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The Locarno Festival’s Locarno Pro industry side is trying to rise to the challenge faced by many festivals that have been forced to cancel their physical editions.

“The one thing I wanted to avoid was doing something just for the sake of doing something,” says Valentina Merli, who became head of Locarno Pro in January.
Not long after her appointment Merli found herself navigating the coronavirus crisis and did her best to figure out how to temporarily reconfigure the formidable informal indie industry space built by her predecessor Nadia Dresti — who remains on board as a consultant — for an edition that’s been cancelled as a physical gathering, but is going forward as a digital event.

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Given the humanist philosophy behind Locarno Pro, which is almost like a Swiss summer camp and the antithesis of the frenzied Cannes Marché du Film, Merli and her team came to the conclusion that “there is only so much that you can do online.” So they decided to “keep the essentials” and even came up with an initiative, all in a spirit of “trying to be useful.”

LocarnoPro will kick off with its StepIN think-tank initiative held Aug. 5-7 in partnership with Variety. Featuring a trio of webinars on the Variety Streaming Room platform, it will drill down on the challenges faced by the global film industry in the post-pandemic, those being: the future of theatrical releases; the (new) landscape of film production; and the future of film festivals and film markets.

Aug. 7-9 will see the launch of Locarno’s new Heritage Online portal. This will enter the fest in the vintage cinema space just as streamers are snapping up library titles in the wake of the pandemic. This first-of-its-kind platform will serve as a database of films that premiered prior to 2005. The idea is to become a business facilitator between rights holders and streaming platforms. There will be a dedicated webinar, online pitching sessions and business meetings. Merli says she and project manager Markus Duffner thought that now “was a good time to launch this new Locarno initiative intended as a way for auteur cinema “to find more space in platforms” and then continue next year as a new physical Locarno Pro strand.

Locarno’s Open Doors Hub and Lab dedicated to nurturing cinema in areas where filmmaking is especially tough runs Aug. 6-11. It will continue its focus on Southeast Asia with a selection of projects being unveiled from Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam, Myanmar, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Mongolia, including several market previews. Production teams of projects selected for the Open Doors co-production hub will meet on dedicated online platforms with prospective partners for presentations. “The regional creative voices are way more than can be highlighted by Open Doors,” says its chief Sophie Bourdon. She notes that especially younger generations trying to make movies across Southeast Asia need more training and networking opportunities, which is why she’s hired former the Match Factory buyer Zsuzsi Bankuti as a collaborator and expanded Open Doors services with new year-round activities and a new permanent Open Doors ToolBox platform.

SwissBiz Round Table on Aug. 10. Just as the fest’s the Films After Tomorrow initiative has a Swiss works-in-progress strand, Locarno Pro will have a day dedicated to local distribution of quality domestic movies, both in VOD and in cinemas across the country as lockdown lifts. A 90-minute webinar will drill-down on the steep challenges faced by Swiss distributors and arthouse exhibitors as they try to get some post-pandemic traction.