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Hallo Holland - Holland Film Meeting Report
© Yoana Pavlova
16 October 2013
 
 
   
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New digital technologies changed not only the way films are being shot, promoted, distributed, or exhibited, but also developed and funded. Furthermore, globalization witnessed an increasing number of co-productions, so the game changed for many professionals. In this new industry culture of networking and logistics innovations, Netherlands quickly gained a leading status of a country that is always one step ahead. Apparently, the secret behind the success of initiatives such as the development hub Binger FilmLab, the co-production market Cinemart  (part of the International Film Festival Rotterdam),  or the Holland Film Meeting  (part of the Netherlands Film Festival) is the balance between being a safe haven for upcoming talent and at the same time pushing the border of business interactions further and further.
All this resulted in a steady flow of Dutch titles in the last few years, especially arthouse features that tour international festivals and claim prestigious awards. For example, as the Netherlands Film Fund sums up, 29 local films, including co-productions, were selected in the six top cinema forums in 2012 – solely the 12 titles presented at Berlinale brought home 3 prizes. Likewise, thanks to the rich soil of the Dutch film industry, many exciting projects launched by directors and producers from countries from all over the globe grew into world cinema winners. It would not be far-fetched to assume that the auteur rise of South-East Asia, Latin America, Scandinavia, Maghreb or even the Balkans could be attributed to the various forms of aid filmmakers from these territories found at top-notch meeting points in the Netherlands – festivals  and industry events.


For the moment, film professionals from the Balkans are still too focussed on the development and funding options available in their own region, but the general attitude of wariness and diffidence is about to change. Turkey is a country traditionally open to collaboration with Germany, while France took a considerate part in the New Romanian Wave. Yet, as the latest edition of the Holland Film Meeting (September 26th-29th) proves, there are many more possibilities out there. In fact, now it is the West that reaches out to Eastern and Southeastern Europe in search of new partnerships and inspiration, especially after Euromage listed Russia as a member state in 2011 – a country that has been commonly perceived as a key player in the cinema industry, both in terms of artistic achievement and marketing potential. Nevertheless, the Balkans are a different kind of terrain and require another tactic.

Aside from the special focus on Russia, this year΄s Holland Film Meeting welcomed three projects from the Balkans, as well as many experts whose professional mission tackles exactly the bridge between Eastern and Western Europe. It is a good sign that the Netherlands Production Platform, the core programme of the Holland Film Meeting celebrating in 2013 its 15th anniversary, introduced projects for the debut features of Stergios Paschos (Greece), Uroš Tomić (Serbia), and Mehmet Can Mertoğlu (Turkey) along with front-runners such as Peter Greenaway, Terence Davies, or the Indonesian enfant terrible Edwin. What is more exciting, however, is that all three Balkan projects were received at the Holland Film Meeting with large interest, and I would say that a huge part of their appeal is related to their plots. It is noteworthy that they are all situated in the comedy drama genre and treat the perception of storytelling or image in an ironic, even absurdist way.


                           Love and Other Crimes

Stergios Paschos΄ Pigs on the Wind depicts a 30-year old struggling film director who discovers that his most loyal viewers inhabit a pig farm. Uroš Tomić΄s Play me, Kustirica / Pogledaj me, Kusturice deals with a lonely telephone pollster who meets for the first time his son, a desperate film director led to believe that only Emir Kusturica could help his career. In Mehmet Can Mertoğlu΄s The Cliff Shore / Album a childless couple opts for adoption and while waiting for their kid΄s arrival, the two prepare a false pregnancy album, so the adoption would remain a secret, but later this plan puts them at risk. Dark humor, fatalism, skepticism, and critical    stance at their best in all three scenarios or in other words – the typical laughter through tears authors from this part of the world could offer. Alas, none of these projects was honored with a prize, but they got a chance to join the list of previous Balkan participants that were later turned into international hits, like the Bulgarian The World is Big and Salvation Lurks Around the Corner (2008), the Croatian Kino Lika (2008), the Romanian The Happiest Girl in the World (2009), the Serbian Love and Other Crimes (2008) and Practical Guide to Belgrade with Singing and Crying (2011), or the Turkish Our Grand Despair (2011).

