News / The Network


The Network - 12/05/2011


Stefan Kitanov, Director of the Sofia International Film Festival, Bulgaria



Can you tell us about the Sofia International Film Festival?

The Sofia International Film Festival started 15 years ago as a thematic music film festival, but after the first couple of editions it developed into a general film festival and became one of the key Bulgarian cultural events. The festival brings current world cinema trends to Bulgarian audiences and promotes Bulgarian and Central and Eastern Europe cinema to an international audience of filmmakers and professionals. Sofia IFF was featured in the Variety Top 50 Unmissable Film Events for professionals in the world and was accredited by FIAPF as a competitive specialised film festival.

The festival is attended by more than 300 professionals - film directors, actors, producers, distributors, sales agents, representatives of film funds and institutions - from Europe and all over the world. They visit Sofia to present their films, meet the audience and participate in debates with other professionals and the media. Filmmakers also hold Q&As after screenings of their films. There are also many panel discussions and workshops organised within the frame of the Sofia Meetings co-production market. The important panel discussions were well attended, including one about film distribution in the region of Central and Eastern Europe, New Business Models, Viral Marketing, plus at the pitches of the projects selected for Sofia Meetings, and at the screenings of the new Bulgarian and regional films at the Balkan Screenings event. We also need to keep working hard on the audience side of things, especially in times of an economic crisis.

Sofia IFF attracts more than 70,000 spectators annually. This year, it was probably the most successful film festival done in Sofia to date. There were almost 300 international guests including, among others, Claudia Cardinale, Volker Schlöndorff, Otar Iosseliani, Goran Paskaljevic, Danis Tanovic, Andrzej Zulawski, Milcho Manchevski, Sylvia Kristel. The festival was widely covered by the media.

What types of films do you show? Do you have a preference for local films?

The International Competition consists of 12 first- and second-feature films from all over the world. They are judged by an International Jury which also watches the 12 Bulgarian short films for the Jameson Short Film Award. There is also a Balkan Competition for regional feature films, a Documentary Competition with up to 12 full-length documentaries, and a section of new Bulgarian features with an award for best film. Other sections include The Big Five (winners of Cannes, Berlin, Venice, Sundance and Toronto), Cinema Today (Masters) and Cinema Tomorrow (Discoveries), both featuring feature films from the last year made by established filmmakers and newcomers. The programme also includes a focus on at least one country, retrospectives, other documentaries and shorts.

Bulgarian cinema is experiencing a national and international revival. There is a new generation of young filmmakers who have entered the film scene, with films that were well received by both audiences and professionals.  This year, for the first time, two Bulgarian debuts were selected for the International Competition – Shelter by Dragomir Sholev and TILT by Viktor Chouchkov Jr, and the first one won the Best Film award. That was the first time a Bulgarian film won the top award in Sofia. A Bulgarian film also won the documentary competition – The Rules for Single Life by Tonislav Hristov.
Soon after the festival, TILT and another debut feature also presented at the festival, Love.Net by Ilian Djevelekov, topped the national box office chart for the year.
The festival has launched the careers of more than 10 new Bulgarian directors over the last three years, and we are confident that a new era in Bulgarian cinema is upon us.

Are you well supported by the local municipalities, regions, sponsors? How do you promote the festival internationally?

The festival is one of the key cultural events of the Sofia Municipality calendar, but the funding is lower in comparison with the funding given to similar events from public institutions in Central and Eastern Europe. The same goes for the funding from the Bulgarian National Film Centre, Ministry of Culture, sponsors, and other partners, although all of them respect and appreciate the festival’s value. In other words, the value of the festival is much higher than the funding available for the organisation!
Our visibility and successful auto-promotion is greatly aided by our presence at key coproduction markets and festivals. We also visit more than 15 festivals annually and participate in meetings, panel discussions and seminars with other professionals. We have an attractive bilingual website which is well visited, and are also given visibility on some of our partners’ websites. Our festival partnerships and guests also play a significant role in the promotion of the Sofia IFF.

Do you show films on digital?  If so, what are the advantages of these over 35mm screenings?

We only had one purely digital screening off a DCP, Wim Wenders’ 3D Pina, which was the title the audience had most expectations about.  Other films were screened from DigiBeta or HD.  Actually more and more films are screened that way instead of 35mm.

Can you tell me a bit about the Sofia Meetings? Who attends these? How do you select the people and projects? How successful has the event been in recent years?

Sofia Meetings is the professional platform of the Sofia IFF. Its aim is two-fold: firstly, to present new films from Bulgaria and the region to representatives of international film festivals, sales companies and journalists, and, secondly, to present feature film projects to an audience of representatives of film funds, producers, sales agents, distributors and commissioning editors looking to do co-productions in the future. Sofia Meetings has proved to be one of the leading co-production markets in the CentEast Region. Successful films such as The Death of Mr Lazarescu by Cristi Puju, Adrien Pal by Agnes Koscic, The World Is Big and Salvation Lurks around the Corner by Stephan Komandarev, Eastern Plays by Kamen Kalev, and Medal of Honour by Calin Peter Netzer were presented as projects in Sofia.
Most recent successes include The Island by Kamen Kalev, Ave by Konstatin Bojanov and Sneakers by Ivan Vladimirov and Valery Yordanov which have just been selected for Cannes, Moscow and Karlovy Vary.

By Chris Evans - may 2011
Sofia Meetings
Pictures (from top):
Stefan Kitanov
Stefan and Mira Staleva
The World is Big and Salvation Lurks around the Corner