The Match Factory Takes ‘Itsi Bitsi,’

Locarno biz swells as industry looks to Toronto, debates its multi-platform future

LOCARNO – Pushing out business at Locarno on “Dancing Arabs,” “Love Island” and “Listen Up Philip,” sales agent the Match Factory announced Tuesday it has world sales rights to “Itsi Bitsi,” directed by Dane Ole Christian Madsen (“Superclasico,” “Flame & Citron”).

Set in 1962, as a young generation rebels against the establishment, “Itsi Bitsi” has just been selected for the Toronto Festival, where it world premieres in Contemporary World Cinema, announced Tuesday.

Continuing the Match Factory’s relationship with Madsen – it sold his 2012 “Superclasico” –  “Itsi Bitsi” turns on a peace activist Eik Skaløe who in trying to woo Iben transforms into lead singer in the destined-to-become-legendary band Steppeulvene.

This week caught the international arthouse/crossover industry en masse at Locarno in the Swiss Alps pushing through business on key fest titles as it sought immediate profile on titles just confirmed for Toronto.

On Eran Riklis’ “Dancing Arabs,” the Match Factory has closed Spain (Karma Films), Benelux (Wild Bunch Benelux) and Greece (Seven Films), said its head of sales Brigitte Suarez. One of the best received of Locarno Piazza Grande players, “Arabs” was described by Variety as Ricklis’ strongest film in years. Canada is in final negotiations. ”We have strong interest from other countries such as Italy and Brazil,” Suarez said.

In a previously announced deal, Palace Films acquired Australia. “It is very dramatic, reflecting current Middle East conflict,” she said.

A fun film departure for director Jasmila Zbanic (“Grbavica”) ironic romantic comedy “Love Island” has sparked “strong interest from France, also Italy, and we look to a good follow-up at the fall festivals,” Suarez reported. “Entertaining theatrical films are very much in demand. It comes at just the right moment.”

Boasting strong Sundance pedigree, “Listen Up Philip,” which played to warm applause at its audience screening Tuesday, has sold to Madman Entertainment in Australia and France’s Potemkine Films.

Locarno International Competition entry “August Winds,” brought to the market by Figa/Br, has sparked strong interest in France plus interest from Benelux and Spain, said FiGa Films’ Sandro Fiorin. Figa/Br is L.A.-based FiGa Films’ new label.

FiGa has acquired “Sand Dollars,” the third film from Dominican/Mexican directorial duo Laura Amelia Guzman and Israel Cardenas (“Cochochi,” “Jean Gentil”). It is another Toronto Contemporary World Cinema world premiere, that was unveiled Tuesday with a reportedly full-on raw performance from Geraldine Chaplin.

“To Life,” “Marie’s Story” and “Where Is She?” looked like three of the most buzzed-up projects at the Piazza Grande and Carte Blanche sections of the 67th Locarno Fest.

Deals are likely to go down on Le Pacte-sold “To Life,” a femme friendship drama, that Frenetic Films picked up for Switzerland, Le Pacte’s Camille Neel told Variety.

A healthy pre-sales title for Nicolas Eschbach’s Indie Sales –  among multiple deals Film Movement announced a U.S. rights pick-up just before Locarno – of outstanding territories, “Marie’s Story” is now under negotiation for Italy.

Anna Muyaelt’s “Where Is She?” produced by Gullane Filmes, received multiple expressions of interest from sales agents and disttributors off its upbeat Carte Blanche screening.

In International Competition, the biggest hit was most probably “The Fool,” from Russia’s Yury Bykov, well-reviewed, applauded by audiences and meriting additional fest screenings. Offers are now in from Italy, Israel, France, Canada, Netherlands, and U.K., said Olga Aylarova, from producer Rock Films.

Building up for Locarno, 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; Cinema Guild “The Princess of France,” which opened International Competition, and looks set, like another Argentine title at Locarno, Martin Rejtman’s “Two Gun Shots”  for a strong fest career.

Of other 2014 Locarno titles, it would be no surprise if Carte Blanche” winner “Hopefuls,” the first feature from helmer Ives Rosenfeld and new Rio shingle Bubbles Project, which produced with Crisis Produtivas, also soon snagged a sales agents deal.

Kamiel Van Der Ster at Netherlands De FilmFreak confirmed it was negotiating an International Competition title.

Deals on select Locarno titles will close before Toronto or during the fall fest season if movies play the big festivals.

That said, Locarno, a bastion of art film, though it bowed with Luc Besson’s “Lucy,” – with worldwide box office at $128.9 million – hardly suggested a general fever for arthouse films among its massed specialty distributors. As pricing points for arthouse movies have plunged this century, bidding wars and sell-puts are now rare on more than big fest prize winners, star auteurs and breakouts.

One of the high notes of this Locarno’s Industry Days was that arthouse sales and distribution sector are finally taking on board the need to explore alternative distribution and indeed exhibition channels which can swell arthouse movies’ coffers. Once geek-speak, SVOD or crowd-screening are becoming common industry parlance.

Just how conversant the art/crossover industry is becoming in new digital, festival and exhibition initiatives was seen not only in novel UniFrance strategies, outlined at Locarno, where the trend-setting French promo org is setting out to court the exhibition sector, YA auds and Brussels’ EU policymakers, but also brainstorming sessions at Locarno’s Step-In, a debate forum and its new Industry Academy.

Its participants in a 2014 pilot edition have only been in the business for a few years. They looked totally up-to-speed as they debriefed Tuesday on the complexities, kinks, qualifications and opportunities of an ever more complex sales and distribution landscape.

In some territories VOD revenues currently pale before traditional arthouse distribution, Vanessa Jarlot, at Belgium’s O Brother Distribution pointed out. Belgium, France, and indeed Switzerland already have highly developed arthouse distrib systems in place.

In general, the bigger and less mature the market – Brazil, China, Russia –  the larger VOD opportunities.

“It was interesting to note how in Mexico and Russia young audiences for art films seem to be growing, while in Europe, more mature audiences are declining. Every market and indeed every film is different,” said Yves Blosche at Switzerland’s Filmcoopi.

As the international specialty industries think laterally, the large question remains of whether they will receive broad-based institutional support – for example at EU levels – to broaden distribution models for a challenged sector.

Leo Barraclough contributed to this report.

Missing any Variety Locarno E-Show Dailies? Here are the permalinks:

Daily One: http://link.variety.com/public/2902862

Daily Two: http://link.variety.com/public/2912240

Daily Three: http://link.variety.com/public/2922377

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