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MEMBER OF THE MONTH – Vanja Jambrović


In this monthly interview series EDN focuses on one of its many members to show both members in the spotlight and the diversity of the EDN membership group.

Our EDN member of the month for May 2014 is Vanja Jambrović, Producer, Restart, Croatia

Vanja Jambrović was born in 1980 in Zagreb, Croatia. In 2005 she graduated philosophy and comparative literature at Faculty for social sciences in Zagreb and in 2011 she graduated film production at Academy of drama art, also in Zagreb.

Since 2009 Vanja has been working exclusively as a producer at the company Restart. She has produced several shorts, including Boxed and Real Man’s Film, before handling Nebojša Slijepcevic's 2013 Croatian-German-Romanian documentary Gangster of Love. Vanja also served as an associate producer on the Slovenian-Macedonian-Croatian co-production Mama Europa by Petra Seliškar and is currently in development of the fiction feature Araf – The Elevations by Srdan Keca and the feature documentary Shooting the War by Nebojša Slijepcevic.

Vanja has participated at several international workshops for upcoming producers – Eurodoc in 2010, Dragon Forum in 2011, Emerging Producers in 2012, and has this year been selected by European Film Promotion to be one of the Producers on the Move at the Cannes International Film Festival taking place this month.     

EDN has among other things talked to Vanja about her co-productions and current projects and about being selected to be Producer on the Move

EDN: Can you start by telling a bit more about your background and what drove you in to film production?

VJ: After high school I studied philosophy and comparative literature and at comparative literature studies I was attending lots of film history and film theory lectures. At that moment I decided that I also wanted to get some more practical knowledge about film producing and the process of filmmaking, so I enrolled to Film Academy in Zagreb to study film production. Going even further into my personal history I must say that filmmaking was in a way an obligatory, inevitable profession for me because of my father who was the most impassioned film buff I’ve ever know. When I was a kid my father and I would spend our “father-daughter” time together visiting old cinemas and watching cult movies. He introduced to me “le cinéma d'auteur”. My father was and still is living in the world of his favourite films and not in the trivial world of everyday life and that left a big remark on my perception of films.       

EDN: Restart is a company with different focus areas related to film and film production. What is the profile of the company and what types of projects are Restart currently involved in?

VJ: Restart is an organization focused on production, education, distribution, exhibition and technical advising in making documentary films. Recently we have also started moving into the direction of producing fiction films. Besides production our innovative and unique programs are Dokukino cinema and documentary distribution label – Restart Label. Dokukino is a unique theatre specializing exclusively in screening of documentary films. It’s located in the centre of Zagreb. Dokukino is following the world trends in the documentary scene and brings to our audience the latest and most interesting documentary titles. Restart Label is the latest project of Restart focused on publishing and distribution of creative documentaries in the territory of ex Yugoslavia. Distribution of documentaries is focused on cinemas, televisions, VOD, film festivals, libraries, NGO associations and different stores and shops. On the basis of Restart’s initiative we’ve founded a distribution network that contains partners in every ex Yugoslavian country.   

EDN: At Restart you among other projects work with the Restart Laboratory. What are the profile and aim of this project? What does it bring to you as a producer working with young talents?

VJ: Laboratory is a continuous program of education and technical help to the debutant authors in Zagreb and Croatia in order to facilitate them to make their first documentary film. It is important for us to offer professional help and mentorship to anybody who has a great idea and wants to realize it as a documentary film. I think it’s a unique program because I’ve never heard of something similar existing in our documentary industry. Laboratory is mainly reserved for people that already attended our four months course “School of documentary films”, but have a wish to profound their knowledge and get more practice. Laboratory takes place in regular rhythm in which debutant author with the guidance of his mentor (film professional) realizes his documentary film from the preproduction phase to the point of the film distribution. Since 2009 Laboratory has produced 10 short documentary films and some of them had successful festival launches attending competitions at festivals such as Fid Marseille, American Documentary Film Festival and many smaller festivals…                     

EDN: This month you will be taking part in the Cannes International Film Festival as Producer on the Move. What does it mean to be selected and what is your aim for taking part?

