Croatia Intl. Film Festival to Launch With Rooney Mara’s ‘La Cocina’

La Cocina,” the Rooney Mara-starring drama that premiered at the 2024 Berlinale, is among four feature films that will screen at the inaugural Croatian International Film Festival beginning Aug. 8.

The four-day event, set in the coastal city of Sibenik, will also feature 18 documentary and narrative shorts, giving the struggling independent film market an additional international venue to screen movies and launch careers.

Created by Croatia-born, America-based Ella Mische, CIFF was conceived as a fest that will amplify women in media and second-time directors, and will serve as an event to connect nonfiction and narrative filmmakers from around the world. Mische, who was part of the casting department on the 2022 Adam Sandler film “Hustle,” has worked in the entertainment industry for the last two decades casting, directing, acting and producing.

“Being a citizen of both Croatia and America, this festival began as a passion project,” says Mische. “I wanted to connect and give back to my two worlds — the U.S. and Croatia — and bridge the gap even more between the two, in terms of the entertainment industry.”

Although she has spent the majority of her career working in the United States, Mische decided to launch CIFF during the writer and actors strikes in 2023.

“During that time I saw a lot of my friends become depressed,” says Mische. “With friends in New York and L.A., the topic of conversation was about how there was no work. I thought to myself, now is the time to create. I needed to figure something out.”

Last summer Mische traveled to Croatia to start planning CIFF.

“At first I got a lot of pushback,” she says. “People thought that I was being too ambitious. But I just started making phone calls and then put CIFF on FilmFreeway.com and we got over a hundred submissions. They were all great films, some starring A-list actors like like Rooney Mara.”

In addition to “La Cocina,” three feature narratives will screen at CIFF. They are: Erika Arlee’s feature debut, “A Song For Imogene,” which debuted in 2023 at Geena Davis’ Bentonville Film Festival; Ivan Marinović’s second feature film, “Forever Hold Your Peace,” which premiered at Northern Europe’s 2023 Tallinn Black Nights film festival; and Brandt Andersen’s “The Strangers’ Case,” starring French star Omar Sy (“Lupin”). “The Strangers’ Case” premiered as a Berlinale Special Gala in 2024. Andersen and Sy will be in Sibenik for a Q&A following the screening of “The Strangers’ Case.”

Films at CIFF, which has been authorized and will be sponsored by the Croatian Ministry of Culture and the Croatian Audiovisual Center, will screen at historic venues across Sibenik, including the Square of the Republic of Croatia and the Barone Fortress, which is protected by UNESCO, United Nations’ educational, scientific and cultural organization.

Mische, along with 10 CIFF team members, narrowed down the 150 submissions from 30 countries to four feature films and 18 shorts, which include Rotha Moeng’s documentary “The Rubber Tappers” and three narratives shorts by second-time directors. In all, the lineup features films from 13 countries including the U.S., Ukraine, Mexico, Jordan and Nepal.

The theme of the first annual CIFF is awareness — about various topics including the world, identity and forward thinking. In addition to the 22 films screening at CIFF, the fest will feature panel discussions and the Student Film Corner, a place for college students in Croatia and neighboring countries to screen their thesis films.

“I decided to create the Student Film Corner to give students from the surrounding area an opportunity to talk to industry professionals and have access to conversations that they really wouldn’t have otherwise,” says Mische.

CIFF will take place after one of Croatia oldest and most prestigious film fests — Pula Film Festival, now in its 71st year, which gets underway on July 11. Five days after CIFF, the 30th annual Sarajevo Film Festival, the biggest showcase of Southeast European cinema, kicks off. With Croatia being a neighboring country of Bosnia-Herzegovina, Mische hopes that in the future Sarajevo film fest attendees will first stop at CIFF.

“Croatia is an international stop that is a perfect place to visit in the summer,” she says. “There is great room for this festival to grow over the years and become something great.”

The finalized CIFF lineup will be announced in July.

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