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Locarno Film Festival to Honor Swiss Producer Michel Merkt (EXCLUSIVE)

ROME – The Locarno Film Festival will fete Swiss producer Michel Merkt with its Raimondo Rezzonico Prize, which is awarded to a producer who epitomizes the indie ethos.

In the past 10 years, the Monte Carlo-based Merkt, 44, has shepherded some of the creme de la creme of recent European art-house hits, including “Elle” and “Toni Erdmann.” He has also ventured beyond Europe as a producer on David Cronenberg’s “Maps to the Stars” in Canada, Xavier Dolan’s “It’s Only the End of the World,” Walter Hill’s thriller “The Assignment,” “Aquarius” by Brazilian director Kleber Mendonça Filho, and standout titles from the Arab world and Asia.

Following a stint as a film journalist for French paybox Canal Plus, Merkt got his first official producer credit in 2008 on “Person to Person,” a Wim Wenders-directed segment of portmanteau pic “8,” inspired by the United Nations’ fight against poverty.

The first feature Merkt produced was “The Miscreants,” a 2011 thriller about Islamist kidnappers by Moroccan helmer Mohcine Besri. That was followed by Swiss director Nicolas Wadimoff’s docudrama on 1970s leftist militants, “Operation Libertad,” which screened in the 2012 Cannes Directors’ Fortnight.

“Maps to the Stars,” in 2014, marked the start of Merkt’s ongoing collaboration with Paris-based producer Saïd Ben Saïd and actor and producer Martin Katz, and also his first film in the Cannes competition.

Although he has managed to keep a relatively low profile, last year the Geneva-born Merkt had eight movies playing in Cannes, including the animated “My Life as a Zucchini,” which opened Directors’ Fortnight and represented Switzerland in the Oscar foreign-language race.

This year, Merkt has five films in various Cannes sections, including Hungarian director Kornél Mundruczó’s supernatural refugee drama “Jupiter’s Moon,” in competition, and Bulgaria-set Western by Germany’s Valeska Griesbach, in Un Certain Regard. Three titles will play in Directors’ Fortnight: “L’Amant D’Un Jour,” by veteran French auteur Philippe Garrel; “Frost,” by Lithuanian master Sarunas Bartas; and Abel Ferrara’s “Alive in France,” which follows the filmmaker and his band on a recent tour across France.

“In just a few years, Michel Merkt has been able to carve out a prominent role in the international indie scene,” Locarno artistic director Carlo Chatrian said in a statement. “What I like about the way he operates is his ability to surprise, transcending genres and geographical boundaries.”

“I always preferred to put the movies and the talents in front, but when Carlo Chatrian called me to tell me they thought about me for the Raimondo Rezzonico Prize for best independent producer I was speechless…but not for long,” Merkt said about the award. “Imagine – I was in Locarno last year when David Linde received it, and one year after, it’s me!”

Besides Linde, previous recipients of the Raimondo Rezzonico Prize include Jeremy Thomas, Christine Vachon, Paulo Branco, Menahem Golan and Office Kitano.

Merkt will also soon be honored with the Variety Creative Producer Award in Cannes.

The 70th edition of the Locarno fest, which is dedicated to indie movies and cutting-edge cinema, will run Aug. 2-12.

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