Rada Sesic & Martichka Bozhilova

RS: There is also one more bright example, a Croatian production – Factum, headed by the film director Nenad Puhovski that is also very successfully pioneering in the documentary production in our region. In Romania, there are other fantastic committed directors/producers who are devoted for a long time already to only documentary films – Alexandru Solomon and Florin Iepan. All of you have paved the path to other documentary companies that appeared in the last decade in the region showing that such a challenge is possible to sustain even in the postwar and transitional economies.

MB: Yes, when we started only a handful of production companies from the region were active and present on the international market. In this difficult process we became certain that a networking and support institution is needed in order for the new generation of Balkan documentary filmmakers to be able to collaborate internationally and get out on the market. Our region became internationally known at the time for some of the finest films – The Great Communist Bank Robbery By Alexandru Solomon (Romania), Children of the Decree by Florin Iepan (Romania) and Georgi and the Butterflies by Andrey Paounov (Bulgaria). These films set the beginning of a new way of treating and rethinking reality and convincingly demonstrated high cinematographic level, observational style, sense of humour, as well as braveness in the author’s point of view.

RS: Maybe it is good to recall the time before, especially for DOX’s younger audience. They might not know that in all socialist countries, we had only one single producer – the State. It was commissioning, making, censoring and screening all films, including documentaries. After the changes, there was a huge gap and confusion – what does it mean to be an independent producer, especially without money? So, the transition from the previous regime of socialism, then having this long difficult period, and the huge crisis in all aspects left a mark on the film scene as well. That was a dramatic period also, I mean especially for ex Yugoslavian new states, not to mention a horrible war and all the problems that came out from it. One jumps from one to another political system and you can’t change your way of thinking overnight, and you can’t understand another way of organizing things in a film field also, in the cinema field. So I think that this region really needs special support. At the time, many of these fine films were produced with the help of Jan Vrijman Fund of IDFA, but I was amazed that once the countries like Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary became a part of the European Union, there was no special program that would be filling a gap as something in-between, to educate people and give them special help to reach the production level of the rest of Europe. Not to mention the countries that are outside the EU and have fewer and fewer places to go and apply for production.

Our problem is the fact that there are no cinemas, the cinemas have been destroyed

MB: Exactly,The Balkan Documentary Centre started out of this thinking. It was created as a cross-border initiative five years ago in Sofia, Bulgaria. The main point behind its establisment was to unify filmmakers in the region and open them up to the international market. The key impact of the main training program of the Balkan Documentary Centre called ‘BDC Discoveries’ is through increasing the level of professionalism to bring Balkan documentary projects to a new standard of international co-productions and success on the European market. The long-term impact of ‘BDC Discoveries’ is an increased awareness of critical issues provoked through quality documentary projects. Another gain is the emerging of the awareness of how strong projects can be created on a regional level, by demonstrating the similarities of local issues and ways of tackling them together.

RS: My motivation to suggest the Docu Rough Cut Boutique at The Sarajevo Festival was coming out from the same need. I watch some hundred films from the region every year for our documentary competition and I see – there are so many talented filmmakers, so many wonderful, relevant stories, amazing characters, such a passion and devotion, yet, these films don’t travel abroad often. Why is that? What is missing? Both of us actually thought at the same time that some platform that would give a hand to those who are almost reaching the goal, is a necessary one. And I think by having these three editions of Docu Rough Cut Boutique so far, we proved that things are going in the right direction, and each year we have at least one or two successful projects, successful films later on. Filmmakers also feel that they are entering the professional world of Europe by understanding how to produce a film, how to promote a film later on, and how to get in touch with the right consultants for a specific story or structure and so on. So, things are moving but they are moving so slowly and I don’t know…

MB: Yeah, it is a slow process, that is why these programs like Docu Rough Cut Boutique have to go on and improve every year, which we are trying to do. But other programs also have to be developed in the region and I hope that is the future. I would also like to mention the films from the previous two years that were part of the Rough Cut Boutique and were extremely successful; Family Meals by Dana Budisavljevic, a film that hit the box office in Croatia and was also extremely successful at many festivals…

RS: It is also relevant what this film brings up, especially in our region. The filmmaker is very brave to speak about the freedom of sexual orientation and to open herself up. It’s a remarkable film. But the film really needed a special treatment. And I feel that participating in the Documentary Rough Cut Boutique made a difference for this particular project.

