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Locarno: 10 Industry Takes on This Year’s Edition

From its central paradox to women, buzz movies, Swiss cinema, Portugal and peak cinema

LOCARNO — The 71st Locarno Festival kicks off today, Wednesday Aug. 1, its Industry Days on Aug. 3. It commands the biggest industry attendance of any mid-summer film event in Europe. Following are ten industry takes on this edition.

1.LOCARNO: THE PARADOX

Locarno frames an industry paradox. ”Sales agents never retire. They just print up new business cards.” Or so the saying goes.

A lot may now also be changing their job descriptions. For the 2018 Locarno Festival frames a paradox: 87% of first-run titles playing the Piazza Grande, a venue for crowd-pleasers, have sales agents. That may be par for the course. But as many as 73% of the far more auteurist, sometimes out-there  competition, also have agents on board coming into Locarno, which “could be something of a record,” said Nadia Dresti, Locarno artistic director and head of Locarno Pro, its industry division.

Yet, in many territories in the world, theatrical arthouse audiences are diminishing; prices paid per territory for art pics has steadily plunged; even the number of territories a film sells to may now be going down.

Several factors may be at work. Locarno’s International Competition is a bastion of a higher art films with often strong festival legs. Festival representation can constitute an important part of the total revenues for some films at least, says Stray Dogs’ Nathan Fischer. Stray Dogs will be looking for some major territory sales on Dominga Sotomayor’s “Too Late to Die Young,” he adds.

Locarno is “followed closely by the press, allowing you to build a film’s reputation, and you have most festival programmers from different territories,” adds Jean-Christophe Simon, at Films Boutique. Locarno Competition is “much less risky in terms of festival success than playing in a little section in Venice or Toronto.” At Locarno, “you have a limited number of films and companies will be very carefully looking at them,” Simon adds.

The Swiss Fest can indeed allow films to hit the fall fest circuit with reviews in place, a competitive advantage. Most of the world’s top sales arthouse agents now view a Locarno Competition or Piazza Grande berth as a sales strategy to consider seriously. “Locarno’s lineup gets better year after year. It has become more than a prestige festival label/logo,” says Sandro Fiorin, at FiGa Films.

2.WOMEN

Locarno’s lineup has “female characters at its center,” Variety announced July 11, reflecting analysis by fest artistic director Carlo Chatrian, when unveiling the 71st edition. Some of the most prominent portraits of women, especially in International Competition, are directed by men: Radu Muntean’s “Alice T,” Thomas Imbach’s “Glaubenberg,” and Kent Jones’ “Diane.” A report released (coincidentally) on the eve of Locarno by USC’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism suggests little has changed over the past decade in terms of representation. But it takes two-to-three years for economic or social change to impact movies hitting general release. Many arthouse sales agents have long backed women-centric films. Audiences are certainly ready, argues Hedi Zardi, at Luxbox. “Audiences are attracted by female topics and want to see them. Films with female-centric characters are not niche experiences: They can be synonyms of great success in festivals and in theatre,” he says.

“Women, particularly young women, want to see themselves on the screen, empowered and respected,” Fiorin agrees.

“There’s a bigger interest from the whole industry to find films from new female directors and have films which are talking about all their stories,” says Simon.

But, while the number of movies directed by women is important, so is their scale and market potential. One sign of real change in Europe would be women directors being entrusted with some of the biggest projects coming out of a country. But when’s that going to happen?

3..SMALL SCREEN – BIG MOVES

Under Carlo Chatrian, Locarno launched Signs of Life as a showcase for new narrative forms. But another is shorter-form TV, and series, even foreign-language titles, are playing abroad to millions of viewers. In recognition of this, for the first time, a TV series, Bruno Dumont’s winsome three-hour rural procedural, “Coincoin And The Extra Humans,” will screen in the Piazza Grande. Meanwhile, worldwide, TV production has emerged as a lift raft for film producers, offering recurrent revenue and a market extraordinarily avid, when compared to film, for upscale artistically ambitious content. When it comes to high-end TV, Switzerland had yet to join the party. That may change soon. Watch this space.

4.BUZZ SO FAR

There’s a good buzz on Milorad Krstić’s animated feature “Ruben Brandt, Collector,” a playful globe-trotting art-gallery heist thriller sold by HNFF World Sales, playing the Piazza Grande. “Diane” hits competition with a great buzz: “Mary Kay Place is superb as a regretful boomer who has grown older, but maybe no wiser, in the haunting first dramatic feature from Kent Jones,” Variety glowed in its review. Directors’ Fortnight opener “Birds of Passage,” from Colombia’s Ciro Guerra and Cristina Gallego, was reckoned one of the best movies in the section, “a south-of-the-border drug epic like you’ve never seen before,” Varietysentenced.

Most critics catch movies on site at Locarno. So buzz is created on site as well. There will be a large curiosity, however, to see what justifies “Breath of Life,” another debut, from France’s David Roux, its Piazza Grande berth, and if Bruno Dumont can capture again the delightful whimsy and acid social observance of Cap Nord Noir in “Coincoin and the Extra-Humans,” his follow-up to TV mini-series “L’il Quinquin,” about horrific, near surreal murders in a northern French town. There’s also expectation for “Alice T.” and “Too Late to Die Young,” world premieres in International Competition from two of the highest-profile directors there: Radu Muntean and Dominga Sotomayor.

