Ten projects by first- and second-time directors searching for European partners took the stage this week during the Transilvania Pitch Stop, one of the leading co-production and co-financing platforms for filmmakers from Eastern Europe, the Balkans and the wider Black Sea region.
The forum’s ninth edition reflects a generation of up-and-coming filmmakers looking to find their voice through deeply personal storytelling, according to Dumitrana Lupu, who recently took over as the Transilvania Film Festival’s head of industry. “People are really writing about their personal experiences,” she tells Variety.
Five of the projects received a tailored script consultation from veteran script editor and film consultant Christian Routh, while all of the filmmaking teams were coached by consultant and producer Agathe Berman ahead of their pitch on June 23 to a gathering of producers, sales agents, festival programmers and other industry guests.
Launched in 2014 as a five-day workshop for first- and second-time directors from Romania and Moldova, the Pitch Stop expanded in 2017 to include a co-production platform with projects from countries across the region.
Among the films supported by the TPS since its first edition are “Apples,” by Greece’s Christos Nikou, which opened the Horizons sidebar of the Venice Film Festival in 2020 and is executive produced by Cate Blanchett; “La Civil,” by Romania’s Teodora Ana Mihai, which won the Prize of Courage in the Cannes Film Festival’s Un Certain Regard sidebar last year; and Ukrainian director Maksym Nakonechnyi’s “Butterfly Vision” (pictured), which bowed in Cannes’ Un Certain Regard section this year.
Many of the projects selected for this year’s TPS feature strong genre elements, a sign that young filmmakers from the region are plugged into growing global demand for sci-fi, horror, fantasy and other brands of genre storytelling. It’s a trend that the Transilvania Film Festival latched onto last year with the launch of its Full Moon Script Contest, a competition open to Romania-based screenwriters developing scripts in the categories of horror, fantasy, thriller or black comedy.
Among the projects being pitched this week in Cluj are “Monarch,” directed by Romania’s Radu Mihai and produced by Livia Rădulescu (Dash Film), which tells the story of a fledgling superhero at the risk of being overwhelmed by his strange new powers. Mihai describes it as “a kind of (post)modern fairytale with a touch of warm humor and benevolent irony,” one that eschews big bangs and big-budget VFX to tell the story of an average superhero “and the way he and the ones around him can deal with his superpower.”
Serbian director Filip Kovacevic’s sophomore feature, “Children of the Gods,” is a sci-fi thriller set in a “believable, fully rounded dystopian world” that he hopes will add to the growing body of European genre filmmaking. The movie is produced by Vukota Antunovic (Beef Production) and Djordje Stankovic (Void Pictures).
The story unfolds in a desert society that survived the collapse of a long-forgotten world, where one sacred ritual prompts a young man to start questioning the beliefs of his people and learn the truth about the gods who destroyed the world of his ancestors. Kovacevic said it’s a film “about our modern world that uses one plausible vision of its future to address the age-old fear that hides beneath all our anxieties – the fear of death.”
In “Avanos,” Greek director Panagiotis Charamis is crafting what he describes as a “neo-Western” set on the borderland of Greece and Turkey, where an ex-convict returns to his hometown to ask for his cut from a smuggling operation he was a part of while behind bars, only to soon realize that the price he has to pay is much higher than he expected. The film is produced by Konstantinos Baliotis for 2D2R.
Amid the “magical and rough landscapes” of Greece’s Thrace region, Charamis said he hopes to highlight the “wild beauty of the spaces and the characters of the people of a country in constant search of its inner salvation.” It’s a film about people under extreme duress, “in claustrophobic social environments located in wide open spaces,” and following characters who “continuously struggle against different social, ethical and gender values.”
“40, Maria Luisa Boulevard” is the address in Sofia, Bulgaria, where director Kristina Spassovska grew up. Once full of love and life, today the house is little more than “a hollow apartment full of memories and hovering ghosts – remnants of the people that used to live there,” said Spassovska. That family home – abandoned and haunted by the past – is the starting point for a journey by the film’s protagonist to find her missing loved ones.
Spassovska said “40, Maria Luisa Boulevard” is an intimate film – part drama, part mystery, part ghost story, where the ghosts bring a touch of lightness and a hint of the absurd. “Pigs, fish and roosters in the apartment, parrots flying around, spiritual TV shows and fortune-tellers, security camera footage, distorted radio signals, virtual tours and photo-wallpapers – all these elements will allow us to venture between life and afterlife, between past and present and understand how they connect for the protagonist Sofia,” said the director. “Dead or alive, a family is still a family, and it is there to back her up.”
Here are the 10 projects selected for this year’s Transilvania Pitch Stop:
40, Maria Luisa Boulevard
Director: Kristina Spassovska
Producer: Maya Vitkova-Kosev (Viktoria Films)
Sofia, a 36-year-old Bulgarian, returns to her childhood home for her father’s funeral, where ghostly events start unravelling the missing pieces of her life.
As Shadows Fade
Director: Burcu Aykar
Producers: Nadir Öperli (Liman Film), Müge Özen (Solis Film), Anke Petersen (Jyoti Film)
Project awarded at Meetings on the Bridge 2022
Trapped by the Turkish traditional, heteronormative family ideal, Esin lives unaware of her passions. When she falls for the fiery Deniz, a distant family friend who takes refuge in their house, their intimacy pushes her to transcend her boundaries towards a dark place of secrets and heartache.
Director: Panagiotis Charamis
Producer: Konstantinos Baliotis (2D2R)
An ex-convict returns to his hometown to ask for his share from a smuggling operation he was a part of while behind bars, only to soon realize that the price he has to pay is much higher than what he’d expected.
Children of the Gods
Director: Filip Kovacevic
Producers: Vukota Antunovic (Beef Production), Djordje Stankovic (Void Pictures)
In a large desert community that survived the collapse of a long-forgotten world, one sacred ritual prompts a young man to start questioning the beliefs of his people and learn the truth about the Gods who destroyed the world of his ancestors.
Director: Maxim Baraliuc
Country: Republic of Moldova
Producer: Ana Volosinovici, Sergiu Budici (MADS)
In a world shrouded in endless darkness, the only sanctuary for life is a small village sitting under a narrow beam of light. Joh – a young villager believes that his world is slowly dying, so he ventures into the dangers of the dark to save his people.
Director: Alican Durbaş
Producer: Ipek Erden (Vayka Film)
On a morning when everything in the apartment is packed into boxes, Emre (29) revisits his bittersweet memories of their first days there with Defne (29), treading through the marks of their past relationship. By the end of the day, he finally embraces the present as he moves out and moves on.
Director: Radu Mihai
Producer: Livia Rădulescu (Dash Film)
A young man has a super-power: he can block electrical circuits. But his own power risks to overpower him, as everyone else secretly protects him.
Director: Bálint Bagossy
Producer: Mónika Mécs (Inforg-M&M Film, Freeszfe Society)
A film where everyone talks about sex, but no one actually has sex.
Director: Andrii Ivaniuk
Producer: Volodymyr Filippov (Insightmedia)
Wanting to have a full-fledged family with children and learning about her pregnancy, Sasha tries to leave the child, under any circumstances. Even though her husband, a law enforcement officer, is categorically against that and does everything to have no children.
Where Elephants Go?
Director: Gabi Șarga, Cătălin Rotaru
Producer: Gabriela Suciu-Pădurețu (Green Cat Film, Atelier de Film)
A mother, who prostitutes herself for her cancer-stricken daughter, finds love with a confused and depressed young man.