East European Forum: case studies

By Cathy Meils in Jihlava
    For some of the participants at the East European Forum, a week-long documentary workshop (October 22-27), the networking opportunities bring immediate results.

    Producers and directors from 24 projects with a Central and East European connection had the opportunity to pitch their projects to commissioning editors and film fund representatives and a standing room only audience which included numerous distributors, followed by one-on-one meetings. And directors of the Forum point to their own past success stories that have emerged on this year's festival circuit: EFA winner Rene and Slovak Oscar hopeful Blind Loves. FNE looks at three of the documentaries pitched in Jihlava this year.

    Hungarian director Erzsebet Racz and her German-based Swiss producer Kristina Konrad came with a personal story of discovery, Left Right Left Right. At age 30, Racz received a package of memorabilia from her father's family with a surprize request: that she carry on an inherited family tradition, passed down from her long-deceased father, to join a right wing "Order of the Brave." Still in the early stages of development, Racz received strong signals of interest from several northern Europe TV stations, but no concrete offers. For Racz, the forum's principle benefit was in helping her decide how to develop her film personally. "It's a matter of finding the right TV partners," she says.

    Estonian director/producer Marianna Kaat and her Ukrainian producing partner Olena Fetisova, were the beneficiaries of a dramatic highpoint of the pitching session. At the end of their pitch for The Pit, Rahdi Taylor of the Sundance Documentary Fund, announced that Sundance was giving development funding to the film. A study of illegal mining performed by Ukranian children to support their families, The Pit drew unanimous expressions of interest from across the panel. Beltian TV followed up with an offer to co-produce, while ITVS representatives asked the producers to submit an application for funding. TV stations in Canada and the Netherlands also emerged as potential partners or buyers. The duo were toasting their success.

    Bulgarian director/producer Stephan Komandarev emerged as one of the strongest candidates with The Town of Badante Women, a look at a Bulgarian village that sends its femal population to Italy to work as personal caretakers for the elderly and infirm. Komandarev, who already established a distinguished documentary record capped by his recent award-winning fiction film, The World is Big and Salvation Lurks Around the Corner, emerged with a slate of ten one-on-one meetings and what he termed "serious interest." Komandarev heads immediately to Leipzig's Documentary Campus, where his film was selected to represent Central and Eastern Europe. Komandarev estimates that he could find 20% of his funding from the Jihlava Forum, and complete his funding search in Jihlava and Sofia, where Sunny Side of the Doc is hosting a session for feature length documentaries. He called the back-to-back opportunities of pitching at Jihlava and Leipzig "a perfect combination."