Locarno, Morelia Launch Industry Academy in Mexico (EXCLUSIVE)

Swiss fest makes first export for its distribution-sales-programming training model

LOCARNO – In an early export move for Europe’s biggest high-summer fest, Switzerland’s Locarno Festival is teaming with Mexico’s Morelia Festival to launch the Locarno Industry Academy in Morelia.

The training facility for a new generation of distribution, sales, exhibition and programming execs will adapt the module launched at Locarno last year by the festival and now in 2015 enjoying its first full-year at the Swiss A-category fest, where it will run Aug. 5.12.

Launched under Nadia Dresti, head of Locarno’s Industry Days, the Industry Academy fills a perceived breach. “There is not much theory about sales, distribution, exhibition. It’s all about experience,” said Marion Klotz, Industry Academy project manager.

Its organizers and speakers’ – TrustNordisk, France’s Memento Films – have carved out a record of and passion for often high-profile arthouse and indie movies – TrustNordisk sells abroad Lars von Trier’s movies, for instance, – plus early features from on-the-rise world cinema talent. Memento for example launched Artscope world cinema label that Klotz headed up before segueing into an indie producer career.

“Most of the big successful sales companies in Europe, big in the sense of a certain vision of cinema, combine radical choices, the discovery of up-and-coming directors and commercial success. This is a model I am inspired by,” Klotz said.

Much discussion at the Academy – in Locarno and Morelia – looks set to turn implicitly on ho to twin artistic ambition and commercial success, a sweet-spot crossover that remains the film industry’s Holy Grail.

A pilot edition, headed by Klotz in collaboration with Andrea Stavenhagen, Morelia’s industry head, the Locarno Industry Academy in Morelia is Locarno’s first foothold in international.

“The Industry Academy is such a good idea that it’s a pity just to do it in Locarno,” Dresti argued.

It is also symptomatic in several manners of ways the global industry is going.

“The main idea is to try to have the youngest generation meeting and exchanging ideas, coming from different places of the world. The world is bigger than we once thought, bigger than just Europe or whatever and opening up to Latin America is like introducing them to us and getting better to know different system,” Dresti said.

Also, as the emerging movie world from Bogota to Bangkok taps into ever more finance for film, one key element more mature markets can offer is not just financing moolah but experience, channeled into training.

At stake in the Industry Academy is also, however, an industry training facility which could forseeably be exported to other territories and also, crucially, to higher education.

Many universities now run film/TV production modules. Few, however, focus on distribution, marketing, programming and exhibition in a multi-channel age, whether traditional or digital domain. It is on these fronts that much of the battle for success for non-popcorn movies will be fought.

Per Stavenhagen, the first Locarno Industry Academy in Morelia will run for less days – around four – than the now consolidated 2nd Locarno Industry Academy which kicked off Wednesday, running through Aug. 12. As at Locarno, participants will be young professionals already holding down jobs at companies, “not trainees but people with some knowledge and experience, who are avid for more advice,” she said.

Hand-picked, some “six-to-seven” will attend. Speakers and tutors will be drawn from Locarno and Morelia guests.

The program will be “tailor-made” for their requirements. “There are always interesting attendees in Morella from both Latin America and Europe and also of course the U.S.” Klotz said.

Founded by its director Daniela Michel, a Locarno 2015 international jury member, Morelia showcased short films, later first features, by a new generation of filmmakers who have gone to power up modern Mexican cinema.

While a carefully curated fest with a still energetic focus on new talent, Morelia co-launched with Canana, Sala Arte and Cinepolis, the world’s biggest cinema theater-chain outside the U.S. and China – a highly successful touring docu fest model, Ambulante, now present in Mexico, California, Colombia and El Salvador. Running a 10-year-old Morelia Lab for production, Morelia is now amping up its industry activities, announcing an Impulso Mexico pix-in-post showcase last week.

Mexico’s “bottleneck” remains distribution, Stavenhagen said, encouraging producers to create their own theatrical release operations and a vibrant, if still challenged, niche/alternative distrib scene to build. One Locarno 2015 Industry Academy attendee, Leo Cordero, heads up distribution at Mantarraya, Mexico’s premier arthouse distributor, which bought nine movies at Cannes. Mexico, like Argentina, is experiencing a seemingly halting but significant sea-change in how local audiences view their national cinemas.

In Mexico last year,  “More Mexican films made more money,” said Luis Vargas, at Rentrak, adding that Mexican films’ average first weekend B.O. was 99.5% up on 2013. That is a notable achievement given Mexico had no national B.O. juggernaut in 2014 of the caliber of Gaz Alazraki’s “We Are the Nobles” ($26.25 million) and Eugenio Derbez’s “Instructions Not Included” ($46.1 million).

Tutors and speakers at the 2nd Locarno Industry Academy include, from the U.S., Cinetic Media’s Ryan Werner, the Lincoln Center’s Lesli Klainberg and the Sundance Fest’s John Nein. From Europe, repeating from the first edition are Memento Films Intl’s Nicholas Kaiser, TrustNordisk’s Susan Wendt, and Anne Delseth, a programmer at Cannes’ Directors’ Fortnight.

Jaume Ripoll, at Spain-based VOD service Filmin, and Jon Barrenachea, at the U.K.’s Picturehouse Cinemas, will also speak.

For Dresti, “We’d like the industry to become a border-crossing of key young future industry players, that can get closer in this small world through the exchange the Industry Academy encourages.”

One key to the evnt is that it’s non-sectorial. “Everybody is so concentrated in what they’re doing and trying to stay current with new developments that there is no time to catch up with changes in other sectors.”

Featuring talks, panels, case studies and more pro-active workshops, with, for example, marketing group work, overseen by Alphapanda’s Mathias Noschis.

Participants also met Thursday with producers at Locarno, such as La Union de los Rios’ Agustina Llambi Campbell, producer of Santiago Mitre’s “Paulina,” Cannes 2015 Critics’ Week winner.

Locarno is an ideal setting for the Industry Academy, Klotz said: “There is of course the program, the content, but the Industry Academy is also a way to put all these people, these newcomers, in contact with each other, and with the rest of the industry.”

She added: And it’s a privilege to do that in Locarno because it’s big, and prestigious and inspiring, and fast-paced, but it’s also much more relaxing and easier-going than any other big festivals.

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