SOFIA: FNE spoke with Stefan Arsenijevic, programme manager of the Serbian training programme First Films First.
FNE: What is First Films First and what are the benefits for its participants?
Stefan Arsenijevic: There are many professional training programmes but what is special about our training programme is that it focuses on directors. These are directors from SouthEast Europe who are developing their first feature film. It is an initiative of the Goethe Institute and we are now entering our third year.
We focus on only eight directors so there is a really big competition but when we select directors we modify our programme in order to fulfil their needs and have this one on one approach with them. The team that we are handling during the programme is developing the script, finding a unique visual style for each project, working with the actors and of course producing and pitching.
We are really blessed to have very good tutors, who are helping our participants. We have Golden Lion winning Macedonian director Milcho Manchevski. We have Oscar nominated Austrian director Christian Berger, one of the greatest cinematographers working today, best known for his collaborations with Michael Haneke including films The White Ribbon and The Piano Teacher. We have Oscar nominated production designer Maria Djurkovic, who did The Imitation Game, Billy Elliot, The Hours, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and Red Sparrow, which is currently on release in cinemas. We also have experts like Gabriele Brunnenmeyer, Manfred Schmidt and Mira Staleva and I think this mixture of people who are real artists, part of the industry and experts, is something that gives a good blend that helps our participants to find their own base.
FNE: Where do First Films First modules take place during the year and what impact does this have on the CEE film industry?
Stefan Arsenijevic: First Films First takes place throughout one year. It happens at 4 different film festivals in the region. We start at the Transylvania Film Festival in Cluj-Napoca in Romania, then we continue in Bitola in Macedonia at the Manaki Brothers festival. Next we have a workshop in the framework of the Auteur Film Festival in Belgrade, Serbia. We finish with pitching in Sofia at the Sofia Meetings.
We're just finishing our second year in Sofia and maybe it is too early to talk about the impact in CEE countries but I can say that now after two years we already have two films that were shot, two films are in postproduction and four more films got the money for production so we can expect that important numbers of films that were developed through First Films First will be coming to cinemas soon.
I think that the main thing about Southeast Europe is that it is a very rich and culturally diverse region. Unfortunately, we don’t communicate between ourselves so much and the aim of this programme is to connect young directors with the European model of making films to help them but also to establish new connections between the artists in the region. For me this is maybe the most precious thing, because film is a tool for bringing people together and I don’t feel that we are communicating enough.
FNE: What do you look for when choosing the projects?
Stefan Arsenijevic: We’ve just closed the Open Call. We got 100 applications and now the selection will start. We try to pick the best projects according to the quality of the first feature film project they want to make and obviously according to the previous works of the directors. So the short films the directors have already made are very important for us, because we can see how talented and skilful they are.
I have a feeling we are a springboard for new ideas and fresh talents. For me it is always great to discover. Unfortunately, I have to say, since we choose only eight participants per year, each year has several projects which we really love but they don’t make it into this eight. There are obviously more than eight projects in the region but there are of course also other programmes. We just feel blessed to be constantly inspired by the people we work with since I am a director myself.
FNE at Sofia Meetings 2018