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Locarno Industry Academy Unspools First Edition in IFF Panama

PANAMA CITY —   “The main problem is how to reach audiences beyond festivals,” says the Locarno Festival’s Nadia Dresti.

The Locarno Industry Academy, which now boasts a network of events outside the Swiss city, aims to help a budding new generation of distribution, sales, exhibition and programming execs to develop answers.

IFF Panama and Locarno have just concluded the Academy’s first edition in Central America.

Reaching audiences is ever harder. “Box office for festival films is going down. One or two big films manage to reach theaters. But most don’t,” said Dresti, who founded the Academy in 2014.

“Festivals used to be a launch pad to the theatrical market, but now sales agents often make their revenues from screening fees at festivals and stop there. We want to develop innovative strategies to change this situation.”

One of the problems is that younger people no longer watch arthouse films in commercial theaters; even mainstream films are losing audiences in that demographic.

“We have to talk about new ways of reaching young people. It’s normal for young people to want to distribute their films to streaming platforms such as Netflix but normally it doesn’t generate sufficient revenue to make a career. I try to keep open new voices and come up with new ideas.”

Dresti says that whereas most film education and training workshops focus on production, it’s very hard to learn about sales, distribution and marketing.

The Industry Academy has been working with festival market heads, such as Cannes Film Market’s Jerome Paillard, as well as distributors, sales agents, consultants, independent professionals and organizations such as Europa International, Europa Distribution and Europa Cinema.

There are Locarno Academies in other festivala around the world including New York’s Film Society of Lincoln Center, Beirut and Thessaloniki.

In Latin America, Academies already exist in Chile’s Valparaiso and Brazil’s São Paulo in South America, and in Mexico’s Morelia. Dresti felt that Panama was the perfect choice to complete the coverage of the region.

“Panama closes the circle in Latin America. For me choosing Panama also had a lot to do with Diana Sanchez and Pituka. You need programmers with a vision, who know cinema.”

The speakers in Panama included sales agent Karina Korenblum, from Cercamon; Heather Haynes, senior international programmer at Hot Docs in Canada; Carlos A. Gutiérrez, film programmer and cultural promoter at Cinema Tropical in New York; Marcelo Quesada, film producer and distributor at Pacifica Grey, Costa Rica.

Also speaking were digital distribution expert Paula Gastaud, at Brazil’s Sofa Digital; Marjorie Bendeck, from Connecting Cottbus East-West; Producer Sandino Saravia (“Roma”); and Diana Sanchez, artistic director of IFF Panama and senior director of film at Toronto.

Working alongside Dresti is Sandra Gómez Velazquez and Marion Klotz.

The topics discussed during the four-day event included priorities for festival programmers, digital marketing, alternative distribution models, innovative production strategies and career management plans.

The participants, aged mainly between 25 and 35, were Costa Rican producer Alejandra Vargas-Carballo; Panamanian producer, film director and cultural manager, Mariel Garcia Spooner; Dominican Republic filmmaker and sales agent, Katherine Bautista, who founded the Libélula Dorada International Short Film Festival; Honduran filmmaker and curator, Laura Bermúdez; Honduran producer, Ana Isabel Martins Palacios; Panamanian producer and cultural manager, Estefani Peralta; Panamanian filmmakers, Martín Proaño and Mónica Crespo.

Panama’s Mariel Garcia Spooner – who is currently deputy director of culture in the Municipality of Panama and is developing feature film projects with her production company, Hello October – said that the Academy provided a massive amount of information in a short period of time. She was keen to hear more about strategies for getting films into film festivals and securing international distribution, in the context of her own productions and her experience from running the Hayah International Short Film Festival of Panama, now in its 12th edition, and the Panama Film Lab.

Spooner is currently prepping her first feature, with funding from the Panama Film Fund and Ibermedia, which she has developed at Bogota’s BAM, LALIP in Los Angeles and the London Film Academy Workshop. It’s a romcom about a woman who impulsively steals a wedding dress and then has 24 hours to arrange her wedding.

Spooner will shoot the pic in July and says that the Locarno Industry Academy provided excellent ideas for her subsequent distribution strategy.

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