The lack of mutual familiarity on the part of both Balkan filmmakers and Western television is one of the reasons. Rada Sesic reports from the Thessaloniki Pitching Forum that brought together the two parties.

The impressions I got from talking to the participants of the Pitching Forum at the Thessaloniki documentary festival in March/April are best expressed in the title of Doug Aubrey’s road movie, Victim of Geography. This year, the Forum focused on Balkan documentary filmmakers, who indeed appear to have become ‘victims of geography’. Looking back on a great documentary film tradition and having received the most prestigious awards at Leipzig, Krakow or Oberhausen over the years, filmmakers from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Yugoslavia, Croatia, Macedonia, Bulgaria, Romania, etc., are nowadays facing numerous obstacles in performing their profession. Apart from the financial collapse in their home countries, the filmmakers are hindered by their own ignorance concerning the promotion of their work. The problem lies in the previous institutional management of all cultural activities in the former socialist countries, meaning they were centrally organized and controlled by the state. Coming myself from the Balkans and living now in the West, I can clearly point out the gap dividing Eastern and Western film production and promotion.

In the old days one didn’t have to think about where to apply for money or how to promote the film abroad, since there used to be only one film fund and one “production company” – the state. Now, with all cultural activities cut off from state support, filmmakers often find themselves adrift in an open sea. They don’t know where to go, how to apply for foreign funds, how to prepare proposals, etc. Some quickly learned how to co-operate with foreign broadcasters and be well presented at festivals, but they tend to keep their precious knowledge to themselves. Forums like the one in Thessaloniki become real “eye openers” for people from these countries in transition.

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