Pitching for Euros in Jihlava

By Cathy Meils in Jihlava
    The cinemas may have been filled to capacity at the Jihlava documentary festival, but the hottest ticket was for a seat in the standing-room-only pitching session, East European Forum on October 31 and November 1.

    The Jihlava International Documentary Festival (www.dokument-festival.cz), which concluded on October 31, has been a platform for the East European Forum (EEF) organized by Pragues' Institute of Documentary Film (www.docuinter.net) for the past nine years.Three rows of commissioning editors from across Europe, Asia, and North America were joined by an impressive audience of sales agents, producers, and distributors equally eager to hear what's coming up next from a region where documentary films are having a new resurgence of originality and popularity.

    For the 23 film projects that made the cut (out of over 100 applicants), standing in the spotlight meant a shot at an estimated €100,000+ in funding, co-production, pre-sales, and acquisitions. For the modestly-budgeted East European documentaries, grabbing the interest of a few participatants was an important step toward completing their fims.

    Along with increased attendance from western Europeans and North Americans, EEF saw the growing participation from Central European TV stations, including participants from Bosnia and Herzogovina, Macedonia, Poland, and Slovakia, along with a large contigent from the Czech Republic.

    "That's really a new development. The East European public TV stations are slowly opening up and seeing the value," Marijke Rawie, one of EEF's two genial and astute moderators, told FNE. "It's the first time I've seen the commissioning editors traveling around. National TV's are becoming more international. Now Central Europeans are indeed seeing the worth of havin the work of other countries."

    A major reason for EEF's dynamic growth? It pays off -- on all sides. Since its inception, EEF has funneled more than 50 films into the Jihlava doc festival's programme.

    Past sessions have resulted in about a 75% rate of success in completing projects, but reactions to the 2009 crop of pitchers led to estimates that around 90% could be realized.

    Polish public TV picked up two projects from the first day of pitching: The New World (Estonia, dir. Jaan Tootsen) and The Last Black Sea Pirates and Sir Norman Foster (Bulgaria, dir. Svetoslav Stoyanov). Czech and Bosnian public channels were looking at presales agreements for Recycling (Hungary, dir. Gyula Nemes), which also landed an Austrian co-producer as well as interest from ARTE and Belgium. YLE was looking at Larger Than Life (Latvia, dir. Gints Grube). Funder ITVS International was tracking Restaurant Bakhmaro and Those Who Work There (Georgia, dir. Salome Jashi), Sick (Croatia, dir. Hrvoje Mabic), Beast (Bulgaria, dir. Vesela Kazakova and Mina Mileva), and The New World.

    The blossoming interest is testament to the product. As Rawie told FNE, "The amount of slots for documentaries worldwide is shrinking." But the appeal of CEE films lies in their cinematographic quality. "They're made with little money, but with a little more time and fantasy," she added.