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Locarno Film Festival Opens Doors for Filmmakers From South-East Asia, Mongolia

In order to increase the impact of its industry support efforts Locarno Film Festival is doubling down on – and in fact trebling the duration of – its Open Doors activities. Instead of an annually revolving country focus, starting this year the section will pick projects, producers and film-makers from one region for three consecutive years, before moving on.

South-East Asia, plus Mongolia, is the first region to benefit from the extended spotlight. The region is diverse and there is much ground to cover, especially as several South-East Asian countries are now reaching a level of economic and technological development that is allowing the film and TV industries to accelerate.

“South-East Asia has produced some of the greatest directors of our time, and now a new wave of talent, of young people with astonishing creative energy, is emerging today despite all the obstacles,” says Lili Hinstin, Locarno’s artistic director.

A total of 17 projects will be pitched and eight features screened through Open Doors’ three-pronged approach: the Open Doors Hub, featuring full-length projects seeking international partnerships; the Open Doors Lab, dedicated to supporting emerging producers; and the Open Doors Screenings, playing a mix of features and shorts on the big screen.

“At the risk of sounding obvious, this kind of event is about building the network, building the community,” says Aditya Assarat, an experienced director and producer from Thailand, who appears in Open Doors as director of “The Thonglor Kids,” a childhood memory drama. “It is especially useful for South-East Asia, where a lot of directors are young and need to work with good producers. We don’t have enough producers in the region. This event can help (directors) take the next steps.”

Assarat travels at the behest of Fran Borgia, a Singapore-based Spanish producer whose track record makes him one of South-East Asia’s more experienced. In addition to last year’s Locarno Golden Leopard winner “A Land Imagined,” his filmography also includes Boo Junfeng’s “Sandcastle” and K. Rajagopal’s “A Yellow Bird.”

Back home in Asia, Assarat is also putting his money where his mouth is on project and producer development. His Purin Pictures fund is not only directly financing into regional art-house films, it also provides support for SEAFIC, a year-long producer education lab, run by Raymond Phathanavirangoon (also heading to Locarno), and who was in 2017 named as Asian producer of the year at the Busan festival. Assarat says his other objective in Locarno will be to seek out potential festival-level partnerships for his fund.

“Labs are useful for development,” says Nandita Solomon, an established producer who appears in the Open Doors Lab with a selection of projects from Malaysia and Singapore. Underlining the point that South-East Asia’s script and development apparatus is immature, she says that labs “provide the chance to talk things out loud, and receive feedback that might be hard to come by.”

But the financial and support patterns are not uniform “Everyone is currently focused on genre film – supernatural, horror and action – which are relatively easy to fund. On the other hand (Asian and global) streaming platforms are all looking for Asian series. Not features,” says Solomon. “We still need help for drama films, which is what I’m pitching at Locarno.”

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