VJ: They say that a producer is worth as much as his connections and contacts are worth. This is why “Producer on the move” is one of the best opportunities to broaden my networking and to get more in touch with people from the international film industry. Besides meeting people, I also expect to have the opportunity to present them my new projects and eventually to find coproducers as well as to trace some new interesting projects that I want to coproduce. I expect to broaden my knowledge and my horizons on contemporary filmmaking and to have some nice leisure time watching films.          

EDN: You are currently in the development with the documentary Shooting the War. Can you tell a bit more about the status of the project and what it is about? Will you be promoting and looking for partners for this project while in Cannes?

VJ: At the moment I’m very happy to work with two very talented documentary directors from our region – Nebojša Slijepčević and Srđan Keča who will soon make their first fictions or hybrid docu-fictions. Srđan’s project is called Araf – The Elevations and follows the story of Fadi, a young illegal migrant from Afghanistan who gets dropped in a small town in Serbia on his way to Western Europe, and falls ill. Nebojša’s project is Shooting the War and it will be a short fiction film and a feature documentary of its making at the same time. It will deal with an important topic not only for Croatia, but Europe as well: the relation of young people in the youngest EU member state to the ex-Yugoslavian conflict. Together with Nebojša I have just participated in the script development workshop SOURCES2 in Berlin with Shooting the War. With the help of our group and our tutor Iranian-Austrian director and producer Arash T. Riahi we developed the project further and during the next few months we will make a new script draft. After that, we will be able to start to go on pitchings with that project and to search for partners.   

EDN: You have recently completed 2 feature documentary co-productions Gangster of Love as producer and Mama Europa as co-producer. Can you tell more about these productions and your involvement in them?

VJ: Gangster of Love directed by Nebojša Slijepčević was my most ambitious project so far and first project done as international co-production, coproduced by Restart (Croatia), ZDF/ARTE, Kloos & Co. (Germany) and Subcultura Films (Romania). The film was screened in more than 40 festivals and it won 3 audience awards and 3 jury awards. We are especially proud of the results of cinema distribution in Croatia – during limited art-house cinema distribution 7662 people saw the film, which is a very good result for cinema distribution of a domestic title in Croatia (including fiction and documentaries). With our partners from Split (Mediterranean Film Festival) this summer we will also organize a summer tour of the film, in which it will be screened in 20 Croatian islands and coast villages. Mama Europa is a documentary film by Slovenian director Petra Seliškar, and for our company it was a minority coproduction. It is a typical example of a successful regional, ex-Yugoslavian co-production between Slovenia, Macedonia and Croatia. I believe we should all aim to co-produce films with our neighbouring countries because they represent natural market for our films. I hope one-day the Balkan film market will have a similar structure as the Scandinavian market, in a way that we will have pan-Balkan film funds that will encourage Balkan coproductions.  

EDN: How do you usually find projects and partners for co-productions?

VJ: The most important aspect to me is a choice of director with whom I work with. There is no good producer without a good director. I always repeat myself that the producer has to do the same amount of work to produce an excellent film as well as to produce a lousy film. This is why I must share a creative vision with director to be able to participate in it. If I don't truly believe that we will be able to make a great film, it’s better that I don’t get involved as producer in the project. This is why I always carefully watch the previous work by the director, before accepting the project. As for the search of the partners - each project has different path in search for the partners, but attending international workshops, pitchings and industry events always works as an excellent start.      

EDN: In 2011 Gangster of Love participated in the EDN run workshop and pitching forum Docs in Thessaloniki. How does it benefit a project to take part in a programme like this?

