Elina Psykou, Nikola Lezaic Set New Projects for Sarajevo Co-Production Forum

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New films from Tribeca prize winner Elina Psykou, Sarajevo winner Nikola Ležaić and the producers behind the upcoming Venice Horizons premiere “The Happiest Man in the World” are among the projects selected for the Sarajevo Film Festival’s CineLink Co-Production Market, the leading financing forum in Southeast Europe.

This year marks the 20th edition of the influential co-production market, which has launched films such as László Nemes’ Academy Award winner “Son of Saul,” Adina Pintilie’s Golden Bear winner “Touch Me Not” and Tamara Kotevska and Ljubomir Stefanov’s Oscar nominee “Honeyland.” Nine new feature film projects from the region currently in development will be presented to industry guests, along with seven new dramatic series in the event’s Drama strand.

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The carefully curated selection is among the smallest for a major regional market. That allows the organizers to begin working with the chosen filmmakers months in advance, employing script doctors and matchmakers “to really help them find relevant partners for their projects…[and] identify what their actual needs are,” said Sarajevo’s head of industry, Maša Marković.

For the first time, the event this year will be handing out the Female Voices CineLink Award to one project in development participating in the CineLink Co-Production or Drama strands, with an aim to support and promote female voices in the Southeast European film industry. The lineup is already admirably diverse: the 16 projects hail from 15 countries, with women attached as directors or producers to all but three productions.

“It’s a dynamic selection of projects,” Marković said. “Quite a lot center on the question of identity. I think it’s a result of the pandemic in a way. Those are very author-driven projects approaching the identity question from very different perspectives.”

“Patrimonial Fears and Other Symptoms” is the third feature from Greece’s Elina Psykou, whose sophomore effort “Son of Sofia” won the best international narrative award at Tribeca in 2017. Written and directed by Psykou, the film is produced by Maria Drandaki for Homemade Films and Konstantinos Vassilaros for StudioBauhaus, in co-production with Bulgaria’s Red Carpet Films.

The film follows three generations of men, each confronting private fears that they hope will vanish when the magician David Copperfield arrives in Athens to make the Acropolis disappear. The director said the story was influenced by her own experiences as both a mother and a daughter, as well as “our planet’s ongoing troubles,” which she said makes the film both personal and “universal and urgent.”

“I see ‘inheritance’ as a weight that transmits fear in the way inherited diseases are transmitted. The ‘inheritance’ which, either in the form of family succession, or history and religious faith, is a basic core of education, necessary for societies to survive,” Psykou told Variety.

“How can you raise children without teaching them fear? Without cultivating fear of the unknown, fear of the other, fear of failure, abandonment, separation and death? And how can you resist all this culture of fear that surrounds us in today’s era? The fear of destruction? The fear of violence? The fear of the foreigner?”

Serbian director Nikola Ležaić won the top prize in Sarajevo in 2010 with his debut feature “Tilva Rosh.” This year he returns to the co-production market with “Mum,” a road-trip drama about a man who travels with his father to Croatia to repatriate his grandmother’s remains to her ancestral village, learning lessons about parenthood, family and memory along the way. The film is written and directed by Ležaić and produced by Ležaić and Siniša Juričić, in co-production with Nukleus Film.

Ležaić described the film as a “farewell letter” to his father, who died of coronavirus in 2020. “I tested positive the same day that he died and couldn’t even attend his funeral, which pretty much crushed me,” he told Variety. On his sickbed, the director recalled a road trip he took with his father years before – a trip that inspired the movie.

“I sat down and tried to remember everything that happened during those events, just to heal my wounds, and in two weeks, just as I walked out of COVID, I had the first draft of ‘Mum,’” said the director, adding that the experience of writing the script “gave me peace.” Though Ležaić admits that the film sounds like “a hard pitch” on the surface, he sees it “more as a family dramedy [that’s] full of life and humor.”

Thanasis Neofotistos, whose 2018 short “Patision Avenue” premiered at the Venice Film Festival, has had his fair share of success launching his short films on the festival circuit. The director just returned from Locarno, where his latest, “Airhostess-737,” touched down in the Leopards of Tomorrow competition en route to its North American premiere next month in Toronto. The director took part this year in the Cannes Marché du Film’s Focus COPRO’, a program established to give a boost to first-time feature directors.