When I talk to Signe Zeilich-Jensen, the Head of Holland Film Meeting, she praises particularly the pitches of the three Balkan projects, picked in 2013΄s line-up, and adds her impressions. “I think what really appealed to me with the Greek project, Pigs on the Wind, was that it has this big comical aspect. (...) I think that they are focussing on serious matter in a light and humoristic way.” In Play me, Kusturica she noted “a very nice meta-level, a bit like Being John Malkovic.” As for Mehmet Can Mertoğlu΄s The Cliff Shore she points out that “obviously it got a lot of attention also from other markets” and continues: “I think that the director is really convincing, you can really feel that he would like to do this project.” Discussing the plot of the latter project brings Ms. Zeilich-Jensen to the conclusion that “it is also important to have a story, like in this case, that people can relate to, outside of your region. (...) This is an universal theme everyone can relate to, but put into this context, it gives something new.”


                           The Lika Cinema

To my question why filmmakers from certain regions are more active on the international field, when it comes to finding money for their projects, the HFM΄s chief replies: “In some countries it is difficult to get a big budget to make your story and this makes you inventive, maybe also more open to look for financing outside of your country, and that is a good thing! The strategy of co-production is of course to make the film also travel further across the borders.” Yet, she advises: “Co-production adds a certain value to the project, but it also gives a lot more work. Financing a film is a struggle, for everybody and in every country.” According to Ms. Zeilich-Jensen, there is no need to aim at big numbers: “For an instance, A Day in the Life of an Iron Picker was made with very low budget and you see that it travels to a lot of festivals and will also have releases in the rest of Europe.” Her example prompts me to ask whether she finds stories from the Balkans too specific or even difficult to be communicated, respectively funded, but she is quite optimistic: “I really believe in festivals and film markets as a place where people can reach out, also in the storytelling! And I don΄t think that themes are so different!”
My next conversation is with Alessandro Groppllero who is in charge of the international relations at the Friuli Venezia Giulia Audiovisual Fund that co-organizes the co-production forum When East Meets West together with the Trieste Film Festival. Apart from welcoming Holland Film Meeting guests at a special networking cocktail on the occasion of WEMW΄s launch of their new call for entries, Mr. Groppllero΄s mission in Utrecht was related to promoting WEMW΄s profile to all parties, potentially involved in the co-production process. “We consider ourselves like mediator or more even like match-maker”, he clarifies, “the concept of our event is really to bring together the right people for the right project and vice versa.” Elaborating further on the history of WEMW, Mr.  Groppllero recounts the start of the forum when his organization tried to stick to the list of countries supported by MEDIA and the ones included in Trieste Film Festival΄s programme, but it became clear that there is “some interesting film industry horizon in developing new connections with Eastern Europe.”