MB: Yeah, and another example from the second year of the Documentary Rough Cut Boutique is Sofia’s Last Ambulance. It is a film that really explores new ways of the cinematic language. It is a real artistic achievement also pointing out a very serious and important social topic: public social care…

RS: And also, Ilian Metev, the director of Sofia’s Last Ambulance and the producer Siniša Juricic, became through this film known abroad. Okay, you were the first producer, I think, who was known for really being devoted to the creative and sophisticated documentary projects, and often people would say ‘Okay, so Martichka is producing this film’ – so we can trust and give them support. It was a kind of brand already. So now Siniša Juricic, is becoming the kind of producer who is also asked to produce films outside this region. People from other countries are now approaching him. So now is the opening time for our region, something really new and good is developing in this region, and something very promising.

MB: Yes, I completely agree with you. Because of the turbulence and complications in the region the profession of producer was very often neglected or misunderstood. But because of the efforts and good examples, and many of them throughout the years, now I can say that in nearly every Balkan country there are at least one or two good producers with great track records of documentary films. And you can easily co-produce on an international level; it is still not sufficient, but at least you can be sure that there is a certain professional level and you can expect a high quality from reliable producers in the region.

RS: Yeah, and also understanding that you can’t be making documentaries while you are just waiting to make a fiction film. I mean if you make documentaries you also have to be very devoted and patient and foresee that it is a long process. So I think that is the biggest misunderstanding that some people think – not only producers but also directors – ‘Okay, you are my friend, I will produce this film for you, and you will have five-six days of shooting, and we will make a documentary, it is fast and it doesn’t cost much money, we will only need a small crew, no problem, you just follow your main hero and then things will happen’. And then the film is there and it seems interesting but the festivals don’t want the film, they reject it. And then of course the frustration is building up – you can’t show your film abroad, outside the film’s country, outside the region, and outside of a specific audience.

MB: That’s why our platform Documentary Rough Cut Boutique, can be seen as the missing links, providing the education in working for the international market, and assisting young filmmakers in providing start-up resources and guidance. The activities of this kind have become a trampoline strengthening the new wave of young documentary makers in the Balkans, promoting authors with a fresh and bold approach.

They are like impressive miniatures that really hit you when you are in an audience

RS: These good upcoming films really deserve our commitment. And I would also like to express my respect for the initiative of the Restart that is devoted also to screening documentaries, not only making although they also produce. Some time ago, they also started Docu Kino and distribution of creative documentaries. This is the first company, in the whole Balkan region or at least on the territory of the former Yugoslavia, to realize that documentaries can be seen as a market product that can bring income. They try to sustain their profession, and show documentaries in different countries, try to promote really good films. It is pioneering work, but it is there, and what is nice is that these companies are now connecting with each other. Croatian Restart distribution collaborates with MakeDok from Macedonia, with Kosovo Doku Prizren that is an amazingly exciting festival and then you have Operation Kino from Bosnia and Herzegovina that is connecting with Romania and Bulgaria. This is initiative of the Sarajevo Film Festival and is done with the Transylvania Film Festival, and with the Sofia Film Festival. So they are screening fiction films in small, small places but there are also examples of screening documentaries in the region in many towns, cities. Because our problem is also the fact that there are no cinemas, the cinemas are destroyed. We have countries, like in Bosnia and Herzegovina, where the whole generation during and immediately after the war, grew up without cinema experience.

MB: Yeah, in Bulgaria it is also a very bad situation, like sixty-something screens altogether. In comparison to the past… I remember there were documentary cinemas during the previous communist regime and there was an educated audience and of course a documentary film tradition, which I don’t know if we will have time to mention but the documentary film tradition in the region doesn’t start from the democratic changes or after the Yugoslav War. We have very good examples of strong cinematic documentaries that were really breaking some stereotypes and some political boundaries, also during communism at the end of the 70s and the 80s. But now we have to start from scratch and we have to educate a brand new audience, and it is very challenging, especially in a situation in which the entire new generation doesn’t know what ‘cinema of flowers’ means. So it is very challenging, but at the same time, you mentioned some of the festival’s experiences… I want to say that there are great specialized documentary film festivals in the region that are run by very devoted, very good professionals that are dedicated to documentary films. I want to mention next to DokuFest in Prizren, Zagreb Dox and everything that Factum is doing in Croatia, also in Belgrade there are lot of festivals, documentary film festivals, which is amazing for one and the same city and all of them are very well attended. Of course the leader is Sarajevo International Film Festival because it is a premier status festival, and the competition that you are programming, Rada, is really high level and always very prestigious and sometimes even better than the competition for fiction films.

RS: (Giggling.)

MB: And there are other examples of documentary film festivals. They work as a network and there is a close connection between them, which of course makes the local documentary scene stronger.

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