Frenetic Takes Le Pacte’s ‘ Life’

Deal on Jean-Jacques Zilbermann’s drama once instance of multi-front biz at Locarno in the run-up to its Industry Days

LOCARNO – Adding to run-up-to-Locarno Industry Days business, Zurich-based Frenetic Films, one of Switzerland’s best-known and most energetic art-house distributors, has acquired Swiss rights to the Le Pacte-sold femme friendship drama “A la vie” (To Life), the latest film from France’s Jean-Jacques Zilbermann.

Deal is just the latest in a brace of pacts announced in the build to Locarno – and Toronto and Venice beyond – which confirms the double-nature of the still evolving Swiss Fest: There’s business to be done, but the trading is not so frenetic as to prevent sales agents, producers and fest-heads from spending for once quality time with appreciated business associates.

On “To Life,” Jean Labadie’s Le Pacte will also handle French theatrical and DVD distribution, continuing a long-standing relationship with the French helmer.

Breaking through with 1993’s “Not Everybody Is Lucky Enough To Have Communist Parents,” Zilbermann has directed just five films in two decades. Starring Julie Depardieu (“Les yeux jeunes des crocodiles”), Canada’s Suzanne Clement, who shared the best actress prize at Cannes’ 2012 Un Certain Regard for “Laurence Anyways,” and Dutch thesp Johanna ter Steege, a Locarno best actress winner in 1995 for “Goodbye,” “To Life” turns on three young Jewish women, who first met at Auschwitz, where the two French girls survived because their Dutch friendlily worked in the camp kitchen.

Loosing touch, they reunite 15 years later on Berck Plage in northern France, during a hot summer. There they reconnect, confront Auschwitz traumas and celebrate their friendship in the sunny sixties.

Hippolyte Girardot (“Capital,” Bird People”) co-stars. Zilbermann wrote “To Life” with Daniele Dumas and Odile Barski. Well-known French producers Marie Masmonteil and Denis Carot produce for Paris-based Elzevir Films, whose credits include “Party Girl” and “The Source.”

In a classic French financing tie-up for a more open French art film, pubcaster France 3 Cinema co-produces and Canal Plus has pre-bought pay TV rights. Both the CCRAV and Ile de France Film Commission put up funding for “To Life,” which shot in both regions.

“We are really proud to celebrate ‘To Life’ here in Locarno on the Piazza Grande. We are also happy to work with Elzevir Films and to share a new film with Frenetic, [continuing] our long term relationship with Jean-Jacques Zilbermann with To Life.”

“When you have a film selected for the Piazza Grande, that sends a clear message to the industry world that the film has a real potential to entertain and thrill a real audience of 8,000 people. It really helps selling the film,” said Le Pacte’s Camille Neel.

Frenetic’s backing will give “To Life” a solid platform not only when it world premieres next Monday at Locarno’s Piazza Grande but, as importantly when it opens subsequently opens in Switzerland.

That’s not an inconsequential matter, especially for French-language films. By the turn of the decade, in 2011, total sales on French films to Switzerland, outside its German-speaking region were worth €4.3 million ($5.7 million), compared to E4.6 million ($6.1 million) for sales to Italy. That most probably reflects a larger volume of sales. But, for foreign sales companies, positioning one’s company with Swiss distributors is certainly worth some time.

Le Pacte’s “To Life” deal is just one instance of multi-front biz at Locarno in the run-up to its Industry Days.

Germany’s Media Luna announced world sales rights on Joel Potrykus’ “Buzzard,” which screens in Filmmakers of the Present.  M-Appeal took Swiss Piazza Grande player “Hidden Hero,” London’s Film Republic “El tiempo nublado,” which plays Panorama Suisse.

Last week, Film Movement announced it had acquired U.S. rights on “Marie’s Story,” another Piazza Grande player; Cinema Guild will distribute “The Princess of France,” which opened International Competition Thursday.

“Locarno reps a big push for a film, both in terms of it subsequent fest run and potential sales,” “Princess of France” producer said at Locarno.

There’s a sense too of a fit between the films screening and the industry participants attending.

“Locarno has a recent history of supporting acquisitions and co-production through its Open Doors and Carte Blanche initiatives, an acquisition fever which is felt amongst the broader lineups presented ahead of Toronto and Venice,” said Film Republic’s Xavier Henry-Rashid.

“In the same way that events like Paris RDV in January are a good launch for Berlinale, this mid year festival is the first major festival after Cannes. It’s a very informed international delegation, which I think is in tune with the product being presented,” he added.

Many sales agents mainly come to scout for festival titles plus the Carte Blanche projects and do some sales business with the attending distributors.

That can lead to the singular mix of relaxed but steady business and more quality time spent with business associates that marks out Locarno.

“Locarno is a good place to start the autumn festivals with or without films. The recent years there have been a lot of new and interesting initiatives such as Step In where different topics of the industry are being discussed. And this year with the Industry Academy, which is a great way of giving newer employees a feeling of what is going on in the business,” said TrustNordisk’s Susan Wendt.

She added: “As a sales agent you get to meet a lot of distributors in a more relaxed atmosphere, where you can discuss films in Locarno and/or at upcoming festivals. Apart from that Locarno is of course a beautiful place and the Grand Piazza is always a fantastic experience, with or without the rain.”

“The Piazza Grande screenings are a great audience test proving the audience-friendliness of films, ” said Brigitte Suarez, at The Match Factory, which screened Eran Riklis’ “Dancing Arabs” Thursday at Locarno in the Piazza Grande . A second Match Factory title, “Love Island,” from Jasmila Zbanic,  receives a Piazza Grande screening this Friday, while Sundance hit “Listen Up, Philip” plays International Competition.

“There’s also a large German press presence, there are more and more buyers at Locarno, and Locarno starts the fall fest season. You can create buzz looking forward to Venice, Toronto and San Sebastian,” Suarez added.

“Locarno allows you to do business,” said Memento Films International’s Nich0las Kaiser, who sold Locarno hit and prizewinner “Short Term 12” to Switzerland’s Xenix Filmdistribution last year.

“But it also allows you to catch up with people in a non-stressed environment. You get to know people better, which when you’re selling is also very important.”

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