From 2001 to 2002, the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) initiated an innovative form to support social cohesion and good governance in South Caucasus (Georgia, Azerbaijan, Armenia) through the implementation of a program for regional filmmakers, in an attempt to revitalize an industrial and cultural segment which was left dead after the fall of the Soviet Union: the production of feature films.
SDC mandated the Foundation FOCAL – Switzerland’s leader provider of continuous training in film and audiovisual art – to tailor, conduct and monitor a program called AVANTI whose main objective was to support the South Caucasian Film Community on creative, legal and technical levels. Strengthening this cultural segment was part of SDC’ objective to consolidate the relationships between the 3 countries.
After several discussions with the people who could be identified as the local players of a once-glorious industry (which had fallen into a derelict state), FOCAL proposed to address the issues through 3 pillars to be implemented one after the other:
- In 2004-2005, the Updating Program which involved some 50 professionals from the 3 countries, gathered for 4 workshops over a period of 10 months. The participants belonged to several groups and most of the work was project-based. Mentors from the European film industry lead the training through the development of 27 film projects (feature films, short films, documentary films). More in Newsletter 1...
- From 2005 to 2011, the Co-funding Initiative which, after selection by international juries co-financed, 3 feature films, 6 short films and 3 documentaries, as well as 3 legal projects to implement best practice in the respective countries, for a total amount of 365’000 USD. 2 other feature films, developed within the program but not-awarded by the international jury, were also made, giving a total of 5 feature films out of 12 developed turned into films. A DVD of the short films was also made and distributed.
More in Newsletter 5...
- The Regional Scheme was the third and the mot difficult pillar. Right from the beginning on, the opportunity to create a common structure entirely run by the local professionals, as an extension of the training was in discussion. The main condition would that it would serve equally the 3 film communities.
The Regional Scheme came to life as an NGO named IFA-SC standing for "Independent Filmmakers' Association – South Caucasus". It was founded in October 2005, started its public activities in June 2006 and was active until July 2009 thanks to the continuous support of SDC. Over its 3 years of activity, IFA-SC consolidated the standardization process that AVANTI had been implemented, setting up development and legal workshops for some 200-300 participants, but also dealing with all sort of internal problems related to the 3-country delegations at the board.
More in Newsletter 3 and Newsletter 4...
Another important issue IFA-SC addressed was the switch to direct sound when filming. The use of dubbing and sound effects was a strong heritage from the Soviet way of filmmaking but is not acceptable to modern audiences and markets. Training film professionals to make that step was a vast technical and educational challenge that was undertaken by IFA-SC with ups and downs and became the main ground for the NGO to prove its relevance.
In 2011, the situation and perspectives of the film communities is very different in the 3 countries: Georgian film industry is working well, with a reliable subsidy systems and many co-productions with European countries; Azerbaijan is on the good way but the State system is still jeopardizing the freedom of filmmaking; Armenia is still frozen with little progress in most aspects.
But these results are hiding the fact that in the 3 countries, there is now a critical mass of independent professionals who know what needs to be done and are working on it, making progress within the political contexts. The professionals that FOCAL and IFA-SC trained and that SDC supported are no longer passive artists complaining about the absence of structured support from the State but active filmmakers promoting their projects with new standards, equipped with the relevant tools to be confronted with the international market.
In the end of the day, the final review by FOCAL of almost 10 years of intervention puts in evidence the following main achievements – most of them introduced by AVANTI and then consolidated by IFA-SC:
- Implementing the concept of independent production in 2 out of the 3 countries
- Implementing the know-how on developing film projects with international standards
- Opening up the international scene to regional players
- Stressing the legal aspects of filmmaking through participation of lawyers and strong contractual monitoring
- Implementing the use of direct sound in 2 out of 3 countries
The scope of AVANTI and IFA-SC, both by its nature and by its magnitude - as well as by its financial investment by SDC of a bit less than 4 Mio CHF - has made this initiative unique. As far as FOCAL knows, no other initiative of that importance has been implemented to support filmmakers in emerging countries. The traces it has left have changed an entire generation of filmmakers, providing with tools and hopes for their future, allowing them to contribute to the cultural life and social cohesion of their respective countries.