Festival In Focus: Why Sarajevo Is Shining The Spotlight On Local TV Drama

One of the major highlights of this year’s edition of the Sarajevo Film Festival is the launch of its new TV awards. The festival aims to elevate the visibility of drama series emerging from the former Yugoslavia region with these new Heart of Sarajevo TV Awards and will dish out awards across several categories in the TV arena including Best Drama Series, Best Comedy, Best Series Creator(s), Best Actress, Best Actor and Rising Star.

Sixteen series from region that premiered between September 2019 and May 2021 have been nominated and the winners will be judged by a jury of several hundred film and television professionals across the region. Awards will be given out at the beginning of the festival this year, so as not to clash with its film awards. The jury will form the nucleus for a professional academy, which will make decisions regarding future awards.

It’s a big step for the fest, but a natural one, says Sarajevo Film Festival co-director Jovan Marjanović, who points to the success of its industry strand CineLink Drama, which was set up five years ago with an aim to develop drama series as well as build the skillset of filmmakers from the region looking to explore the TV drama space.

“We started to notice this trend in the marketplace for high-end quality TV series years ago but there was nothing of that sort on our screens coming from our region,” he says. “We wanted filmmakers to take notice of this and think about why we didn’t have this in our region. So, we decided to do things like we always do and build from the ground up.”

The festival began setting up workshops for filmmakers to send and pitch ideas for series and then it invited international professionals from outside of the region to come and hear them.

HBO Europe soon saw interest in what they were doing and announced the HBO Adria ‘First Draft’ screenwriting contest at the festival in 2016 and one of the two projects chosen for further development was Marjan Alcevski’s Success. Directed by Bosnian helmer Danis Tanović, the six-part drama became the first HBO original series from the region of Croatia, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Slovenia, Macedonia and Montenegro.

Although HBO Adria didn’t continue after this, the series whetted the appetite for filmmakers and producers in the region.

“After this, many local streamers and broadcasters suddenly wanted to start investing in this TV content and there was suddenly a boom in Serbia for high-end TV series,” says Marjanović.

To keep the momentum going, the festival continued expand its CineLink Drama strand throughout the years and this year, six projects have been selected to feature in the strand which will all compete for two awards: the Croatian Audiovisual Center Development Award ($17,000 in cash) and the TV Drama Vision Award. Its Avant Premiere program has presented first episodes from the likes of Besa, Black Sun, The Group, The Paper and The Lake.

As for the TV awards, Marjanovic says he sees this as the beginning of a type of Academy for the region.

“We see this as hopefully a positive contribution to the whole business in the region,” he says. “Hopefully these new awards will be something that will shine a light on many of these shows internationally and they will benefit from the festival’s media attention. It’s just the beginning.”

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