Elma Tataragic is one of the founders of the Sarajevo Film Festival and works as the selector of its Competition Programme. In addition to  her activity at the Sarajevo Film Festival, Elma is also a filmmaker and teacher: she was a script collaborator on Aida Begić’s diploma film First Death Experience (Cinefondation 2001 – Cannes Film Festival) and the screenwriter and producer of the short film North Went Mad. She produced and co-wrote the feature film Snow shown at Cannes 2008 – Semaine de la critique, where the film won the Grand Prix. She is also the general secretary of the B&H Filmmakers Association and teaches Screenwriting at the Sarajevo Academy of Performing Arts. In this interview, we asked her about her work at the Sarajevo Film Festival selection and about the SFF’s short film competition.

Film festivals often get a reputation for favouring a specific type of film. It is said that, for example, classic dramas are big in Krakow, Locarno or Tampere, while experimental films do well in Berlin, Rotterdam or Venice. The US is supposed to be the place for quirky animations. Could you say that over the years, Sarajevo has developed a taste for a particular  genre or topic?

Actually, I do not agree with these classifications, which means they are subjective. I guess that it would be the best to ask this question of someone who is not involved in the Sarajevo selection process. I would be curious to find out what  their impression would be. What we try to do in Sarajevo is discover new names and provide a platform for  innovative and brave filmmaking. Our situation very much depends on the trends within the region, because, unlike the festivals you have mentioned, we are regionally focused and we really depend on the aesthetics of the cinemas of the 16 countries we focus on.

Tell me about the process of the Official Shortfilm Selection. How does it happen? Who is on the selection committee? How many people are on the selection committee, and how do they work?

In Sarajevo, we do not have selection committees for film selection. We have a general selection committee working on all sections, but the Competition Programme for short films is entirely my responsibility. The selection is an exciting and beautiful journey, but at times it is even more tiresome than the Competition Feature film selection. I usually try  to see as many films as possible, so many films go through the regular application process, but I also see many films through films festivals when I travel, through film centres, films schools and through other contacts I have developed within the region over the years.

Can you give me some statistics? How many films have you received this year, and which countries do they come from ? How many hours did you spend selecting the films?

This year the selection of  10 films was made out of 300 entries. The films are from the region we are covering within the programme: Austria, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro, Kosovo, Macedonia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Greece, Cyprus, Malta, Albania and Turkey. I see all films from beginning to  end and I have no idea how many hours I spend on the short films. It would be an interesting statistic, even though I see some films several times before making the final decision.

Do you make sure that every country is represented equally – do you try to be politically correct, or is it solely the quality that matters?

No political correctness. The only thing politically correct is the quality of the films which speaks for itself at the end of the day. I never care where the films come from and I even play a game when watching the film: I try not to see the title or the name of the director and I try to guess where the film is from.

Are there any themes, motifs, genres the selection committee prefers? How do you decide on what is a good short film for you? Do you know it right away – are there things you notice at the very beginning of a film?

A good short film is a film which makes you wonder, which can tell you a story or pose a question, which can make you laugh, or provoke you. It can also be something which is not comprehensible , but which hypnotises you when watching it. When making the selection for the short film programme, I always have in mind that the film will not be shown alone – it is always in a slot with another four or five films and all together, they should be telling a certain story or sharing an attitude.

Can you exclude your personal taste absolutely and rely on objective points in the evaluation? Is objectivity important while selecting the films?

I don’t think it is possible to entirely exclude personal taste and I think this is good. Our selections have always had an attitude and this comes from a totally subjective point of view.

You say that there is a surprising number of female filmmakers in the Official Shortfilm selection this year. Can you recognise a certain feminine touch in these films – is there anything in common in films directed by women?

There is a certain sensitivity in these films made by women. The films are more subtle, but they are also shockingly and emotionally brutal at the same time. The humour in these films is of a rather cynical kind, some kind of bitter touch and view of reality.

Are there other festivals whose selection you are interested in? What inspires you as a festival programmer?

I love film festivals and I enjoy watching films wherever I am. I can watch films for 15 hours straight, and at the festivals I spend most of my time in the cinema. I am inspired when I forget where I actually am when watching a film. And, sure, I love to figure out how the selection is made and what the tone of each selection is, especially at festivals such as Cannes or Venice.

What is the main aim of the Short Film Competition: do you want to launch careers, so that your selected short film makers return to Sarajevo with their feature film, or do you want to take short films to another level?

We want to stay with our filmmakers and we prefer developing long lasting relations with them. I believe that this year’s selection is made up  of films by authors whose careers are  being launched and we would most certainly like to be that platform with our co-production market CineLink and our Competition Programme. On the other hand, this does not necessary mean that we are only dedicated to filmmakers who will  come back to Sarajevo with a feature – absolutely not. I believe that we are also strengthening the production and the aesthetics of short films and this is why we also have a platform for promotion of short films only, called MiniMarket.

You are a filmmaker yourself: you produced and co-wrote the feature film Snow  that  won the Grand Prix at the Cannes Semaine de la critique in 2008. Snow  has been shown at over 60 festivals and won over 20 international awards. Do you find the time nowadays to create films alongside your numerous other activities: the Sarajevo Film Festival, your teaching job and your work for the B&H Filmmakers Association? If yes, what are you working on now?

My friends say I am hyperactive. Sure, I have time and I like to keep myself busy. I enjoy all my jobs and I take them very seriously. They make me who I am. I am working on several projects  at the moment: preparing to write a new book on screenwriting and adaptations, thinking about one experimental short film and I have just completed a second version of my new feature film. I am  looking forward to August when I can  dedicate more time  to writing. On the other hand I know that I cannot make a film every year or every second year because of my other activities, but I don’t mind. I have been part of the Sarajevo Film Festival since the beginning and I cannot imagine not being part of it. It has grown into a project which has not only changed our city but the entire region, and I am proud to be part of the team.

text: Zsuzsanna Deák