5.SWISS FILMS – BREAKING OUT

Traditionally, Locarno hosts a Swiss industry all-morning discussion. This year, it will be Swiss president Alain Berset and Locarno Fest president Marco Solari who will be doing the talking, addressing the press and industry guests on cinema policy on Aug. 3. Switzerland’s biggest challenge, as a small and sometimes self-enclosed country at the heart of Europe, has been to form part of Europe’s larger film scene, its financing mechanisms and larger markets. Locarno this year may show some of its industry and the government walking that walk. Bettina Oberli’s Piazza Grande player “With the Wind” is her first film in French, taps a star, Melanie Thierry, and star co-scribe Antoine Jaccoud and a star script consultant, Celine Sciamma: Antoine Russbach’s debut “Those Who Work” taps into the Dardenne’s ethically probing Belgian social realist tradition, taps one their stars, Olivier Gourmet. There’s a sense of a younger generation of Swiss filmmakers – directors and producers – wanting to be based out of Switzerland, but never restricted to its borders.

6.ATTENDANCE

Accreditations at Locarno’s Industry Days were running  by late last week at 962 industry professionals, 172 of them  buyers/sellers, said Dresti. That puts them on track to hit or get near last year’s figures, by festival end, of 1,179 industry and 196 buyers, she added. But “we do not want to be in the Guinness Book or Records. We are looking for quality, not quantity. The Locarno program has a limited number of sections and films. I feel that the Locarno Pro participants are covering the programing’s needs,” she added. That said, the figure remains extraordinary for a festival held in the dog days of August in a continent that cherishes its holidays.

7.PORTUGAL IN FOCUS

Locarno’s First Look pix-in-post strand remains a major industry draw for sales agents. This year, after “Diamantino” dazzled at Cannes, winning Critics’ Week, Portugal comes under  focus with a six works in progress showcase during Locarno’s Industry Days over Aug 6-8. Titles aren’t chosen, filmotheque-style, just to give a larger picture of a national cinema. But one still emerges. Hollywood movies chart humble folk’s obstacle course to greatness. Portugal’s First Look records the trials and tribulation of humble folk’s path to remaining even humble folk, as fishing sees its last days in the Azores (“Blue Breath”), and charcoal kilns seem a residue from an earlier age (“Earth”). Set at a lowly soccer club south of Oporto, “Breeding Ground” fixates not on the next Cristiano Ronaldo making good but the redoubtable Sao bossing the backroom support staff, wading through seemingly eternal piles of laundry. It’s at least a different way into filmmaking.

8.PEAK CINEMA, PEAK FESTIVAL INDUSTRY ACTIVITIES

There’s peak TV. Could there be peak cinema as well? Even peak festival industry initiatives? “Once, we just had festivals, screening films. Then industry offices, which didn’t do that much,” said Nadia Dresti. “Now, however, near every festival has co-production markets, sometimes back-to-back panels. There are more and more industry activities in all the festivals in the world. It’s crazy,” she added.

Locarno for one, has decided to rationalize, folding both Industry Days, backed by the Swiss Federal Office, and Open Doors, supported by its Ministry of Foreign Affairs, into one organization, Locarno Pro, headed by Dresti, with Sophie Bourdon as deputy head. This way, less demands will be made on professionals’ time.

But that move raises a larger point. “Markets are important. Cannes and Berlin are hugely important. But festivals are changing from distribution markets to production platforms. All the productions being developed at so many co-production markets arounds the world cannot now be absorbed by the market. We have to find a sense of balance between market realities and what festivals and festivals with markets are doing,” Dresti argued.

Already, some markets are reacting. Over the 12 month rolling period of July 2017 to June 2018, total spend on U.K. production was £1.859 billion ($2.4 billion), the third-highest in history, the BFI announced last week. But production levels have tumbled, from 387 movies going into principle photography in 2013/14 to a provisional figure of 201 in the 12-months up to June. One effect of peak cinema?

9. CHARACTERS AND ONE FOOT IN REALITY

Some notable Locarno titles turn on women. But that could be seen to be part of a larger focus on movies with at least one foot in reality, often inspiredly true events, contemporary trends, on what is happening in the here and now. Of notable debuts, many films reportedly essentially train the camera on their central characters, chronicle how they evolve, or crash and burn. High-end TV, or at least many of the series which viewers watch in millions, is now achieving a scale and spectacle which most arthouse movies cannot hope to rival. The composition of complex, modulated, sometimes contradictory characters is one area where arthouse can still rival most other forms of entertainment.

10.GOING GLOBAL: MATCH ME!

Variety polled the 24 predominantly young film companies from over the world – Brazil, Italy, Mexico, Switzerland, Poland, Israel, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia – attending this year’s Locarno’s Match Me!, a Locarno networking initiative. All answered. The full analysis will be published later at the Festival. But two preliminary conclusions wan by writer Emilio Mayorga are very clear indeed: Companies’ conscience of international markets as vital, allowing them to open up to multi-cultural sensibilities, is growing fast; involving sales agents on projects, from as early as possible, for festival consultancy and sales, was equally seen as crucial. Many of the companies polled haven’t been going for more than a few years. But globalization is kicking in hard. The phrase “local film industry” may soon be an oxymoron.

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