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More than 1,500 film professionals are already accredited for the Venice Production Bridge, which will run Sept. 2-10, and interest in new projects being unveiled is running high.

Pascal Diot, chief of the informal Venice market, said roughly 800 meetings have already been booked between producers and sales agents pertaining to the 30 projects — including seven docs — being unveiled at the Venice Gap Financing Market. Those projects must have at least 70% of their funding in place.

At this stage, the feature film project sparking most interest is female empowerment drama “The Year I Started Masturbating,” by Swedish filmmaker Erika Wasserman. Pic turns on an ambitious young woman and mother named Hanna who is unexpectedly dumped by her partner. She wants to win him back, but instead learns to win something much more important: love and desire for herself and who she is.

Another project eliciting interest at the Venice market is Swiss-Egyptian director Tamer Ruggli’s feature film debut, “Back to Alexandria,” about 45-year-old psychotherapist named Sue who leaves her well-organized life in Switzerland to return to her birthplace in Egypt, which turns out to be an empowering journey.

Among the docs, Afghani filmmaker Sahra Mani’s timely “Kabul Melody,” which portrays “a country where playing music by women is considered perverse,” as the synopsis puts it, and where “young Afghan female students risk their lives for their musical passion,” is also booking lots of meetings.

The VPB’s Book Adaptation Rights Market is also getting off to a strong start, with more than 280 meetings already planned between producers and 26 selected European publishers.

More in general, Diot says, there are two main types of industry execs making the trek to Venice.

“The people who are so eager to meet again because they didn’t go to Cannes” and feel that Venice is a safer environment in terms of COVID-19 concerns, since last year’s protocols and sanitary measures worked. “And then there are also the folks that haven’t attended anything for more than a year,” he adds. So they are tired of doing business via Zoom and dying to have a physical meeting, especially given that for a co-production to happen “people need to be face-to-face,” he notes.

Diot pointed out that with buyers not going to Toronto this year due to COVID constraints and the AFM and Tokyo marts going digital, his only fear “is that we will be in a kind of bubble, since most of the markets that come after will be online.”

In terms of U.S. companies, Netflix is on the Lido in full force, including its film chief Scott Stuber; Amazon, HBOMax, Warner Bros., FilmNation, Anonymous Content and Participant are among other heavyweights in attendance.

While Asian and Chinese industryites are not attending Venice this year due to the Delta variant preventing travel, there is a strong industry presence on the Lido from the Middle East, especially from Saudi Arabia, as was the case in Cannes.

A panel on new forms of film and entertainment financing in the Arab world, hosted by the Arab Cinema Center, features Wayne Borg, head of Saudi Arabia’s nascent NEOM Media Industries; Stephen Strachan, who is film commissioner of Saudi’s Royal Commission for AlUla; and Assem Ramadan, who is director of operations of Saudi powerhouse Rotana Studios.