Human-centred stories from Southeast Europe, the Caucuses, and Middle East and North Africa (MENA) figured strongly during the second edition of Industry Days that wrapped up in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, last week.
Following a call for entries launched by the Al Jazeera Documentary Channel, 22 shortlisted filmmakers were invited to Industry Days to pitch works in progress to editors, sales agents, and documentary festival programmers.
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For three intensive days, commissioning editors, documentary festival organisers, and sales agents led round table panels, screened and evaluated works in progress and advised filmmakers on how to develop and bring co-production support and money to their projects. “Decision makers” from Cannes Docs, Sunnyside of the Doc, Arte, POV, Al Jazeera, Sheffield Doc Fest, Doha Film Institute, SBS Australia, and many more, participated in the event.
Jointly organised by the Al Jazeera Documentary Channel and Al Jazeera Balkans, Industry Days runs concurrent to the Al Jazeera Balkans Documentary Film Festival (AJB DOC), an annual event now in its sixth year.
Industry Days focuses on bringing awareness and support to MENA, Balkans, and Caucasus-based projects, said Adel Ksiksi, Head of Industry.
“It’s a chance for talented directors and producers to pitch their dreams in a supportive community and an important opportunity for their work to be seen and appreciated by the best in the business,” Ksiksi said.
This year, Industry Days granted production and co-production commitments totaling $108,000. Participating broadcasters from across the Balkans, MENA, and Western Europe were granted a record 25 awards.
Refugee issues and people uprooted by conflict figured strongly in the programme.
One film, Jana, follows the arduous, year-long journey of Leila and Sajjad, an ethnic Hazara couple forced to flee after the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan. Leila learns she is pregnant with the couple’s first child the very same day.
A history of persecution and massacres that have stoked fears of genocide against Hazara communities in Afghanistan force the couple to flee to a mosque in neighbouring Pakistan – the first of 11 temporary shelters in a year before they are granted asylum in Spain.
“Industry Days brought a wealth of insight to our project,” said Maaria Sayed, Jana’s producer. “Even though our filming is nearly complete, it was tremendously helpful to have documentary professionals guide us and share with us how they see our film. This gave us new ideas that we’ll take with us into final filming, and into the edit.”
In addition to themes of asylum, the shortlisted films in progress explored issues of communities forced to consider the extinction of traditional ways of life, the attempts of a son to understand why his mother abandoned him to marry an ISIL fighter, and a daughter’s quest, 30 years on, to shed light on her father’s murder during the Srebrenica genocide. And another film looked at the little known story of a group of orthodox rabbis in Jerusalem and New York who actively support Palestinian liberation.
The biggest industry event of its kind in the region, Industry Days has, in two short years, established its value to the global documentary community and become a boon for the Al Jazeera Balkans Documentary Film Festival (AJB DOC), said its Director Edhem Foco.
“It has raised our profile at least two or three-fold – overnight,” he said. “We were a respected festival, but in a sea of other festivals. With Industry Days in its second edition, and the kinds of decision makers who participated, everyone now is looking up to us. There is no place that has these kinds of decision makers, these kinds of awards, no other place in this region – from Italy to Greece.”
“So, people now look at AJB DOC with different eyes, and even the local community understand that something is happening, with many of them wanting to make movies. Now they have a chance to pitch their projects, to meet lots of people and to get money to make their films.”
The Al Jazeera Documentary Channel’s call for projects drew 177 submissions from 52 countries across MENA, the Caucuses and Balkans.