FNE Europa Distribution - Distributor of the Month: Stefan Kitanov

Distributor of the Month: Stefan Kitanov Distributor of the Month: Stefan Kitanov

FNE together with Europa Distribution continues its Distributor of the Month series in recognition of the hard work and excellence of European distributors and the common problems they face - especially in the transition to digitalization. We choose a distributor from each country covered by FNE each month. We look at the challenges and the successes faced by those distributors who are members of Europa Distribution with a special series of interviews that offer insights that other distributors of European films can benefit from and a platform for the exchange of ideas.

This month we focus on the Bulgarian company Art Fest Ltd. (http://www.siff.bg/) and we speak to its founder Stefan Kitanov. Since 1997 Art Fest Ltd, which is a production and distribution company, has produced the Sofia International Film Festival, the biggest film festival in Bulgaria and accredited by FIAPF. Since 2004 a significant part of the festival has been the SOFIA MEETINGS coproduction market (pitchings for feature fiction film projects and a showcase of Bulgarian and regional cinema). The company is also behind the Operation Kino (www.operation-kino.com), a project together with Sarajevo FF (http://www.sff.ba/en), Transilvania IFF (tiff.ro) and Istanbul IFF (http://film.iksv.org/en).

Over the last 12 years Art Fest has released in Bulgaria more than 60 films of well-known European directors as well as of young talents. The company’s catalogue includes films by Wim Wenders, Michael Haneke, Lars von Trier, Aki Kaurismäki, Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Terry Gilliam, Danis Tanović, François Ozon, Fatih Akin, Cristian Mungiu, Semih Kaplanoglu, Tom Tykwer, Kornel Mundruczo, and Radivoje Andrić. Art Fest together with RFF International has produced and coproduced more than 10 feature films and documentaries including the award winning coproduction The World Is Big and Salvation Lurks around the Corner by Stephan Komandarev which was nominated on the Foreign Language Oscar shortlist 2010.

FNE:  How does the market in your country differ from other countries? What is specific about the Bulgarian market? How is independent distribution doing in your market today?

Stefan Kitanov: The Bulgarian market is concentrated in the biggest towns and in multiplexes. All multiplexes show mainly Hollywood blockbusters. Independent films are rare. European films are almost not presented there. Only local films with audience potential are welcomed. Independent distribution is placed in four or five cinemas and that’s it. There are cinemas in up to 20 towns.

FNE: How competitive is your market for European films (national and non-national)?

SK: Several local films had good box office results over the last five years. One of them, Dimitar Mitovki’s Mission London, sold 380,000 tickets and it is still the second place box-office hit after Avatar. There were also another five films with admission over 100,000. As non-national European films are not welcomed in the multiplexes, their results are much lower.

FNE: What kind of films seem to work well with audiences in your market?

SK: I have to split things. One thing is films with the biggest admission in multiplexes. If we check the BO 2013, it is topped by films as Ice Age 4 3D,  The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey 3D, Fast and Furious 6, Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters 3D – they all sold over 200,000 tickets. Skyfall sold 158,000. Woody Allen's To Rome with Love has admissions of 20,000. The biggest result for a non-national European film, and one of the few which entered the multiplexes this year, is Tornatore’s The Best Offer with 8,000 tickets sold. But it is not surprising since the company which is distributing it also owns half of the Bulgarian multiplexes. The curious thing is that the biggest BO for a Bulgarian film is Borislav Kolev’s Stoichkov about the legendary football player Hristo Stoichkov. It is a documentary and never in the last 25 years in Bulgaria has a documentary had such attendance in cinemas.
The other thing is the type of films we release. As I mentioned they are generally not welcomed in multiplexes. And we are talking about films as Amour, Angel’s Share, In the House, Le Havre, Hannah Arendt, Blancanieves, etc. For the last three-four years our only films accepted in the multiplexes were Soul Kitchen (in one multiplex) and Pina (one week and one screen).

FNE: What are the major areas that you focus on? (theatrical/DVD/VOD/TVdistribution, production, exhibition...)

SK: For us the Sofia Film Festival is the major activity together with the Sofia Meetings Co-production Market. Then comes the traveling festival SIFF on the Road a.k.a. Operation Kino which is our way of releasing films in the country. Then managing the Cinema House in Sofia – this fall we will introduce several programmes for young audiences which will accompany the very successful SFF for Students. There we mainly screen films we have the rights for. At the moment we are not very active in production; we finished a short film and we are developing a first feature. But next year we may be involved in some minority coproductions.

FNE: What is your film acquisition policy?

SK: We are involved in distribution so we are feeding the festival with particular films. They are usually films by major directors as Wim Wenders, Lars von Trier, Michael Haneke, Aki Kaurismäki, Ken Loach, Fatih Akin, François Ozon, Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Danis Tanović, Cristian Mungiu and so forth. Also we show some younger directors mainly from the region, such as Radivoje Andric, Dusan Milić, Kornel Mundruczo, and Miroslav Momcilović.   
But once we secure the local rights we try to exploit them by showing the films in several art house theatres in the country, and also screening them as part of the travelling version of SIFF – Operation Kino, a project we do together with the festivals held in Sarajevo, Cluj-Napoca, Istanbul and, beginning this year, Odessa.

We travel to more than 15 Bulgarian towns showing a selection from SIFF including some of the films for which we have the rights, but also some other independent films from different Bulgarian distributors as well as some Bulgarian films. That’s our alternative way to release the films we acquire. It works, and it is challenging and it is fun to meet so many different people on the road in your country. Some kids are seeing movies in a theatre for the first time in their life.

FNE: What films have been your biggest hits?

SK: Fatih Akin’s Soul Kitchen, Crossing the Bridge and The Edge of Heaven, François Ozon’s Swimming Pool, Wim Wenders’ Palermo Shooting and Pina, and from recent titles, Michael Haneke’s Amour.

FNE: What are your upcoming releases and how will you promote them?

SK: Death of a Man in the Balkans by Miroslav Momcilović and An Episode of the Life of an Iron Picker by Danis Tanović. Those films are scheduled for autumn. But we started promoting them already during SIFF in March, then they participated in screenings in most of the towns as part of Operation Kino. We will release them in the art house cinemas of Sofia and Varna in October-November. In March SIFF invited the director and actors from Death of a Man in the Balkans and also the producers of An Episode of the Life of an Iron Picker. We will try to invite the actors of Miroslav Momcilović’s film again for the Sofia premiere. For the second film we will try to work with Roma organisations and create a campaign in the Roma quarters of Sofia.

For next March we have already acquired Lars von Trier’s Nymphomaniac, Lunchbox, Shirley… and more to come.


Art Fest Ltd.
1, Bulgaria Sq.
1463 Sofia, Bulgaria
Phone: +359 2 9166 029
Fax: +359 2 9166 714
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