The champagne was flowing as Cottbus artistic director Roland Rust celebrated the festival's "coming of age" and the 10th anniversary of its accompanying industry gathering, Connecting Cottbus.
"Connecting" is the operative word here. Cottbus began in 1991 as a way for local film afficianados, former East Germans newly rejoined with West Germany, to maintain their connection to the films of Central and Eastern Europe that had been their window on the world. Germans responded, and Cottbus became a platform for neighbor filmmakers from the east. Recognizing an opportunity, Rust gathered regional governments and film funding reps together to launch the pitching forum Connecting Cottbus.
Now run by the very capable Gabriele Brunnenmeyer, who nimbly guides both the pitching director/producer teams and their potential funders with enthusiastic support for the chosen film projects, Connecting Cottbus is providing dividends for the film festival. Pandora Film producer Karl Baumgartner (something of a pioneer in the area of East-West European co-productions) accepted the festival's Audience Award for director Bohdan Slama's Czech/German/French co-production Country Teacher, noting that it was a "CoCo baby," having first been pitched at Connecting Cottbus. Slama's last two films were also in competition at Cottbus.
It's part of what has become a Cottbus tradition. Directors discovered at Cottbus with early films often return with more accomplished works. Grand prize winner Alexei Uchitel's Russian/Bulgarian co-production Captive is a case in point. Previously, the director won the jury's special prize for his 2003 film Progulka. Cottbus inspires such feeling of loyalty from its family of filmmakers, that producer Kira Saksaganskaya promised the director's next film for Cottbus, as well as promising to use the 18,000 euro prize money for German distribution.
The festival management also locked in major sponsors for next year, a firewall against ecomonic uncertainty. The subject of the future of film funding was left untouched at Connecting Cottbus, something that surprised Brunnenmeyer. Privately, however, at least some producers are predicting that the tightening of money starting to affect some national film bodies will result in funds staying at home as unemployment rises.
Yet this year's festival and pitching forum attracted strong attendance across the board -- some 140 attendees in all. German film funds were even trumpeting their strengths to directors and producers, and the lucky CoCo pitchers have reason to be optimistic. Of 79 projects pitched in the first 9 years, 23 have be realized, 5 are in production, and 25 are in development. That's a success rate of almost 70%. With deep pocket funders like MDM's (Mitteldeutsche Medienfoerderung) CEO Manfred Schmidt attentitively sitting front and center, Central and East European producers and directors have a shot at weathering an economic crisis. Winding up two days of meetings, this year's crop of CoCo babies emerged optimistic. Connecting Cottbus is helping to guaranting that Rust will have a continued flowering of Central and East European films for the Cottbus film festival.
A list of main jury prize winners from the feature film competition follows. For a complete list of prize winners and more information from the Cottbus Film Festival, go to the FNE Festival section.
Feature Film Competition
Main Prize for Best Film CAPTIVE Alexej Utschitel Russia, Bulgaria 2008
Special Prize for Best Director TULPAN Sergej Dwortsewoj Germany, Switzerland, Kazakhstan, Russia, Poland 2008
Special Prize for an Outstanding Artistic Contribution SCRATCH Michal Rosa Poland 2008
Special Mention WILD FIELD Michail Kalatosischwili Russia 2008