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Venice’s Biennale College Spawns Microbudget Movies That Travel Worldwide

Experimental 'Memphis,' by U.S. helmer Tim Sutton, plays in Karlovy Vary's Forum of Independents section

Among titles competing this year in Karlovy Vary’s Forum of Independents is the experimental “Memphis,” by U.S. helmer Tim Sutton, which owes its existence to the Venice Film Festival’s recently launched Biennale College, a groundbreaking production program lab that shepherds microbudget movies from development through distribution, and is making Venice topper Alberto Barbera particularly proud.

After world-preeming in Venice (where else?) and also going to Sundance, this character study of a moody Memphis musician seeking a deeper spiritual meaning in life, made for Euros 150,00 ($200,000), has been sold in some 30 countries, in some cases even for theatrical distribution.

Another work within the trio of titles spawned by Biennale College’s first edition, launched in 2012, is Thai first-time helmer Nawapol Thamrongrattanarit’s “Mary Is Happy, Mary Is Happy,” depicting a year in the life of a female student in Bangkok based on her tweets. The pic went to Pusan and was a commercial success in Thailand, where protag 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 boasts.

Conceived by Barbera in tandem with Torino Film Lab topper Savina Neirotti, who also heads the Venice initiative, Biennale College is being touted as the first festival initiative that shepherds films through their entire production cycle.

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, who has greenlit thousands of indie pics — to coach them on script development and production plans during 10-day sessions in a former monastery on the island of San Servolo in the Venetian lagoon.

These days “you can’t limit the function of a festival to being a showcase for completed films. 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.

Venice, until recently the only major festival still lacking a market component, is now leading the way in the festival lab field with this pilot project.

“The success of the movies, the interest from indie producers around the world tell us two things: one is that we had a good intuition; the other is that there is a huge unoccupied space for whoever wants to do something similar,” Barbera notes. “We certainly don’t want the exclusive.”

Meanwhile, the next trio of Biennale College-produced pics is in post. They are: “H,” by U.S.-based directorial duo Daniel Garcia and Rania Attieh (“OK, Enough, Goodbye”), which is being described as a contempo Greek tragedy about two women, both named Helen, whose lives and relationships begin to unravel in the wake of a meteor explosion over their town of Troy, NY; “Blood Cells,” a drama by Brit directorial duo Joseph Bull and Luke Seomore; and Italo helmer Duccio Chiarini’s “Short Skin.”

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