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Wild Bunch, Memento Lead France’s Locarno Charge

France puts its weight behind Swiss fest

LOCARNO — Who said the French took the whole of August off?

Led by sales cos Wild Bunch and Memento Films Intl., broadcast net Arte France and promo org Unifrance, a huge cavalcade of French companies and institutions is beginning to descend on Switzerland’s Locarno Fest, which kicked off Wednesday.

Three Wild Bunch-sold movies play in major slots.

The Swiss lakeside resort confab closes Aug. 17, as already announced, with Wild Bunch-sold “On the Way To School,” from France’s Pascal Plisson, which screens in Locarno’s spectacular open air Piazza Grande.

Wild Bunch has also acquired international sales rights to two titles that world premiere in International Competition: “When Evening Falls on Bucharest or Metabolism,” from Romania’s Corneliu Porumboiu (“Police, Adjective”) ; and Guillaume Brac’s relationship dramedy “Tonnerre,” the feature debut of a cineaste who broke out with his theatrically-distributed Cesar-nommed medium-feature “Un Monde sans femmes” which won a host of international awards.

A co-producer and buyer of select, high profile Euro art films, Arte has signed up four execs for Locarno, Unifrance likewise.

What really catches the eye, however, is the depth and decisiveness of France’s presence.

A total of 102 Gallic companies or institutions, no less, repped often, though not always, by chief execs, are expected to descend on Locarno this weekend.

That’s a huge number, getting on for as many as Germany (77) and Italy (53) put together.

The U.S. and indeed U.K. industries sometimes gripe that France has a lock on most selection berths for the Cannes Festival: the French favor their own.

But France’s also has if not a lock, at least a dominant position, on most major titles in Locarno as well. At Spain’s San Sebastian last year, four Wild Bunch titles — Francois Ozon’s Golden Seashell winner, “In the House,” Ziad Doueiri’s “The Attack,” Bahman Ghobadi’s “Rhino Season,” and Sergio Castellito’s “Twice Born” –played its main competition.

A breakdown of Locarno’s France/Germany attendees quickly suggests why. Germany actually has more distributors, and many small arthouse players, at Locarno than France:  24 Teuton buyers plays 18 from France.

But France wins out clearly in producers (40 vs Germany’s 17). Where it really pulls ahead, however, is in sales agents. Eighteen are attending from France, six from Germany. Of sales companies, only Germany’s The Match Factory can match Wild Bunch presence in any way with Sam Garbarski’s “Vijay and I” playing the Piazza Grande and German David Wnendt’s “Feuchtgebiete” (Wetlands) in International Competition.

The massed French presence isn’t a coincidence.

Despite challenges, France still dominates the arthouse business, not just its production but also its world sales.

A festival where a paying public gets to see its films, Locarno also offers strategic advantages to sales agents.

Paris-based UDI has Daniel and Diego Vega’s “El mudo” in international competition at Locarno.  Its screening will spark press coverage and allow potential distributors to gauge audience reaction, UDI president Frederic Corvez said at Locarno.

Both are immensely useful were the film to segue to Toronto where, otherwise, it might be lost in Toronto’s crush of titles, he added.

“Paris is the heart of the European industry. The type of cinema Locarno shows is still viable in Paris, as in New York,” said Nadia Dresti, Locarno Festival head of international.

“France has Arte, that co-produces and shows this kind of films. Switzerland is also a French-speaking country so we’re close to French culture, as Italian and German culture,” she added.

France knows no borders when co-producing or selling films. Memento Films Intl. reps two films at Locarno, both from the U.S.: Jeremy Saulnier’s Piazza Grande player “Blue Ruin,” which won the Fipresci prize at Cannes for best film in Directors’ Fortnight or Critics’ Week, and Destin Cretton’s South by South West grand jury prize and audience winner, “Short Term 12,” which received rave reviews:  Variety called it “stunning.”

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