                           Practical Guide to Belgrade with Singing and Crying

Subsequently, it turned out that countries from this side of the continent have in fact a lot to give, not only in the domain of financing (public funding, private investors, tax incentive schemes like in Hungary and Croatia) but also low-cost locations and post-production services. When I want to know more about the eventual cultural clash in such a co-operation, Mr. Groppllero offers an insightful analysis: “Most of the co-productions started between Eastern Europe and Western Europe – especially in Germany or France – they started from financial point of view. So it was mainly co-financing. This is of course very important, but I would say that now there is another need for co-producing in terms of like co-creating, thus introducing creative aspects in the production process. This is very important, especially when you have to share stories or to share talents – to see how different inputs from the different countries are really capable to produce a very interesting mix which is very profitable for the film itself. I think that the diversity of cultures is not a problem. I mean – obviously, there are always problems, when different cultures and different film industries cooperate, but this is a normal side effect. I think that it is more the added value that diversity can bring than the problems it can create.”
“We do have different cultures, way of behavior, communicative codes”, affirms my thif interlocutor at the Holland Film Meeting, Rada Šešić. As a distinguished specialist on the cinema of South-East Asia, she scouts for the International Film Festival Rotterdam, plus consults IDFA, acts as a Head of Documentary Competition at  Sarajevo Film Festival, co-runs DOCU Rough Cut Boutique, and, last but not least, is the Artistic Director of the Eastern Neighbours Film Festival. Born in Croatia, part of ex-Yugoslavia at that time, she moved to the Netherlands 20 years ago, as a war-refugee from Sarajevo. Going back to this period of her life, she still recalls the realization that Western news convey many prejudices towards people from the Balkans. Besides, while pursuing her career of filmmaker, programmer, and lecturer on the other side of Europe, she understood that there are actually not many occasions to watch films from the Balkans in the Netherlands, excluding the annual programmes of IFF Rotterdam and IDFA.


In 2006 Ms. Šešić helped coordinating a big exhibition of visual arts from South-East Europe in Utrecht, symbolically hosted in the building of an ex-social security institution just before it was demolished. After the heartfelt reaction towards the movies included in the showcase, the Eastern Neighbours Film Festival was inaugurated. The concept of the event is simple – presenting “uplifting and inspiring, exciting and arthouse cinema”. As there is no industry section, “there is no tension, the atmosphere is friendly”, so Dutch people can see “that there is nothing to fear, to come closer”. In addition, it is Ms. Šešić΄s aspiration that the selected films “initiate an open discussion”, to make the audience “put everything on the table” – definitely a justifiable ambition, given the success of ENFF, its strong educational segment, its youth-oriented and interactive approach, the spin-off Highlights of the Lowlands (series of Dutch film screenings in Ohrid, Sarajevo, and Tirana), as well as the intent to reshape the festival into a cinema club, touring Dutch cities all year round.

At the end of my interview with Ms. Šešić, I am curious if and how her perception of cinema from the Balkans changed over the course of these two decades she has been living in the Netherlands. “I can enjoy films in the same way, I hope”, she replies, “I totally and fully give myself to what I watch. For example, even if the film is not good, I can still cry in cinema,in case it is moving, which means that there is something good about it. But I do agree with you that there is one aspect that has changed and that is me realizing that film as a professional scene can be organized in a better way, in a sense of providing more organized structure of production, distribution, promotion, but specially for research and development. I think that in Eastern European countries there is not enough awareness about fiction, let alone documentaries. I understood how things work here, this is why I started  DOCU Rough Cut Boutique in Sarajevo. I want to apply this knowledge of mine and to give a hand to these talents who are certainly there! After selecting films for Sarajevo for seven-eight years, I noticed that there are so many great stories, very passionate people, yet there is always something missing in the film, in order to bring it to international audience, to make it really appealing to first-class festivals. Some fiction films reached that, occasionally and incidentally, now every country on the Balkans has at least two-three really famous films, but with documentaries it is still too rare.” All the same, Ms. Šešić brings up the example of Martichka Bozhilova, the Sofia-based auteur-producer, known for her trademark style, but more on the topic of Bulgarian documentary cinema – soon... Let΄s first say “Vaarwel!” to the Holland Film Meeting, as well as “Heel hartelijk bedankt!”
 
 
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  Happiest Girl in the World, The
  Practical Guide to Belgrade with Singing and Crying
  Love and Other Crimes
  The World is Big and Salvation Lurks Around the Corner
  Our Grand Despair
  The Lika Cinema
  Pigs on the Wind
  Play me, Kusturica
  The Cliff Shore
 
  Uros Tomic
  Rada Sesic
  Stergios Paschos
  Mehmet Can Mertoglu
 
  Filmlab
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
       
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