VENICE, Italy — With “La La Land,” “The Light Between Oceans,” “Arrival,” “Nocturnal Animals,” “The Bleeder,” and “Hacksaw Ridge” all screening in its first five days, the Venice Film Festival arguably saw its strongest start in recent years. On Wednesday, the Natalie Portman-starrer “Jackie,” directed by Chilean Pablo Larrain and hailed by Variety as an “extraordinary English-language debut,” gave the fest another boost.
Artistically, those films have strengthened Venice’s status as a prime Oscar springboard. Commercially, this year’s festival, has also proved robust, with attendance at the official market, which closed Monday, surging about 20% to 1,800 delegates. The festival as a whole ends Saturday.
In its opening five or six days, “the festival has really delivered in terms of diversity and the variety of movies, as well as interesting titles to distribute,” said distributor Ignas Scheynius of Sweden’s Edge Entertainment. “It looks like Venice 2016 will go into the books as an excellent year.”
Other titles that have already screened and earned positive reviews include Stephane Brize’s French competition contender, “A Woman’s Life,” a Guy de Maupassant adaptation; Nick Hamm’s “The Journey,” a true-event-based political buddy movie, which played out of competition; and “Brimstone,” described by Variety as an “epic sadomasochistic Western domestic horror film.”
Also attracting upbeat notices: Katell Quillevere’s French medical drama “Heal the Living” and Raul Arevalo’s Western-tinged revenge thriller, “The Fury of a Patient Man,” both in Venice Horizons. Brit Alice Lowe impressed reviewers with “Prevenge,” about a pregnant serial killer; Swedish helmer Amanda Kernell’s coming-of-age tale “Sami Blood” and the docu-feature “The War Show,” on the Syrian conflict, drew praise.
In terms of bigger industry announcements, director Paulo Sorrentino, whose TV series “The Young Pope” premiered on the Lido, revealed that he was preparing a movie on former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. Glen Basner’s FilmNation unveiled a new production in development, “Civil War,” about the the battle to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment in 1973. And Derek Cianfrance confirmed that he was working on a movie for Warner Bros. about the last Comanche chieftain.
Meanwhile, Gunther Oettinger, one of the European Commission officials leading the campaign for a unified E.U. digital market, suggested that the commission would implement “step-by-step, targeted” measures to improve digital distribution of movies and TV in Europe, instead of completely eliminating territory-by-territory sales, which many in the industry had feared. Such territorial licensing is the backbone of Europe’s industry and Hollywood’s business in Europe.
Deals were sealed, or at least announced, at Venice. Of the most important involving U.S. companies, IM Global unveiled final sales on “Hacksaw Ridge” as it sold out the world. Music Box took U.S. rights on Francois Ozon’s post-World War I drama “Frantz” from Films Distribution; and Netflix swooped on streaming video rights to Ana Lily Amirpour’s cannibal tale “The Bad Batch.”
Among other deals unveiled towards the market’s end:
*Michael A. Calace of Canada’s Silver Sword International acquired production rights for Sheridan Le Fanu’s “Carmilla,” the 1870 gothic novella and female vampire thriller, from Paul Wiffen of Excalibur Films, who will also direct. SSI will co-produce with Gabriel Murray of Olympia Films, in Dublin. SSI has also optioned U.S. theatrical rights.
*Italy’s Officine Ubu acquired “King of the Belgians” after its official screening on the Lido. Sold by Belgium’s Be For Films, “King” was also picked up by Ankara-based Filmarti Film for Turkey and AOne Company for CIS and Baltic States. Other territories are still under discussions, to be signed at Toronto, said Be For Films’ Pamela Leu.
*Berlin-based Picture Tree International has taken world sales rights to “Big Big World,” by Turkey’s Reha Erdem, which bows at Venice Horizons on Thursday.
*France’s Cite Films licensed Argentine Emiliano Torres’ Patagonia-set survival thriller “The Winter,” which world premieres at the San Sebastian Festival, to Turkey’s Filmarti. Cinetren distributes in Argentina, Chrysalis Distribution in France, said Cite head Raphael Berdugo.
*Luis Bellaba’s Film Bureau tied down rights to Spain on Andrei Konchalovsky’s “Paradise,” sold by Germany’s Arri Media, which is fielding offers from longtime Konchalovsky distributors, said Arri Media’s Moritz Hemminger.
Despite such deals, for sales agents, “Venice has always been more of an acquisitions than sales market,” Indie Sales’ Dario Vechiatto said. “It also has a very large Italian industry contingent, so the first thing you do here is try to talk to Italian producers,” he added.
Except for the big Italian presence, however, Venice will never match Toronto’s field of international distributors. Venice is thus more about positioning movies and pumping their profile as a springboard to closing deals at Toronto.
“Venice is a great environment in which to create buzz,” said sales agent M-Appeal’s Maren Kroymann, who presented “Four Days in France” over the first weekend at the Venice market.
This year’s market, which was re-baptized The Production Bridge, attracted its biggest industry presence since its official launch in 2012, consolidating its status as a project and production confab rather than purely a sales venue.
Several factors are behind the uptick in attendance. These days, arthouse and foreign-language movies can access far more cash from co-production with a Western European partner than from a straight sale to that partner’s territory. So a production financing event proves especially attractive.
The Venice Gap Financing Market, now the main event under the Venice Production Bridge banner, was opened up this year to TV, web series and virtual-reality projects and to film productions from anywhere in the world, not just Europe.
That brought an influx of producers. including from Latin America, whose projects – “Dolores,” from Argentina’s Rei Cinema, and Chile’s “Los Perros,” lead-produced by Chile’s Jirafa and France’s Cinema Defecto – proved with “Luxembourg” to be among the most buzzed-up at the Gap Financing Market, attracting a large number of interested potential partners.
One of the first big festivals to incorporate VR projects into a co-production forum format, Venice saw its six VR projects attract interest as producers sought to play catch-up and understand VR.
“There are a lot of people asking questions about how this VR market will evolve, what sort of content works and how it should be made,” said Ana Brzezinski, director of “The Future of Forever,” a VR project at the Gap Financing Market. “And of course there are still a lot of questions about financing and distribution models, because it still isn’t clear. It’s a market in progress.”
Venice’s Production Bridge has become “a hub, a kind of platform offering different kinds of services and opportunities to producers,” said its director, Pascal Diot, adding that the Gap Financing Market would offer consultancy on its participants’ projects throughout the year.