VJ: Generally, most of the filmmakers, including me, find the form of 7 minutes pitching frustrating, because they are artificial and very often can’t extract the best projects. I remember some of the projects that nobody noticed at the pitchings and they turned out to be really excellent films and also some other projects that looked very seductive in the form of the pitch, but everyone was disappointed when they were finished. So, for sure, pitchings can’t really guarantee anything. But still pitchings are a very valuable form of finding coproduction partners and commissioning editors for our projects. For me and for director Nebojša it was very challenging to participate in it and in the end it turned out very efficient and helpful. Thanks to the IDFA award for the best pitch that we received for Gangster of Love at the East European Forum 2011, we got an invitation to pitch at IDFA Forum where we managed to confirm the coproduction deal with ZDF/ARTE. So, without attending pitchings we would never be able to get a coproduction deal with ARTE. And this is exactly what I really like and cherish about the pitchings - how democratic they are. No matter who you are and how much previous experience on the international market you have, if you are producing an internationally interesting project and if you prove yourself as a great filmmaker, by attending the pitchings you will get the chance to present your work to key decision makers.                    

EDN: You are based in Croatia. What is the current situation for the documentary industry there and for upcoming documentary filmmakers?

VJ: I would say that Croatian documentary scene has started to flourish and hopefully will do even more in the future. At the moment Croatian documentaries and documentary filmmakers are more successful in the international scene than our fiction colleagues. Croatian documentaries have been participating in the programs of the most important documentary festivals in the world such as Hot Docs, Vision du Reel, Fid Marseille, Rotterdam FF, Leipzig FF, recently winning awards at Visions du Reel and Jihlava Film Festival, and on the other hand it’s still quite rare that Croatian fiction film gets really recognized in the international festival scene. At the moment in the Croatian documentary scene there are lots of new creative voices and few new ambitious production companies that are open for international coproductions and work on highly professional standards. Unfortunately the dominant perception in the country is still conservative, considering fiction films to be more valuable than documentaries, but this perception is also slowly changing. We are happy to have the great international festival ZagrebDox and cinema Dokukino - both of them are doing a great job showing the audience how exciting contemporary documentary filmmaking can be.      

EDN: From which sources can you obtain funding for documentaries and how is the situation and collaboration with Croatian broadcasters?

VJ: Croatian Audiovisual Centre is the key institution that puts lots of effort to upgrade Croatian film industry into a more professional level in recent years. Since 2008 when Croatian Audiovisual Centre was formed lots of things changed for the better and there has been lots of progress and development in different fields. Just one example to give – during the 90-ties the Ministry of Culture cancelled all the financing for the documentaries. The chief of film financing back then considered documentaries to be purely a TV format that doesn’t need any financing from the Ministry of Culture. That destroyed completely the independent documentary scene in Croatia and no real creative documentary films were produced at all. And since Croatian Television (HRT) was producing only TV reportages and no real documentary films, the Croatian documentary scene didn’t exist at all in the 90-ties because of the dominant backward politics that was ruling the country. That attitude changed in the last 10 years and today it is possible to get funding for scriptwriting, project development and producing of independent documentaries. This is just one small example that depicts the whole atmosphere of the film industry in Croatia from the 90-ties to nowadays. Today we are struggling a lot with HRT (Croatian Public Television) that is still very closed for independent producers and didn’t make necessary reforms since the socialist times. For example the last documentary film that I have produced Gangster of Love by Nebojša Slijepčević was done in coproduction with German television ZDF/ARTE and not in the coproduction with HRT (Croatian television). It is bizarre and a sad fact that for us in the end it was easier to get coproduction with ARTE than a coproduction with our national broadcaster.   

EDN: What comes next for you after the event in Cannes?

VJ: June is the month for participating and attending friendly festivals in the region of ex-Yugoslavia. There are three important festivals in a row: In Croatia Mediterranean Film Festival Split, Underhill Film Fest in Podgorica, Montenegro and Maxedox Festival in Skopje, Macedonia. In Podgorica and Skopje we will have a screening of Gangster of Love and in Split there will be a Q&A about the cinema distribution of documentaries. What happened in Split during cinema distribution of Gangster of Love is a unique case for that Croatian city; more people went to see our documentary in cinemas then Hollywood blockbusters Robocop and Lego Movie 3D.    

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