Sarajevo Film Festival 2017. Short Talk with Elma Tataragić, programmer of the “Competition program – Short Film” section

At this year’s Sarajevo Film Festival, “Yellow Bread” caught up with Elma Tataragić, the programmer of the Feature and Short Film Competition programs of the cinematic event. We talked about the festival, the short film section and selection, short films and her activities outside the Sarajevo Film Festival.

Can you talk about the selection process of the “Competition program – Short Film” section of the festival?

Elma Tataragić: It’s a very exciting process, because we get to see about five hundred short films, out of which we pick ten. It’s quite overwhelming, especially from April to the end of June. Of course, I don’t do it alone. I am the program selector, meaning that I do make the final decision and I am the host and I present the films, but we are a team in which there are also the creative director of the festival and my colleague Asja Krsmanović who does the pre-selection and who also does the selection for the “Competition program – Student Film” section. How we proceed is that I see absolutely every film. I want to see every film. For me, it’s very important what’s happening in the region and I feel that I have a responsibility towards the filmmakers, so I really see every film. First, we see the films separately, but then we make a shortlist. When we compare the results among each other, then we discuss the shortlist and make it even shorter. Basically, around fifty films make it to the shortlist, which we re-watch again and we also watch some in cinemas. Then, of course, there is another shortlist of twenty films. After that, we discuss and decide the ten films that are going to be picked at the end. The only restrictions that we have – there are, more or less, two restrictions – are the duration of the film (it’s 30 minutes for the Main Competition) and that we at least have to have a regional premiere, which means that the film could not have been shown anywhere in the region, but that’s a small restraint. There are a lot of films in the region. There are more and more films being made and more and more films of very good quality in terms of production and content.

Can you exclude your personal taste? If so, to what extent?

E.T.: I think I can to a certain extent, but I guess it’s not possible to exclude it absolutely. We’re not robots and machines. And, curatorship is also considered, in a way, as an author’s work as well. So, we don’t have to exclude it. There are, of course, some inclinations which you can feel with every programmer and selector, but sometimes, some things are quite clear; sometimes, I know there is a topic I like, but when I start watching the film it just doesn’t work out. It’s not so much about the taste, it’s more about the film, about the craft and about the approach. I like to be surprised; I like to be challenged; I like my taste to be challenged.

What can you say about this year’s programming and selection?

E.T.: I would say it’s one of the most diverse years. The films are very, very different. But, what I really appreciate is that these new young filmmakers are doing something. Of course, as every new generation, they are leaning on the traditions, on the Past and on the aesthetics of Southeast European Cinema – whatever that is; it’s a very broad term – but, they are trying out new things. And, what I really appreciate is that they are focusing on big, important issues, which are prevailing not only in Southeast Europe, but in the world. You know, fifteen years ago, most of the films were dealing with the transition and what happened after Communism. Now, they’re not. They’re incredible. There are some very personal themes in some films and in others, there are big issues, great issues, which are the burdens of the world not really of Romania, or Hungary or Bosnia or whatever country… There are also some surprising themes and some twisted approaches to things. It’s a very fresh selection of films that we are presenting this year.

How would you define the short film section?

E.T.: What we want to do with the “Competition program – Short Film” section is to be and remain that of discoveries, of discoveries of fresh new talents. At the same time, we want to be the place for the reaffirmation of the already established authors, but who are approaching their topics and their subject matters in a new and fresh way. So, I would say we want to be a festival of discoveries.

What is the aim of the Short Film Competition program?

E.T.: The aim is to create a new platform for regional filmmakers, a platform they very much miss as there are, of course, big festivals and they do have short film selections, but it’s quite difficult for our filmmakers to get in there. So, we’re trying to make a platform where will be presented, and through this platform we hope they will create a new network and be introduced to representatives of film funds. And, what we really want is for them to come back with their next short or debut film, to come to Cinelink and then to follow their careers. We want to create a new network of filmmakers who are very much connected with each other and who most probably will be working and traveling together for the next thirty, forty, fifty years…

How would you define the Sarajevo Film Festival and its artistic direction? How has it evolved over time?

E.T.: We are very much defined by the region and that is our profile. It took us a few years to find where we’re going. In the first few years, it was a different festival. Only in 1998 did we introduce the regional section, which was a very small section at the time, presenting a couple of shorts and a couple of feature films in a tiny cinema and at not very attractive hours. It was only in 2003 when we really realized what we wanted to do with the festival and it was basically a turning point for us and for the festival. It was a year when, on the one hand, we decided to be committed to the promotion of regional cinema not only in terms of promoting the films – which we began that year in the National Theater, with the red carpet for regional stars and regional films – but also in terms of the preparation and pre-production of the films, which we started with our Cinelink Co-production Market, that is called today Cinelink Industry Days. Both of these sections have very much evolved and have also created other sections which are satellite sections like for example the “In Focus” program which presents the best of regional cinema Out of Competition at 4pm every day and has an amazing audience. Also, in Cinelink, we have TV Drama now; we have different platforms in which we are discussing new things that are happening in the audiovisual industry in general. And, all these sections together are basically the spinal cord of the festival as they themselves attract over a thousand film professionals coming either to promote films, to select films, or to start working on their new projects. So, in that sense, we are very much profiled towards the region.

