SOFA – SCHOOL OF FILM ADVANCEMENT, the training programme aimed at strengthening regional film  industries across Europe with a focus on Eastern partnership, is pleased to announce the launch of its ninth  edition and unveil its project selection for 2022-2023. The first SOFA workshop, running through September  30th, just kicked off on Sunday evening just outside the Polish capital Warsaw. 

    After two years going virtual with a fully online program, an expanded SOFA returns and is excited to reveal a  new, larger line-up of 16 projects and 20 participants, composed of up-and-coming film industry executives,  curators, and cultural managers from 17 countries including Ukraine, Belarus, Poland, the Czech Republic,  Georgia, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Croatia, Hungary, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Lithuania, Bulgaria,  Denmark, Bangladesh, Switzerland and Germany. In the opening session, participants agreed and  emphasized together that, given the fraught political situation in many of their countries, the need for  creative cooperation across borders between the Eastern Partnership countries and the EU is more important  now than ever. 

    SOFA’s 2022-23 project selection includes business and institutional projects focused on environmental  activism, mental health in the film industry, film education, indigenous cultures, sustainability, inclusion and  accessibility, and the preservation of independent film journalism and criticism as well as remote learning. Projects are selected based on their quality and practicability in terms of evolving or strengthening the film  culture and industry in their countries of origin and should carry the ambition to foster structural change or  new forms of cooperation in the regional film landscape. Projects include Cinema Nutsa from documentary  filmmaker and 2021 Sundance/Berlinale alumna Salomé Jashi (Georgia), aiming to establish the very first  arthouse cinema in Tbilisi, the creation of a C.A.P. - Council for Audiovisual Production in Azerbaijan by Gunel  Gadirova, Sane Cinema from Louise Højgaard Johansen (Denmark/Czech Republic), an international  consultancy focusing on mental health in the film industry and developing tools for organisations & individuals.  As well as Warszawa\Praga Studio, a digital media & video production facility connected to the redevelopment  of a gritty neighbourhood in Warsaw, and MoreFilm.Fun by Olga Zhurzhenko and Sia Titova (Ukraine/Poland),  a distribution company focused on children’s content. 

    SOFA’s intensive one year program, comprised of three focused workshops complimented by regular virtual  sessions, aims to support, nurture, and bring to fruition the “dream projects” of the participants, who apply  with a specific project plan in the fields of distribution, education, funding, exhibition, curation, or criticism. The projects are then tracked over the course of the year, with each of the intensive workshops focusing on  project development, marketing strategies, as well as financing and business plans. 

    SOFA Director Nikolaj Nikitin said about the specific focus of this year’s edition: “Projects supporting activism,  free expression or the establishment of institutions that help evolving pan-regional cultural industries are highly  valued by SOFA this year. In challenging times, together with the development of new companies and  independent institutions, it’s a clear priority to support projects that conceive of film and AV-Media as a force  for free speech, resistance and strengthening through our common work the civil society.” 

    Unlike most pan-European professional training programs, SOFA isn’t geared specifically towards filmmakers,  producers or directors. But by connecting aspiring young executives to international experts as well as to each  other with an eye towards the East, SOFA aims to strengthen networks and mutual understanding between  the future decision makers who can determine the shape of the economic and cultural landscape of film in  their home countries. “The heart of SOFA is to nurture and connect the human infrastructure that can support 

    a positive, cooperative impact of a film industry and culture across Europe and further.” added Berenika  Partum, SOFA Project Manager (Poland/Hungary).

    SOFA experts are established and influential decision makers selected to fit participants’ specific projects  including Ewa Puszczyńska (Poland), producer of COLD WAR and IDA, Tine Klint (Denmark), founder of sales  agent and aggregator LevelK, Jan Naszewski (Poland) of New Europe Film Sales, Iza Kiszka-Hoflik IKH Pictures  Production (Poland), Michal Bregant (Czech Republic), CEO of Národní filmový archiv, Prague, and President  of ACE - Association des Cinémathèques Européennes, Karel Och (Czech Republic), Artistic Director of Karlovy  Vary International Film Festival, Marit Van Den Elshout (The Netherlands), former Head of IFFR Pro, Jay Rinsky (US), who runs LITTLE CINEMA, producer Peter Rommel (Germany) and former head of the Israel Film Fund  Katriel Schory

    Since its first edition in 2013, SOFA has supported the projects and careers of 60 entrepreneurs from 21  countries. SOFA alumni include Jan Naszewski, founder and CEO of New Europe Film Sales, sales agent and  distributor Viki Antonopolou, founder of Athens based Endorphin Film Sales, SYSTEM CRASHER producer Jonas  Weydemann, and Terezie Kriskovska (founder of NaFilM – National Film Museum in Prague)  

    The new edition’s support for Ukrainian projects also reflects a commitment made since the outbreak of the  war. In May 2022, SOFA had already curated and animated a week-long open online workshop for Ukrainian  film professionals, open to previous alumni of the programme as well as any creatives or entrepreneurs from  Ukraine with a structural project in the film or audio-visual industries. The workshop emphasized specific  recommendations for funding programs and support schemes to allow Ukrainian professionals to continue their  work in cultural fields. It also touched on possibilities and support for settling into new countries and their  industries, navigating bureaucratic challenges, as well as methods and strategies for continued project  development amidst the threatening landscape of the invasion. 

    The 2022-23 SOFA Participants are: 

    - Leonid Kalitenya and Natalia Bruzhnik (Belarus / Lithuania) with the project: BFN - Belarussian Filmmakers Network 

    - Dániel Botos and Máté Körösi (Hungary) with the project: CinemaJam 

    - Bibesh Roy and Arifur Rahman Khan (Bangladesh) with the project: TALKIES – A Cinematic Pleasure - Olga Zhurzhenko and Sia Titova (Ukraine / Poland) with the project: MoreFilm.Fun - Pavel Ruzyak (Czech Republic) with the project: Filming without Barriers 

    - Gunel Gadirova (Azerbaijan) with the project: Council for Audiovisual Production 

    - Salomé Jashi (Georgia) with the project: Cinema Nutsa 

    - Grzegorz Czyż (Poland) with the project: Warszawa\Praga Studio 

    - Louise Højgaard Johansen (Denmark/ Czech Republic) with the project: Sane Cinema - Elena Rubashevska (Ukraine / Poland) with the project: IFCH – International Film Critics Hub - Teimuraz Chkhvimiani (Georgia) with the project: Deli Residency at Svaneti IFF 

    - Joanna Wyrwa (Poland) with the project: Film for Better 

    - Nadejda Koseva (Bulgaria) with the project: CITE - Cinema International Teenage Education - Aleksandar Arsovski (North Macedonia / Croatia) with the project: Short Fits - Film Market - Danijela Radulović (Montenegro) with the project: PROFILMIA LAB - Virtual Film Lab - Anja Mayer (Germany / Switzerland) with the project: My Remote Knowledge Guide 

    SOFA is a project developed by Filmplus gUG (Berlin/Germany) in partnership with the ARTUM Foundation  ewa partum museum (Deby/Poland) and 20 Steps (Tbilisi/Georgia), supported by the German Federal Foreign  Office / Civil Society Cooperation, the European Cultural Foundation and SdpZ (Foundation for Polish-German  cooperation). The Warsaw workshop is additionally supported by the Polish Film Institute (PISF) and Mazowia  Film Commission. SOFA wants to thank its strategic partners EAVE, Goethe-Institut and Midpoint. SOFA’s  second workshop will be held online from November 29 until December 2, 2022. The third workshop is  scheduled for April 24 – April 28, 2023 in Georgia.