Bosnian Filmmakers Are Struggling But TV Production Is Thriving: ‘Sector Is Much Better and More Optimistic’

At times Bosnia and Herzegovina has looked like it was stuck in a bit of a no-man’s land when it comes to film production, lacking the financial fire-power to press forward, but its TV series business is booming.

The Southeast European country boasts two Oscar nominations – Danis Tanović’s “No Man’s Land,” which nabbed a statuette in 2002, and Jasmila Žbanić’s “Quo Vadis, Aida?,” which was nominated in 2021 – and its filmmakers have enjoyed success on the festival circuit, but it still hasn’t upped its meagre level of production, especially in terms of fiction features, with only one or two majority Bosnian films produced a year.

The problem lies in the “messy and unregulated model of audiovisual support in general,” according to producer-director Jasmin Duraković, whose film “The Glory of Unhappiness” screens in the BH Film sidebar at Sarajevo Film Festival, which presents the recent crop of films with investment from Bosnia and Herzegovina.

“I read somewhere that Bosnia and Herzegovina is the European country that invests the least in film production. But this is less of a problem than the fact that Bosnia and Herzegovina does not have its own film center,” director Srđan Vuletić, whose new feature project “Gym” is in the works-in-progress section of Cinelink, the festival’s industry program. “Filmmakers are forced to look elsewhere for funding. However, money is not the only issue. What is particularly devastating is the fact that there is neither a strategy nor a long-term vision for the future of the Bosnian film industry.”

That said, the lack of funds is the main stumbling block. Production companies that mainly live off the production of films work in extremely difficult conditions. The combined annual budgets for the production of all types of films – feature films, short films and documentaries – do not exceed €1.6 million ($1.76 million).

“Few films are being produced, sporadically, and without a systematic look at the industry in the country as a whole. I am speaking, primarily, of low budgets from the film fund and a lack of understanding for the needs of the industry from the very people who run the funds,” Cinelink head and Bosnia’s most prolific producer, Amra Bakšić Čamo, from production company SCCA/, says.

This sentiment is shared by directors Aida Begić, whose “A Ballad” was Bosnia’s Oscar candidate last year, and Pjer Žalica, whose latest film, “May Labour Day,” closed last year’s Sarajevo Film Festival, as well as producer Damir Ibrahimović from the Deblokada production company he runs with Žbanić.

They also point to the lack of foreign productions coming to film in Bosnia. “On the state or federal level, incentives for filming in the country do not exist. Therefore, there is almost no interest in filming in Bosnia and Herzegovina from foreign productions,” Ibrahimović says.

A few foreign productions filmed in Bosnia at the beginning of the 2010s, most notably Angelina Jolie’s “In the Land of Blood and Honey” and Larysa Kondracki’s “The Whistleblower.” Also, the production company Obala Art Center, Sarajevo Film Festival’s sister company, has been increasingly involved as co-producer in festival big-hitters, such as Ruben Östlund’s “Triangle of Sadness” and Jessica Hausner’s “Club Zero.”

Director Ines Tanović is also preoccupied with the fact that the lack of funding makes it difficult for young filmmakers to get their projects funded right out of film school, “which makes our first-timers late bloomers in their late thirties or early forties,” she says.

In Sarajevo, the local government introduced an incentive scheme three years ago that has alleviated the situation a little.

On the plus side, Bosnia is the home of the only casting director who operates across the entire Balkan region – Timka Grin, whose vast portfolio of both local and international productions includes “In the Land of Blood and Honey.”

Also, the state of the Bosnian film industry didn’t deter Hungarian maestro Béla Tarr from launching in 2013 his Film Factory Project at the Sarajevo Film Academy, the first private film school in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and the only filmmaking school in SouthEast Europe with a full curriculum taught in English.

While film may be an endangered species in Bosnia, TV series are thriving, thanks to BHTelecom’s BH Content Lab introduced in 2020, that is already yielding strong results, among which are Žbanić’s Venice-bound “I Know Your Soul,” acquired by Beta Film, and “Kotlina,” co-directed by Tanović and Begić, and produced by Bakšić Čamo.

As well as backing established names, the BH Content Lab is also offering opportunities for younger professionals. “This has led to an increase in interest in Film Studies at the Academy of Performing Arts and we expect this trend to continue,“ says Elma Tataragić, the president of the Assn. of Filmmakers of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Sarajevo Film Festival programmer, and Academy of Performing Arts professor.

Filmmaker Una Gunjak, rising star of Bosnian cinema, whose feature debut “Excursion” is fresh from Locarno Film Festival and plays in Competition in Sarajevo, adds: “Up until a year ago, we were a country unable to sustain two simultaneous productions because very often, in certain sectors, there were not enough technical crews to cover all positions.”

She also advocates for the decentralization of the film industry in Bosnia. “In the last few years, the Sarajevo Film Festival has been bringing the festival to other towns and cities in Bosnia and that is essential, too. New generations of a demanding film audience, of future filmmakers and film professionals, of film critics have to be cultivated outside of the epicenter of Sarajevo,” she says.

The Sarajevo Film Festival has been, without a doubt, a key player in the development of the film industry in Bosnia and Herzegovina since its creation 29 years ago. It has been fundamental in the genesis and support of many projects, and has launched many careers.

“The festival is original, full of positive energy that transforms the entire city and region. During the Sarajevo Film Festival, we, filmmakers, who work in very difficult conditions, have the opportunity to celebrate our art and be happy that we are together,” says Žbanić.

New generations of filmmakers and producers, look to the fest as the hub where they hope their projects start, but also end, and it is a place where their networks widen, says director Emir Kapetanović, a former participant in the Sarajevo Talent program.

Ishak Jaliman, a producer and industry coordinator at the festival, says: “There is an increasing understanding and synergy between producers, talent, funds, festivals and communications operators who create an atmosphere that makes continuous work for my colleagues and I possible.”

Bosnian cinema is young, which is why, in spite of the issues facing filmmakers, Tataragić is hopeful. “We can conclude that the situation in the audiovisual sector is much better and more optimistic,” she says.

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