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“Albanian cinema needs to open up to international co-productions”

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Ilir Butka • Chairman, Albanian National Center of Cinematography

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- We discussed the recent evolution of Albanian cinema and the benefits of the Balkan Film Market with Albanian National Center of Cinematography chairman Ilir Butka

Ilir Butka  • Chairman, Albanian National Center of Cinematography

The Albanian National Center of Cinematography (ANCC) celebrated its 20th anniversary by organising the first Balkan Film Market (BFM). We had a chance to talk to Ilir Butka, chairman of the ANCC, about the evolution of Albanian cinema over this period, the current focus on co-productions and what the BFM can offer to the Balkans.

Cineuropa: Could you sum up the major changes that Albanian cinema has seen since 1997?
Ilir Butka:
 When I became president of the ANCC, four years ago, we decided to focus on increasing film output and the number of supported filmmakers, as the costs had been reduced thanks to digitisation. Through this increase, more professionals approached us, and it was also a test to push the limits of Albanian film production. Since 1997, we have financed 300 films in total – and 100 of those in just the past three years. This also happened because we wanted to have a centre that would be open to new directors, who should not be afraid of being rejected and consequently losing faith. Following this path, we usually finance half of the projects that apply each year.

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We have seen that you are also trying to focus on international co-productions; how has this become possible for Albanian projects?
Making strictly local films could lead to having a closed mind. When someone is simultaneously a director, scriptwriter, producer and even a distributor, he is not an auteur in a film industry; he just becomes a craftsman. So Albanian cinema needs to open up to international co-productions. By forcing our directors and producers to apply to Eurimages – not necessarily for financial support, but to build connections – we want to create this collectivist essence. Their projects will be challenged and passed through a filter, and their work will be improved. We also offer to cover all of the costs of the Eurimages application, so no one will have any excuse not to participate. Furthermore, we select more films to facilitate their applications to other funds and programmes, on the condition that they secure a co-producer within one year – otherwise, we withdraw our support.

Are there any countries that you are particularly interested in?
We are open to collaboration with any country. Certainly, we had an almost immediate connection with Italy, as there are fewer barriers to overcome. The Italians know our market, and many Albanians have already worked there. We also have an equally strong connection with Greece: our professionals had their first working experiences there and are now bringing this knowledge back to us. We now have five films where the crew is half Albanian and half Greek. It goes without saying that Kosovo supports our projects, for obvious reasons. I think that these are the three pillars that are supporting Albanian cinema today.

How attractive can the ANCC be for other projects?
When I started, the initial budget that the ANCC offered was €500,000, which has now doubled, and I hope that it will reach at least €2 million soon. Practically, we have €1 million to finance 40 films each year, including minority co-productions. For smaller, independent productions, we introduced a scheme that offers them around €20,000. Their usual cost is around €25,000, whereas the average cost for an Albanian film is €250,000, although these micro-micro-budget films could work in the local market, too, as we’ve had 12 feature films every year under this umbrella. Later, we hope to expand in the fields of short films, documentaries and certainly animation, which is close to the heart of our cinematic tradition. Albania almost had its own animation wave, with 15 films produced every year until the late 1980s.

What led you to initiate the Balkan Film Market?
The heads of the Balkan film centres have an excellent professional relationship, although this is not carried over to our producers. We believe that we should be more open to collaboration, as our countries share so many cultural and historical elements. The Nordic countries set an excellent example, as they collaborate not for financial reasons, but because they can be more efficient together. That’s what we are aiming for with the BFM, to create this possibility among Balkan professionals, enabling them to communicate and create a network in a territory that is somewhat uncharted and undiscovered for the rest of the world.

The creation of the BFM is supported by three main pillars, which cover all possible film stages. It starts with script development, through Albascript (see the news), following this up with projects in development that have secured 20% of their budget, in Pitch Balkan (see the news), and finally we have a pillar focused on minority co-productions (see the news), for projects that have 80% of their budget in place and are seeking ANCC support. As a result, a professional who comes to the BFM can find projects at any possible phase, according to his or her interest.

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