SOFIA: FNE spoke with Stefan Kitanov on the challenges facing the development of the Sofia Film Fest and the distribution of European films in Eastern Europe.
FNE: When did you start distributing European films and how many films have you distributed up to now? Is it possible for a Bulgarian distributor to distribute European/Bulgarian films without public support?
STEFAN KITANOV: Our distribution activities started in 2003, just after Bulgaria became a member of MEDIA. The first two films were Ozon’s Swimming Pool and Kaurismaki’s The Man Without a Past. The reason we became involved with distribution was to secure some particular titles for the Sofia IFF and to give the possibility to bigger audiences to see them. In 10 years we have already released almost 50 films by established directors such as Wim Wenders, Michael Haneke, Lars von Trier, Ken Loach, the Dardenne Brothers, Aki Kaurismaki, Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Fatih Akin, Francois Ozon, Christian Mungiu, Semih Kaplanoglu, among others.
The Bulgarian films we have distributed up to now are films we have produced as The World Is Big and Salvation Lurks around the Corner by Stephan Komandarev, Which Way Today by Rangel Valchanov or coproductions such as Gucha - Distant Trumpet by Dusan Milic or The State of Shock by Andrej Kosak.
MEDIA is essential for supporting the release of the European films. We have always failed when releasing films with no MEDIA support. The same applies to the Bulgarian films, which can not be released without the involvement of the Bulgarian National Film Center.
In past we were able to release our European films in more halls. Nowadays it’s getting more difficult. Multiplexes do not take our films, so the only possibilities are the festival, two cinemas in Sofia, plus 4-5 in the country. That’s why we established the travelling festival. Through it we can screen a film in more than 15 towns.
What is the usual box office for a European film/Bulgarian film? What is the distribution market share of European/Bulgarian films?
SK: Instead of box office, let’s talk about spectators. After 1993 Bulgarian films lost their audience which had been well built during the socialist period. But we also lost most of the cinemas: from 3 000 they fell to 300 and this was mainly because of closing down or fishy privatisation. Now we are left with about 120 screens.
So, between 1995 and 2008 the average attendance of a Bulgarian film was between 3000 and 5000 viewers. The Bulgarian box office successes got between 10 000 and 12 000 people. The hit was Mila from Mars with 21 000 people.
The change came with Javor Gardev’s Zift and Stephan Komandarev’s The World Is Big… both made 36 000 spectators. But the whole picture changed in 2010, when Dimitar Mitovski’s Mission London smashed the market with its 380 000 viewers and became the second biggest box office result of the decade just after Avatar.
After that we had several films with figures between 100 000 and 200 000 spectators. This encouraged some young Bulgarian filmmakers to try to make independent popular films selling an average of 50 000 tickets.
On the other hand the distribution share of European and Bulgarian films is still a niche of up to 10%. But the number of Bulgarian releases and their box office has increased for sure. Mission London made people believe that the Bulgarian audience still love Bulgarian films.
What is your opinion on the state of digitalization of cinemas in Bulgaria? Is the government taking the necessary measures?
The multiplexes digitise their networks themselves. Cinema City in Sofia is already 100% digitised. The Arena chain is probably 50% digitised, but in a year they are supposed to be 100% digitised. Some of the independent commercial cinemas are already digitised.
Bulgarian government still doesn't have a strategy for the digitisation of single screen cinemas which will be crucial for the existence of most of them. Especially the art house ones! Not having a national policy will cause a second crisis concerning cinemas.
According to the Film Industry Act the Sofia based Cinema House recently received some support from the Bulgarian NFC for the programming of Bulgarian and European films. Together with the MEDIA support we will use it for the digitisation of the cinema. But at the same time the hall has a desperate need of refurbishing, changing the heating/cooling system, new seats, new screen, etc.
What is the role of a film festival like Sofia Film Festival for the national audience? Are there examples of films, shown at the festival, which later on have been distributed commercially?
Sofia Film Festival became an institution for discovering the newest trends in contemporary cinema. Most of the films can be seen only during the festival. The audience can meet the filmmakers, which is a rare chance. The festival follows the highest international criteria for programming and is trying to create an audience with taste and understanding of new cinema.
Best examples of films which became theatrical successes after the festival I can quote Trainspotting, Evita… There are not so many simply because the commercial cinemas are reluctant to show films which had their premieres at the festival with the exception of Bulgarian films.
What is ‘Operation Kino’? Why is it important to show European and East European films in the Balkan region? What is the concrete role of the Sofia Film Fest in this project?
‘Operation Kino’ is an international project built by the Sofia, Sarajevo, Cluj and Istanbul film festivals, supported by MEDIA Mundus, aiming to bring films from their programmes to audiences outside their main towns.
In Bulgaria we present between 6 and 20 films in around 15 towns. We are trying to raise their number to 20. In half of the towns there are no theatres at all, but even if there are some, this is the only chance for the people to see European films. Sometimes we meet young people who come to see a film in a theatre for the first time in their life … It’s challenging and a big pleasure.
Me and Jovan Marjanovic from Sarajevo initially shaped the idea and brought on board our friend Tudor Giurgiu from Cluj for the first application.
Is Bulgaria supporting enough entrepreneurs from the audiovisual sector? What can be done better and in a more efficient way?
In Bulgaria there is no system for supporting entrepreneurs at all. What to say about the audiovisual sector...
After my degrees in economics and film I started as a busker. Everything was achieved thanks to personal experiences over the years. Meeting people, travelling abroad, copying and adapting good examples and later on creating new activities and letting others copy and adapt…
In the beginning the public support of the festival was simply zero. The institutional recognition happened later. But it is still too far from the way similar festivals get support from their governments. The support Cluj receives from the Romanian cultural and film institutions is 15 times bigger than ours… Some colleagues say we are world champions in getting high result out of the invested funds. Yes, we are! But you can’t always pick awards with low budget stuff. It’s not healthy. Anyway, the most important thing is to keep the spirit, the good energy and be inspiring. To be yourself until you can.
Stefan Kitanov Producer, festival director, distributor and cinema exhibitor. Director and programmer of the Cinema House (member of Europa Cinemas network), the leading art house cinema in Bulgaria, which he’s been managing since 2003.
He founded the Sofia International Film Festival (www.siff.bg) in 1997, one of the key film events in Central and Eastern Europe, accredited by FIAPF. Since 2004 an essential part of the festival has been Sofia Meetings event, which became one of the leading European co-production markets.
He has produced 12 films, the most successful of which, The World Is Big and Salvation Lurks around the Corner by Stephan Komandarev, was shortlisted for Foreign Language Oscar in 2010. The other titles include works by Rangel Valchanov, Teddy Moskov, Dusan Milic, Nikolay Yotov, Nadezhda Koseva, Andrej Kosak. He was associate producer in two films by Tony Palmer.
He founded the companies RFF International and Art Fest which produce films and festivals and distribute films by established directors such as Wim Wenders, Michael Haneke, Lars von Trier, Ken Loach, Dardenne Brothers, Aki Kaurismaki, Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Fatih Akin, Francois Ozon, Christian Mungiu, Semih Kaplanoglu, among others.
Kitanov has been a member of juries in Venice, Cannes, Karlovy Vary, Moscow, Wiesbaden, Frankfurt, Thessaloniki, Vologda, Motovun, Robert Bosch Foundation, and European Parliament. He is a member of the European Film Academy and of the internationally acclaimed The Festival Band.He was Bulgaria’s representative at the Eurimages Board of Management (1997-2000).