By Daria Sito-Sucic
SARAJEVO (Reuters) - Film directors Bela Tarr of Hungary and Jasmila Zbanic of Bosnia are little known except to aficionados, but the U.S.-based independent Sundance Film Festival sees the Balkans and Central Europe as a fertile ground for the movie industry.
U.S. filmmakers are touring Bosnia to show their movies to audiences in the Balkan state that not only has become a regional film hub but has attracted the interest of some prominent Hollywood and European directors.
"Sarajevo is doing very well on the world stage right now," said John Cooper, the director of the Sundance Film Festival who was in the Bosnian capital to present a program supported by the Sundance Institute and U.S. cultural agencies.
"Sarajevo in particular is fascinating because of its already rich film history and the new film history that is starting here," Cooper told Reuters in an interview.
FILM FORWARD, the three-year-old international touring program, shows selected Sundance films each year in different countries, presenting the filmmakers through a dialogue about the films and different cultures and stories.
This year, Bosnia was chosen along with Mexico, China, Colombia and Jordan.
"You are making history in Sarajevo right now, with the Bela Tarr program and these filmmakers here that have already had some success," Cooper said.
He was referring to the Film Factory opened in Sarajevo this year by Tarr, a revered Hungarian director who established an international doctorate-level film program for mature directors to teach them how to preserve artistic integrity.
Cooper said his team decided to come to Bosnia last year after a meeting at Sundance with Zbanic, the Bosnian filmmaker who was awarded the Berlin Film Festival's Golden Bear in 2006 for her film "Grbavica".
"I am really excited to see young filmmakers here, meeting them, telling them what opportunities Sundance might have for them, trying to make sure that they are inspired to make films, to innovate and become great story tellers," Cooper said.
Sarajevo is known for its film festival, conceived towards the end of Bosnia's 1992-95 war as an act of defiance by film enthusiasts against the Bosnian Serb siege of the city.
It has grown into the region's largest film festival, promoting directors from countries ranging from Austria to Turkey.
Bosnia has also inspired some Hollywood stars, most recently Oscar-winning actress Angelina Jolie, whose directorial debut "In the Land of Blood and Honey" was set during the Bosnian war.
U.S. filmmaker Stacy Peralta said he was delighted by the response of the Sarajevo audience after showing his "Bones Brigade: Autobiography", a film about skate boarding.
"I am meeting audiences who wouldn't necessarily see my film or know anything about this culture," Peralta told Reuters. "The audience is supposed to get something out of this program but I am getting something out of it too as a filmmaker via my experiences with them."
Cooper said it was difficult to measure the program's impact but he would be happy if the links made on the tour resulted in showing Bosnian films at Sundance.
"We saw a lot of young people yesterday. If one of those young guys makes a short film about skateboarding or something, for me that would be success."
(Reporting by Daria Sito-Sucic; Editing by Michael Roddy and Mark Heinrich)