Success of Venice’s College Program Adds Fuel to its Sophomore Year

Venice, until recently the only major festival lacking parallel activities to showing films, looks poised to lead the way in the festival lab field with its Biennale College initiative, which shepherds microbudget movies from development through distribution in a first for a fest.

The brainchild of Alberto Barbera and Torino Film Lab topper Savina Neirotti — who now also heads the Venice initiative — this pilot project, launched in 2012, has already borne fruit, such as U.S. helmer Tim Sutton’s “Memphis.”

Made for €150,000 ($200,000) Sutton’s character study of a moody Memphis musician seeking a deeper spiritual meaning bowed last year at Venice, has since gone to Sundance and Karlovy Vary and sold to some 30 countries, including Kino Lorber for the U.S. theatrical distribution.

Another work within the trio of titles spawned by Biennale College’s first edition is Nawapol Thamrongrattanarit’s “Mary Is Happy, Mary Is Happy,” based on 410 consecutive tweets from a poster called @marylony. That pic went to Busan and was a commercial success in Thailand, where lead Patcha Poonpiriya, in her first film role, scooped the actress prize at the country’s national film awards.

“It’s gone beyond my wildest expectations,” Barbera says.

Instead of backing just one aspect of the filmmaking process — as is the case with Sundance, Cannes and Rotterdam — the Biennale College mentors work closely with director-producer teams on their projects from initial stages, offering experts, such as former Arte France topper Michel Reilhac, to coach them on script development and production plans during 10-day sessions.

The idea is to mentor, finance and launch up to three selected projects through conception to development, production, direction, marketing, audience engagement and distribution. The micro-financing ($200,000 for each project) comes courtesy of Gucci.

“You can’t limit the function of a festival to being a showcase for completed films. So it’s increasingly important that Venice develops an aspect connected to the market with an attention towards the needs of the market, especially the needs of young filmmakers,” Barbera says.

Lido auds this year will be able to catch the next Biennale College batch: Italian coming-of-age comedy “Short Skin,” about a teen with a foreskin issue, a first feature by Duccio Chiarini that Barbera calls “very fresh”; “Blood Cells” a debut by Brit helming duo Joseph Bull and Luke Seomore, about a man who becomes homeless due to the mad cow disease crisis that forced U.K. farms to shut down; and “H.” a second work by U.S.-based directorial duo Rania Attieh and Daniel Garcia, which consists of three intersecting tales set in an American suburb with an apocalyptic event as the backdrop.

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