Al Jazeera Documentary organized a new international project – Al Jazeera Documentary Industry Days – in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina. The region’s first-of-its-kind event marked its conclusion at a decadent theater in the heart of the Bosnian capital.
AJD Industry Days was an integral part of the Al Jazeera Balkans Documentary Film Festival, acting as a launchpad to match filmmakers in different stages of production with key international players, including producers, commissioning editors and distributors.
Merely screening films is not enough to truly grow the documentary industry in the region, according to Adel Ksiksi, the founder of AJD Industry Days. Filmmakers need to be able to sit face-to-face with leading professionals so they can secure partnerships and financial support for their films, he said.
The event was also an opportunity to initiate dialogue and gain insight into the current documentary industry.
“To bring stories from parts of the world that are often underreported: Caucasus, Southeastern Europe and MENA regions is not only a dream of mine but a responsibility,” Ksiksi said while addressing a room packed with filmmakers and dozens of international decision-makers and broadcasters. “This is your opportunity. It’s a bridge to your dreams,” Ksiksi said.
The event saw a large array of new projects being pitched, and 30 films out of 175 submissions from 54 countries made the final cut.
The projects from across the Balkans and the Middle East and North Africa region were presented in three different pitching categories with filmmakers vying for co-production awards of up to $25,000.
The films explore a range of topics, including sovereignty, honor killings, climate change and fractured historical landscapes.
AJD Industry’s key event, The Main Pitch, was geared towards filmmakers and production companies in the early phases of development. The highlights of this category were The Last Nomads, by Biljana Tutorov and Petar Glomazic, which follows a shepherdess and her daughter in the highlands of Montenegro when their land is occupied by an international military base.
The second category, Work In Progress, screened films in post-production, including an Iraqi film which follows the director’s journey in search of her childhood friend and unfolds a secret world of abuse against women in Iraq.
The third category, Balkans Stars, was aimed at boosting the local documentary industry by creating opportunities for collaboration between filmmakers and local as well as international broadcasters. One such project was Hvar League, a film about a football league on a small Croatian island. The film won the Radiotelevision of Bosnia and Herzegovina (BHRT) Award worth 5,000 euros ($5,000).
During the three-day event, filmmakers had the opportunity to pitch their projects and discuss them in detail with industry leaders at workshops, panels and round-table discussions.
“To stand in front of key international players and defend your project forces you to take into consideration how the world views your characters and your footage. The event sparked a fire in me. I want to fight for this film so that the world can get a glimpse of what my country is facing,” said Elene Mikaberidze, whose film Blueberry Dreams portrays two young Georgian children, Giorgi and Lazare, who live in western Georgia amid tensions with Russian separatists throughout their lives. The film follows the children’s journey as they pin their dreams for a better future on the cultivation of blueberries.
The new event culminated in an awards ceremony on Monday afternoon. The Main Pitch Award of $25,000 was won by director Sedan Sarec’s Sarajevo Under Siege which follows the artists who staged the first ever Sarajevo Film Festival, taking place during the devastating siege of the city in 1993. Other winners included Iranian director Atieh Zare, who was awarded $15,000 for her film Friday at The Window, an intimate journey of a young Iranian girl who considers initiating a custody case against her parents when they put their relationship ahead of her well-being.
The Balkans Star Award of $10,000 was given to Slovenian film Woman of God – by Maja Prettner, Iza Strehar and Bostjan Virc – which touches upon the difficulty an evangelical Protestant pastor faces as she attempts to step away from the church.
The other winners included Last Letters From my Grandma by Olga Lucovnicova; Abastumani by Mariam Chachia and Nik Voigt; Do you love me? by Lana Daher; Hvar League by Emina Kujundzic; Land of Sars by Petra Seliskar.
“We have a responsibility to open a window for these projects. I want all these stories to fly, fly to the world,” said Ksiksi, capturing the spirit of the event.