FNE at Sarajevo Film Festival: FAME’s Mike Downey Unveils New Slate of Southeast European Coproductions

    Mike Downey Mike Downey

    SARAJEVO: FNE spoke with UK producer Mike Downey who helms the London based FAME (Film and Music Entertainment) as he gets ready to head for Sarajevo Film Festival where he is serving on the jury. Downey is one of the leading foreign producers working in Southeast Europe.

    FNE:  What are the new projects that you have in South Eastern Europe?

    Mike Downey: Film and Music Entertainment, though based out of London, is active all over the world in all kinds of productions.  When we set up the company 15 years ago, we did so with the intention of creating a World Cinema label, very much like the World Music that came on the scene in the 80s. Projects out of South Eastern Europe therefore became a key part of what we do.

    We have recently completed three projects from the region. Currently in distribution is Pawel Pawlikowski and Ben Hopkins’s Lost in Karastan coproduced with 20 Steps in Georgia, Mohsen Makhmalbaf’s The President (which opened Venice Orrizonti and is being released theatrically in the UK next week.) and also coproduced by Vladimer Katcharava’s 20 Steps and the Caucasian Film Service; just finishing post production are Antonio Nuic’s Life Is a Trumpet coproduced with Boris T Matic’s Propeler Film from Zagreb,  Rade and Danilo Serbedzija’s The Liberation of Skopje coproduced with Igor Nola through MP Film Production, Goran Tozija and Robert Naskov of Croatia’s Lijeni Film and Macedonia as well as Miroslav Momcilovic’s A Stinking Fairy Tale made with Belgrade’s Brigada and Bulgaria’s Audiovideo Orpheus.

    In the next month we are partnering with Interfilm of Zagreb on Rajko Grlic’s The Croatian Constitution starring Nebojsa Gologvac, and Konstantin Bojanov’s I Want to be Like You, a collaboration with Multfilm of Sofia. We will also participate in Konstantin’s next film to be shot in India with Overdose, My Eyes Are Yours, based on the book Nine Lives by William Dalrymple.

    In addition, and subsequent to our participation in his film Holidays in the Sun, we have also now completed the development process on Srdjan Dragojevic’s The Porcupine, based on the novel by Julian Barnes and will be a coproduction between the UK, Serbia and the Ukraine.  After the successful completion of Fatmir Koci’s Amsterdam Express we now have a completed screenplay and funding for his next feature, Elvis Walks Home.

    Finally, back to Georgia, we are in an advanced stage of development on the UK-German-Georgian partnership on Rudolph Herzog (White Diamond) and Tim Price (The Radicalisation of Bradley Manning) on How to Sell a War also with Vladimir Katcharava’s 20 Steps, and we hope to participate in the production of DEDE by Mariam Khachvani written by Mariam Khachvani, Vladimer Katcharav and Irakli Solomanashvili.

    We have a couple of projects coming up in Poland with our regular collaborators there, but it’s a bit early to talk about it.

    FNE: You have worked in Poland, ex-Yugoslavia and Georgia. What appeals to you in an Eastern European project?

    Mike Downey: The same thing that drives us to make films with directors from all over the world, whether with the Golden Bear Award winning opera company Isango from Cape Town (with whom we have just completed La Boheme) or a young Brazilian first time director like Maria Clara, with whom we have just completed Streetkids United II – The Girls from Rio, or things like Lilet Never Happened, a fiction feature about child prostitution in the Philippines.

     A natural curiosity for ideas. A passion for using film as a device for artistic expression and as a weapon for social change. Whether it’s a powerful political tract, like Mohsen Makhmalbaf’s Georgia-shot, The President; or Pawel Pawlikowski and Ben Hopkin’s comic screenplay for Lost in Karastan, the attraction is the same: great screenplay, great idea, specific artistic sensibility and an ability to make an impact on the world around us and make a slight contribution to change the way we think about the world in which we live.

    When I founded the company with its launch on the Frankfurt DAX 50 movies ago, it was modelled on what we saw was happening in the music business in the area of “World Music”; that, in addition to our domestic home-grown U.K. and European business, we would actively pursue “World Cinema” projects. 15 years later and with a portfolio of films with budgets totaling in excess of 225m USD, we have been successful in creating a company with a mixed portfolio, that does not depend for its existence on the three major U.K. cornerstone funders, the BFI, the BBC and Film Four (nevertheless we work regularly with all three), and has a very eclectic mix of creative and commercial partners all over the world. 

    Very few UK production companies have developed and made films with the likes of German Nobel prize winner Günter Grass, literary father of the Australian nation Thomas Keneally (Schindler’s List) and LA’s own Demon Dog, the American legend that is James Ellroy. Plus our ongoing collaboration with the VICE group.

    So the attraction is not simply to make British films out of the UK but to contribute to our overall vision of a mixed portfolio of World Cinema; this includes Central Europe, the Caucasus, Russia, Latin America, Africa, the USA, and the Far East, places we have worked in regularly in the last years

    FNE: How fast do you think the Georgian film industry will develop after the launch of the tax rebate scheme in 2016?

    Mike Downey: The Georgian film industry has already come a long way in the last few years and is demonstrating a return to form and a semblance of its former glory. The work that firstly Tamara Tatishvili (under the Minister of Culture Nick Rurua) and subsequently Nana Janelidze have done to position Georgian cinema as a pivotal force in the region has been second to none.

    The tax rebate scheme is a game changer and will transform further the Georgian ability to compete on a level playing field with its competitors in the region. We will access it for the first time on our project How to Sell a War directed by Rudolph Herzog in early 2016.

    FNE: Can you give us some names of Eastern European young directors you would like to work with?

    Mike Downey: The region has some great talent and we are very curious when it comes to new talent, we’re looking forward to working with Mariam Khachvani on her debut feature, and currently making Konstantin Bojanov’s second feature.  Antonio Nuić is a great name from Croatia as is Miroslav Momcilovic from Serbia. We are in talks to participate in Polish director Bodo Kox’s second feature and Fatmir Koci from Albania is always a joy to work with.