Neofotistos’ debut, “The Boy With the Light Blue Eyes” (pictured), is set in the mountainous hinterlands of Greece, where a teenager who appears somehow different in a village steeped in superstition struggles to be free. “The story is inspired from my own experience of growing up as a gay man in a conservative and religious Greek household. My grandmother, especially, was extremely superstitious, believing in the ‘Evil Eye,’” the director told Variety. “It was in this tradition and close-minded environment that I had to come to terms with my sexual orientation, whilst my family rejected my true nature.”

The director described the film, which he co-wrote with Grigoris Skarakis and is produced by Ioanna Bolomyti for Argonauts Productions, as “an allegory on acceptance in a society that is resistant to anything different.” He added: “It is for all the people who feel that they don’t belong and struggle to understand why. Only when they realize what marks them as misfits or outcasts in their community can they truly come to terms with themselves. And, oftentimes, this liberation comes at an important price.”

Ivan Bakrač, meanwhile, will be presenting his sophomore feature, “Yugoslava,” which he’s producing alongside Nikolina Vučetić-Zečević and Guillaume de Seille for Quadrifolium Films (Montenegro), in co-production with Biberche Productions (Serbia) and Arizona Films (France). The Montenegrin filmmaker’s feature debut, “After the Winter,” premiered last year in Karlovy Vary’s East of the West competition.

“Yugoslava,” which Bakrač also wrote, tells the story of its eponymous heroine, a woman grappling with loneliness who chooses the occasion of her 55th birthday to hunt for a new apartment — a search that will change her life in different ways than she imagined.

“Boredom, together with the melancholia which it cultivates, was my first inspiration,” said the filmmaker. “Then there was aging. I want to show the position of Balkan women in a very patriarchal society, in the times of boiling political transitions, and in a bit of a twisted way.”

The protagonist’s quest mirrors the nation’s own search for its lost identity, said Bakrač, an adventure that is in turns “dark-humored, atmospheric and very dangerous sometimes.” “I’m sure the audience will identify and feel this world as one that is sincere, close and familiar,” he added. “I want them to feel a universal aspect of Yugoslava’s freedom.”

Also in the CineLink lineup is “Skateboarding Is Not For Girls,” the sophomore feature from North Macedonia’s Dina Duma, whose debut “Sisterhood” premiered last year at Karlovy Vary. The film tells the story of a young woman who gets trapped between traditional and modern values when her family decides on a traditional bridal sale to solve its financial problems.

Pic is produced by Sisters and Brother Mitevski, the production house behind Teona Strugar Mitevska’s upcoming Venice Horizons premiere “The Happiest Man in the World,” and co-produced by Belgian outfit Entre Chien et Loup.

Here is the complete CineLink Co-Production Market selection of feature films:

All They Know About Love (Turkey)
Director: Melik Kuru
Writer: Melik Kuru
Producer: Irem Akbal
Production Company: Bal Film
A well-educated, emotionally underdeveloped translator enjoys the borderline relationship he has with his mother. Starting at a tutoring job in a francophone institution, one of his young students will be the strongest obstacle and most reliable guide on this journey.

The Boy With the Light-Blue Eyes (Greece)
Director: Thanasis Neofotistos
Writers: Thanasis Neofotistos, Grigoris Skarakis
Producer: Ioanna Bolomyti
Production Company: Argonauts Productions S.A.
In the Greek mountains, there is a remote, superstitious village. Peter, a different teenager, lives there with his strict grandmother and his overprotective mother. Through a series of events, lies are revealed, curses are unveiled and Peter will sacrifice his light-blue eyes in order to be free.

Hear the Yellow (Turkey)
Director: Banu Sivaci
Writer: Banu Sivaci
Producer: Zeynep Koray
Production Company: ZKF
Co-production Company: La Fabrica Nocturna
Successful opera diva Suna, who refuses to accept male dominance at an early age, escapes from the village she was born in. Decades later, she goes back and witnesses possible scenarios of her life, if she stayed.

Mum (Serbia, Croatia)
Director: Nikola Ležaić
Writer: Nikola Ležaić
Producers: Nikola Ležaić, Siniša Juričić
Production Company: Qče
Co-production Company: Nukleus Film
Nikola travels with his father to return the remains of his grandmother back to her home village in Croatia. He learns a lesson about parenthood, family, and memories that are sometimes not real.

Patrimonial Fears and Other Symptoms (Greece, Bulgaria)
Director: Elina Psykou
Writer: Elina Psykou
Producers: Maria Drandaki, Konstantinos Vassilaros
Production Company: Homemade Films, StudioBauhaus
Co-production Companies: Red Carpet Films
Dinos is the father of Lakis and Lakis is the father of Konstantinos. All three of them are chubby and scared. Will their fears disappear when David Copperfield makes the Acropolis disappear?

