CEE opens the door to minority coproductions at Connecting Cottbus

By Cathy Meils in Cottbus
Connecting Cottbus, the co-production pitching forum taking place at the Cottbus Film Festival for the eleventh year, unveiled new hope for producers across Europe: the announcements by CEE film funders that they are ready to mature into minority co-producers.

For the film landscape of the second decade of the 21st century, this comes as close to a miracle as can be.

Alexander Donev, the dynamic executive director of Bulgaria´s National Film Center (www.nfc.bg), offers a perfect example of the new trend. "Co-production is the tool that saved the Bulgarian film industry," he told a packed room of industry professionals. Now, he says, Bulgaria is ready to give back. "Bulgaria is prepared to be a minority co-producer," he said, telling FNE that with a film funding increase of some 30%, Bulgaria could see as many as 10 national productions in 2010 along with nearly as many co-productions.

Hungarian Eurimages representative Tamas Joo (www.filmunio.hu) offered similar predictions. "There´s an almost constant increase in co-productions and an almost constant increase in funds," he said. "Cooperation in the Central European countries is an important strategic issue." He estimated that Hungary will be a co-production partner for 7 or 8 films in 2010. Hungary earmarks 2 million euro for co-productions per year.

Croatia and Serbia are also eager co-production partners. In 2009, Croatia contributed 180,000 euros for four co-productions, said Sanja Ravlic of the Croatian Audiovisual Centre (www.havc.hr). In 2010, that amount will jump to 800,000 euros. Miroljub Vuckovic of Film Center Serbia (www.fcs.rs) pointed out that even though Serbia's contribution officially counts as 0%, the country funds between 7 - 10 co-productions annually, with 10,000 per film at up to 100,000 euros per year.

Jacek Fuksiewicz, deputy director of the Polish Film Institute (www.pisf.pl) said, "Poland has set money aside for minority co-productions, even those under 10%." For Poland, he adds, "It works if we have steady partners... We try to set up long-term partnership deals."

The landscape of co-productions is shifting along with the funding strategies. While ex-Yugoslav territories are branching out beyond their former boarder to Central and West European partners, Central European territories are reaching out to their neighbors. A recent trend sees Scandinavia becoming a more active partner, not only to its Baltic neighbors, but to Central European countries as well.

Cottbus film festival (filmfestival.pool-production.de) was the guiding force behind the birth of Connecting Cottbus (www.connecting-cottbus.de) eleven years ago, bringing together CEE filmmakers with German producers and two of Germany's regional funding powerhouses: Mitteldeutsche Medienforderung (MDM, www.mdm-online.de ) Medienboard Berlin-Brandenburg ( www.medienboard.de).

MDM's CEO Manfred Schmidt put the pitching forum into perspective, saying it began with "the aim to build up regional economic structure and to build regional identity."

Under artistic director Gabriele Brunnenmeyer, Connecting Cottbus is succeeding on both levels. As Cottbus festival director Roland Rust said in his opening remarks to the participants, "Every year, more and more films from Connecting Cottbus make it into the festival programme." A record of over 140 films from 35 CEE countries in this year's Cottbus programme is a tribute to the economic and artistic connections made at Cottbus.