Locarno Fest Sets Industry Agenda: Digital Platforms, Euro Soft Money, Market Demand

A welter of industry initiatives seek to improve the quality, and market viability of projects at the Festival

Courtesy of Reel Suspects

Digital platforms, Euro soft money, market demand. These are just some of the issues which will play out over table talk, panels and presentations at the 69th Locarno Festival, Europe’s biggest mid-summer film event which opens Aug. 3 with Glenn Close zombie pic “The Girl With All the Gifts.”

Further highlights include awards to David Linde, Harvey Keitel, Bill Pullman and Roger Corman.

Locarno’s industry discussions and initiatives, among the most structured and numerous of any Euro festival, will take place at as, for another year, the Swiss festival looks set to see a robust presence of European and world cinema industry players. Through Aug. 1, accredited attendance at Locarno’s Industry Days screenings was running at 1,050, on track to reach 2015’s final head count of 1,105 attendees, said Nadia Dresti, Locarno head of international.

That’s not far short of the Venice Film Market’s 1,387 delegates last year and an extraordinarily high attendance level – despite its taking place smack in the dog days of summer in a continent whose industry professionals value their vacation.

Explanations cut various ways. One is Locarno’s business value. “The buyers, like sellers, turn up. We sign numerous deals here and initiate negotiations which we finish at Toronto,” said Eric Lagesse, head of Paris-based arthouse sales agent Pyramide Intl., which world premieres Frederic Mermoud’s “Moka” and Yousry Nasrallah’s “Brooks, Meadows and Lovely Faces” at the Festival, “Moka” on the Piazza Grande. Lagesse also pointed out that Carlo Chatrian’s “intelligent programming” ranges from upscale popular films to edgier auteur fare from burgeoning young talents, so “caters for each and every taste.”

Matteo Lovadino, at Paris-based Reel Suspects, will bow “Interchange” at Locarno’s open-air Piazza Grande, the first Malaysian film to have such a privilege.

“Placed in the middle of the European summer, Locarno is a must attend, because of its human-sized event, with a great selection of films, screened at one of the biggest open-air cinemas in the world,” he said of the Piazza Grande.

He added: “Even if half of the industry is on vacation , the spotlight that this selection brings to the film is highly crucial for its future career in festivals and distribution.”

Also, since launching Locarno’s Industry Days – three-days of screenings of key festival titles – Dresti has built a broad spectrum of industry events which brings a large spread of industry execs to the event. Some initiatives provide training and inspiration for less experienced international execs, others state-of-the-industry reflection for those who hardly have time to reflect on where their business is going at more pressured macro events. Put together, they offer a bigger-picture take on major industry trends and more dynamic film-producing territories.

*Launched in 2011, First Look, a pix-in-post competition, will showcase movies from Poland.

*A pilot project in 2015, Alliance for Development, a France-Germany-Italy co-production rendez-vous, now celebrates its first edition, hosted by Switzerland;

*Match Me, now in its second year, is a networking forum for young production houses, this year from Brazil, Chile, Mexico, Israel and Turkey, who are joined by Swiss producers.

*Far longer running, the 14th Open Doors, a world cinema platform, highlights eight producers and eight projects from lesser-known filmmaking powers – Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Bhutan are just three.

*A training workshop for young industry execs which has now celebrated international versions at Mexico’s Morelia, in Brazil and at New York’s Lincoln Center, the 2nd Locarno Industry Academy runs Aug. 4-9.

*On Aug. 5, at Step In, a Locarno  industry think-tank launched in 2012, Toronto Fest’s Cameron Bailey and Hussain Amarshi, at Canadian distributor-sales agent Mongrel Media, analyse the impact of digital distribution platforms.

*One day later, the European Audiovisual Observatory’s Julio Talavera will detail how European governments spent the €2.29 billion ($2.6 billion) they on average ploughed into film and TV over 2010-14.

Digital distribution and public funding are of course connected.

The launch of Netflix and Amazon dynamized the U.K. pay TV window, Netflix now enjoying 5.2 million subscribers, according to Enders Analysis. For Spain, Netflix looks like a serious international distribution option for many top-tier movie titles.

In general, however, VOD has not taken up the slack from the implosion of physical video sales.

“2015 serves as a reality check. Although the [European VOD] market is growing rapidly, for the majority of producers it is still generating low revenues,” a Cannes Film Market’s Focus study claimed this May.

Meanwhile, TV sales of foreign indie and arthouse movies has plunged, meaning that the prices commanded by these types of movies on the international market has largely plummeted as well.

Theatrical film production, followed at a large distance by spend on TV production, accounted for 41% of public film-TV funding over 2010-14, according to the EAO Film Funding Report which Talavera presents at Locarno, which rose 13.4% over the period.

Europe produced 1,492 features in 2010, 1,603 in 2014, Talavera said.

In other words, as the international market for most European films has contracted, ever more films, often with public backing, are getting made.

“In Switzerland, there are multiple film financing facilities for the production of films, but we don’t always see these films,” Dresti said.

She added: “Is it enough to say: ‘This is the fault of sales companies and distributors?’ Or maybe the question is whether there are too many films.”

Via its industry panels and programs, Locarno is reacting in multiple ways.

The Industry Days give a platform to executives who have thought through the issues. At Step-In, Carolle Brabant, from Canada’s Telefilm, will outline how a major public funding entity is meeting new market demand and has channelled its production spending.

Via the Alliance, Match Me and Open Doors, Locarno is also pushing, implicitly, international co-production, a strategy which pretty well guarantees distribution, at least in some overseas territories, while raising a movie’s budget, so potential production values.

Above all, Locarno is focusing on not just helping more projects to get made but rather their quality and market viability, as it attempts to hone the skills of a new generation of executive which will help films find a market.

The Locarno Film Academy students are young sales, distribution and exhibition executives. Open Doors has initiated a new focus, Open Doors Lab, to highlight eight South Asian producers. One of its aims is to take filmmakers from the region through the role of a creative producer and the creativity of post-production, said Open Doors head Sophie Bourdon.

The Alliance for Development showcases nine bi-lateral co-productions between France, Germany or Italy. The goal is, however, not so much to introduce pics’ producers to more potential co-producers but rather to distributors and sales agents who can deliver market feedback as to whether, in distribution terms, the projects might fly, Dresti said.

Films must be for everyone or someone, 20th Century Fox’s Jim Gianopulos once said. Locarno’s Industry Days would buy into that dictum.