How do other festivals influence your selection and, consequently, the concept of the festival?

E.T.: They do, of course. But, it’s not only the selection, it’s the entire concept. We’re very much inspired by other film festivals and we have always been. We have developed our festival by watching others doing their work and trying to see what would fit Sarajevo and what would not. It’s impossible not to be of a film festival and look at new things and look at how someone else is handling things and try to copy-paste that, and, of course, change that. The idea of Cinelink came out of IFFR and its Cinemart. A lot of things that we are doing through the Competition, I’ve seen them being done in Berlin, Cannes, Locarno… The Sarajevo Talents program is linked directly to the Berlinale Talents program. We’re still learning from the bigger ones, but the smaller ones as well and it’s not only in terms of selection, it’s also in terms of our profile; in general terms – where we’re leading the film festival.

What do you think of the underrepresentation of short films in the media?

E.T.: One of the most annoying questions that I get when, for example, there is not a feature film in Competition from a certain country – it doesn’t matter which – and then at the same time we have three short films from that country in the Short Film and Student Film Competition programs is: “Why isn’t this country represented?” I always say: “It is represented. It’s not among the seven, or eight, or nine films that we are showing in the Competition program for feature films, but take a look around, there are beautiful documentaries, there are beautiful short films…” It’s very difficult to know what is interesting to the media and how to approach the media. But, what is interesting is that there is a strong audience for short films. That’s why, this year, we have decided to open up a new venue for short films – which we call the House of Shorts – where we are trying to gather all the short filmmakers, all the short films and from morning to midnight only show short films. And, that has worked out quite well so far. It was packed; there was audience; there were amazing discussions, Q&A sessions, and networking events all happening for the short filmmakers. So, I believe there is an audience. There’s also something good about it not being in the media, because it’s totally an alternative scene. And, the energy you can feel when you go to our House of Shorts is totally different from any energy elsewhere in the festival, because it is alternative, it is kind of hidden away from the mainstream, which it probably should be. So, I think, at the same time, that we’re missing this place in the media, but we’re creating something new from behind the scenes, which is also good.

How difficult is it to make a coherent festival with so many sections and sidebar events?

E.T.: It’s very difficult to keep it all together. You can always be on this edge of falling apart when you say: “Let’s push this many films and let’s present this many films.” But, for the past five years, we have kept the same number of films. And, in terms of venues, we’re trying to profile things so the audience really knows what they get when they get to the venue. That’s why this year, we’ve introduced two new venues; one of them is the House of Shorts, which I have already spoken about, and the other one is the House of Youth where we have moved the children and teen programs. So, in that sense, we are trying to navigate our audience to know where they are going and what they are getting when they are there.

What is your opinion of short films?

E.T.: I love short films. I’m also a filmmaker. I’m a writer. I write feature films, but I direct short films. Last year, I presented a short film which I directed. As a filmmaker, I’m much more attracted to short films than to the feature films. Everybody asks me: “Do you want to direct a feature film?” No… But, I do want to continue directing short films, because it’s really liberating. I think it’s the most liberating film form there is. The only limitation is the duration and there is nothing else. You can really experiment, do a lot of things… And, to be sitting and watching short films for 1h30, to see five short films, to be taken to five worlds is a rollercoaster… So, for me, the most exciting film form is the short form.

What is a good short film according to you?

E.T.: It’s one that manages to grab you in ten seconds and just take you away…

Can you talk about your other activities?

E.T.: I teach. I’m a full-time professor at the Academy of Performing Arts where I teach scriptwriting and other courses related to scriptwriting specifically tailored for MA students. I teach to students of directing, writing and production. I lead the Association of Filmmakers of Bosnia and Herzegovina, which is the only institution working on the promotion of Bosnian Cinema throughout the year with different sections. We run a website, we issue a catalogue of Bosnian Film every year, plus a location guide for Bosnian Cinema, we organize the annual Ivica Matić Award as well as the Bosnian Film section at the Sarajevo Film Festival. And, I’m a script consultant and a writer. This year, I had a film at the Berlinale, in the Panorama section – the Macedonian film “When the Day Had No Name” directed by Teona Strugar Mitevska. And, as we speak, there is a film in production which I wrote, called “Stitches”. It’s currently being shot in Serbia and directed by Miša Terzić. There are a lot of things on my mind…

What lies in store for the Sarajevo Film Festival?

E.T.: We are very much staying dedicated to the promotion of regional cinema, of course, but with eyes opened towards television and what’s happening in television, towards the new ways and platforms of film distribution. We have a cinema which we run throughout the year where we distribute art-house films and we are also working on the audience as well with the “Operation Kino” (Operacija Kino) with which we bring art-house films to smaller cities and villages in Bosnia and Herzegovina. So, basically, it’s audience development, art-house distribution, and focus on the region.

What advice would you give to young filmmakers?

E.T.: Be yourself and be brave! Just shoot!

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