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SOFA Strives to Strengthen Movie Biz Infrastructure in Central, Eastern Europe

Four years ago Nikolaj Nikitin launched his innovative training program the School of Film Agents (SOFA), which provides tutoring and mentoring for movie biz professionals outside the production sector.

Next month, its latest edition opens in Warsaw, Poland, following its recent edition in Tbilisi, Georgia. Variety caught up with Nikitin, who also helps select films for the Berlinale, at the Karlovy Vary Film Festival.

WHAT IS SOFA?
It is a pan-European think-tank for the future of cinema… It provides training for culture managers in the field of cinema, but we call them “film agents” for short (not to be confused with sales agents and talent agents).

There are already great training programs for the people who create films — producers, directors, scriptwriters and actors — but our target audience are those in the film industry who don’t work in production: someone who wants to set up a film fund, a film festival, a film magazine, a video-on-demand platform, or a film school – any kind of film institution or company; even a physical place like a movie theater or a film studio.

 We also have a geographical focus: on Central and Eastern Europe, Central Asia, the Caucuses, Germany, Greece, and Israel.

WHY DO WE NEED TRAINING FOR CULTURE MANAGERS IN THE FILM SECTOR?
Film is a very expensive commodity. It’s not like writing a novel or a piece of music. You can’t sit alone at home. You need someone to fund your film, a place to shoot, and a crew, but you also need exhibitors, distributors, film archives, and so on. To keep cinema alive you need institutions.

If we look at France, Germany or England, there are a lot of film schools, film funds and other institutions. But the further East we go the less infrastructure there is because of the history of the post-communist area. We are trying to combine the experience of being in those kinds of institutions, in the knowledge that if these institutions exist then the cinema art form develops in a better way. Since the Georgia Film Center and the Polish Film Institute were set up, for example, we feel that film production and promotion has improved in those countries.

HOW DO YOU DEFINE TRAINING? 
It is about sharing, caring, and knowledge transfer. It’s about giving advice, so the participants avoid making the usual mistakes.

WHO ARE GUIDING THE PARTICIPANTS?
We have permanent experts who train the participants in things like managing a budget, presenting a project, and so on. Then there is a mentor who is very experienced in their particular field – someone who has 20 or so years’ working experience, and can share their knowledge, and tell them the dos and the don’ts. So great industry figures like Roberto Olla, executive director of Eurimages, Marion Doering, director of the European Film Academy, Renate Rose, the former managing director of European Film Promotion, Roman Gutek, a very experience Polish film distributor, and Fatima Djoumer, international relations and event executive at Europa Cinemas.

At our workshop in Tbilisi, for the first time, we had an angel investor, someone from a big platform in Turkey. So the participants had the opportunity to get some private money. We firmly believe that in the future public-private partnerships in the film culture sector will be the thing.