FNE at SOFA: Nikolaj Nikitin Tells of the Inspiration and Strategy Behind Innovative Film Biz Training


    WROCLAW: Berlinale film delegate Nikolaj Nikitin just launched a new training program for young industry professionals from CEE along with Germany and the Caucasus, SOFA (School of Film Agents). The workshop takes place in Wrocław between 19th and 30th of August. In an exclusive interview from FNE, the initiator of the idea talks about the potential of the region, criteria for the participants and plans for the future.

    How did you come up with the idea for the SOFA workshop?

    Nikolaj Nikitin: For the last 15 years I've been traveling through what I call "our countries", meaning Middle and Eastern Europe, the Caucasus region. What I've realized is, while there are excellent filmmakers in these countries, what is often still missing are independent and efficient working infrastructure in the film industry - measures like regional film funds and film commissions but also film schools, film museum or film archives. I think it is connected to the common history of these countries being under communism and socialism systems for a long time, which didn't provide these type of structures to begin with. I strongly believe that it is not enough to have talented filmmakers but you also need to build a whole system around them, like the people who promote, finance and distribute their films. Professionals who will take care of the titles locally and travel all around the world to present and promote it. It is very important to see who actually does this, who is creative and energetic enough to make these new needed projects happen.

    Is it possible for professionals from the region compete with big, Western companies?

    I really believe it doesn't matter where you are located - it's your idea, vision and your man power behind it that really count. In case of film professionals it is similar to film festivals, where first you need to have great energy. It's just like in this song "you can't buy me love", you also "can't buy me a good festival". In the last couple of years I've been to film events organized in the Middle East, where there is always lots of budget around, but I missed the passion and dynamic energy there. On the other hand, for the last 10 years I had the pleasure to program a festival in Palić, Serbia. It is one of the oldest festivals focused on European cinema and each year we host the most significant filmmakers who are taken by the atmosphere and the heart of this place and my colleagues working there. So even if you have smaller means to work with but you do something with a passion and really analyze your local market you can achieve amazing success.

    It’s the same with small sales companies from the different regions, they might not be as big or powerful as some French or German sales agents but they are really dedicated to the project and that allows them to succeed. In Europe, there is still a lot of room and need for new infrastructures. Especially concerning target marketing - if you ask me I’d say that there is not necessarily a lot of room for new films, because  there are so many new films coming out, but there is need for new film institutions to work with films and cinema – especially in the educational sector. The new generation wants to get knowledge and education in this field. The idea is to focus on participants who are truly energetic and want to achieve their dream Project. In a way SOFA creates a "short cut "for them. I'd like to spare them couple of tough and expensive years of going to the festivals and running after experts and put them in contact with important and experience decision makers. Additionally we like SOFA to become a "quality stamp" to the 10, exclusively selected projects. Hopefully they will go back to their countries, talk to their culture minister, city mayor or other potential supports and get a green light for their ideas, after if it was tutored appreciated by international film experts.

    What are the skills that the participants of SOFA will learn during the workshop?

    They arrived with a original project idea and within the course of two weeks each project will have one special selected mentor - who is really connected to field in which the idea lies – who will guide the participant into in the „right“ direction sharing their knowledge with them. At the same time, there will be additional experts from other fields giving them very concrete insight not only on their idea, but also on the budget and concept work. Nowadays it is not enough to have a great project idea to work in culture, you also need to know how to finance it and keep it going in order to deal with the pressure of the market. We see for example sometimes marvelous ideas failing because they werent  properly financed.

    I also think the actual meeting between the 10 participates will be very fruitful as they are all very passionate and energetic, coming from different countries. I am looking forward to see how they will interact. The participants will also be able to make excellent contacts with all of the experts that will visit us during SOFA. After their time in Wroclaw, all the tutors will be available for follow-ups. One part which we are still developing is that of a „creative internship“, where our participants can go and spend some time in a already existing film institution that can give them experience useful to their own project. For example, if someone wants to develop a project connected to art-house cinema in their country we like to set up and internship for them in another country so they can gain practical experience working in an art-house cinema.

    What were the criteria for choosing the participants?

    I met all of the participants personally, so they were all „hand picked“. I wanted to make sure that their idea wasn't only a good project on paper but also to see if they have the professional background, energy and wit to realize and run them. I also needed to make sure, that their proposition doesnt exist in that way in their country of origin yet. I figured that if they were able to convince me with their idea, they can also get the needed support and means in their country to make the project happen. I oriented myself concerning the participants profile from my own experience, when I started my festival activity and my own film magazine, where almost nobody was able to tell me how to run things in my own country. By the way - many of our SOFA experts started their carriers the same way, so I think we are the right people to coach our participants.

    How did you decide on launching SOFA in Wrocław?

    I started working on idea some years ago and luckily Dieter Kosslick was very supportive from the beginning on and is now the SOFA „godfather“. At first it seems logical to set it up in Germany but possible funders didnt quite grasp the idea behind SOFA, evenso talks were going on for a while. Then I told my dear colleague, Izabela Kiszka-Hoflik from the Polish Film Institute about the project and she instantly understood what we wanted and was willing to help. So we met together with h PFI Director Agnieszka Odorowicz, who gave us the first financial support and it was clear, that SOFA will take place in Poland. Then there was this very pleasant experience here in Wrocław, where we with the tremendous help and contacts of Radek Drabik of the New Horizons Association we met the cities mayor Rafał Dudkiewicz, who was already responsible for getting Roman Gutek and his festival New Horizons to the city years ago. They all share a very passionate approach and want to develop Wroclaw as a cinema city of Europe. It is a great attitude from the city, because we shouldnt forget that the audiovisual industry is the second most successful industry in Europe and the government really should support it more because it is growing very fast and efficiently, not everybody gets is fully award of those facts. It's important not only from the creative point of view but also economical dimensions of the SOFA projects.

    Lucky enough right after the first meeting the City of Wroclaw agreed to host the workshop till 2016 when Wroclaw will be the European Capital of Cultural and hopefully our co-operation will last even longer then that. I am counting on the fact that the participants will become ambassadors for the idea behind SOFA and coordinate activities connected with our programme in their own regions. We have very concrete plans for the future and we are already talking to potential participants for 2014.