinale, has grown into the region’s main training hub. There are 71 participants this year with the 41 women outnumbering the 30 men.
Stephen Frears, a longtime friend of the fest, will receive its Honorary Heart of Sarajevo Award and bring his latest film, “Florence Foster Jenkins.” Starring Meryl Streep and Hugh Grant, the pic will screen as part of the festival’s open-air program.
The CineLink Drama features up to six projects for promising TV series that will be pitched to prospective commissioning broadcasters including
HBO Adria, which will launch its call for projects from the mart’s Regional Forum confab dedicated this year to the convergence of film and TV.
For professionals, Sarajevo is an opportunity to discover not just films from the region, but also new projects and talent. Another advantage is that the fest is all held within a couple of streets, so everything is in walking distance, as are all the people you need to meet. It’s much less formal than Cannes or Berlin. “Nobody turns down a meeting,” says Purivatra. “That is something that we built very carefully.”