Petty Thieves (Germany, Croatia, France)
Director: Mate Ugrin
Writer: Mate Ugrin
Producers: Daria Blažević, Mate Ugrin, Karsten Krause, Frank Scheuffele, Julia Cöllen, Tiphaine Robion
Production Company: Fünferfilm (Germany)
Co-production Companies: Kadromat (Croatia), In The Cut (France)
Young loner Rio gets by with seasonal jobs and petty thefts in resorts on the Adriatic coast. His carefree everyday life is thrown off balance by Andrea, a seasonal worker from Serbia who becomes his partner in crime. During the course of the summer, they will spend a short but intense time together, that they will never forget.

Skateboarding Is Not for Girls (North Macedonia, Belgium)
Director: Dina Duma
Writers: Dina Duma, Lidija Mojsovska
Producer: Labina Mitevska
Production Companies: Sisters and Brother Mitevski, Entre chien et Loup
When a conservative tradition of bridal sale becomes a solution for a financial family problem, Adela dives into a completely new world where she gets caught between traditional and modern values.

We All Die Naked (Albania)
Directors: Iris Elezi, Thomas Logoreci
Writers: Iris Elezi, Thomas Logoreci
Producer: Enea Gramo
Production Company: Art Film sh.p.k
A recovering Albanian alcoholic and a drunken, dying Italian drive across the Balkans searching for the perfect place to die.

Yugoslava (Montenegro, Serbia, France)
Director: Ivan Bakrač
Writer: Ivan Bakrač
Producers: Ivan Bakrač, Nikolina Vučetić – Zečević, Guillaume de Seille
Production Company: Quadrifolium Films (Montenegro)
Co-production companies: Biberche Productions (Serbia), Arizona Films (France)
On her 55th birthday, in order to overcome her loneliness, Yugoslava uses a vacation to hunt for a new apartment. However, that search will change her life in different ways than she imagined.

Here is the selection of Drama series:

Brothers (Greece, Cyprus, Luxembourg)
Creator: Simon Farmakas
Writer: Simon Farmakas
Producers: Alexandra Hoesdorff, Désirée Nosbusch, Fenia Cossovitsa,
Production Company: Deal Productions
Co-production Company: BLONDE s.a.
When the son of a German politician is found dead inside no man’s land dividing Nicosia, opposing detectives, a Greek Cypriot and a Turkish Cypriot are forced to work together to investigate the crime.

By Law (Bosnia and Herzegovina)
Creator: Hari Šečić
Writer: Hari Šečić
Producer: Hari Šečić
Production Company: Association Spektar
A police drama series set in modern-day Bosnia, it tells the story of a young crime-solving detective who realizes that society’s main problem is the corrupted system he’s fighting against.

Gloria (Hungary)
Creator: Balázs Zachar, Marcsi Tóth
Director: Fanni Szilágyi
Producer: Balázs Zachar
Production Company: Proton Cinema
A young nun, starting a new life in the secular world, faces the awakening woman within her.

Hela After All (Serbia, Croatia)
Creators: Saša Podgorelec
Writers: Jelena Paljan, Antonio Gabelić
Producers: Aleksandar Janković, Vojislava Janković
Production Company: United Media Production
As Croatia’s soccer team paves its way toward the 2018 World Cup finals, the police investigation of the powerful priest’s intriguing death devastates the young girl’s life.

Nighttime (Serbia)
Creators: Nikola Ljuca, Milan Marić
Writer: Staša Bajac, Nikola Ljuca
Producer: Milan Marić
Production Company: Mechanism
Horror is other people.

Rumpus (Croatia)
Creator: Dubravka Turić, Danijel Žeželj
Writer: Dubravka Turić
Producer: Ankica Jurić Tilić
Production Company: Kinorama
Investigating the murder of a teenager, the female detective discovers the dark secret of a small industrial town and sinks into the swamp of the evil spirit Rumpus.

The Turkish Ambassador (Serbia)
Creator: Darko Lungulov
Producer: Darko Lungulov
Production Company: Papa Films
A brave Yugoslav man gets killed while trying to stop the assassins of the Turkish ambassador. A controversial Yugoslav lawyer defends assassins blaming the police for accidentally killing the man.

The Sarajevo Film Festival runs Aug. 12 — 20.

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