As Europe’s summer film festivals restart after taking a year of COVID-prompted pause — the notable exception being Venice — the Cannes Film Festival shift into July has caused an August overload. But the disruption hasn’t dampened enthusiasm on the circuit.
With no shortage of movies to launch and vaccinated local audiences keen to get back in front of a big screen, artistic directors of Europe’s other prominent summer shindigs such as Locarno, Karlovy Vary, Sarajevo and Haugesund are gearing up for watershed editions — and looking to last year’s Venice for reassurance.
“I am trying to be confident without sounding naive,” says Locarno Film Festival artistic director Giona A. Nazzaro. “But I think that it’s absolutely possible to obtain a good result, like the one that [Venice chief] Alberto Barbera obtained last year: It’s totally doable.”
Barbera, who pulled off last’s year’s feat — although with fewer Lido launches than usual — is confident that “from the upcoming edition of Cannes, and then Locarno and Venice,” the situation “will get closer to normal,” he said at a recent IDM Alto Adige Film Fund panel.
His take is that film industry folks can’t wait to get back on the festival circuit.
“We’ve been talking with all our partners, sales agents and production companies. And all of them are very willing and eager to come back to festivals, not just Venice,” Barbera said.
As for the disturbance caused by Cannes shifting into its current July 6-17 slot, though it has wreaked havoc, nobody is holding it against fest topper
“It’s not Cannes; it’s the pandemic, obviously,” says Nazzaro. “For us the fact that Cannes is happening is wonderful news because another year without Cannes would have been a major problem for the entire industry. Cannes brings life back into the industry.” He has been in touch with Fremaux, who has answered all his “questions and concerns.”
“What would have happened to the industry if Cannes had been cancelled one more time?” wonders Eric Lagesse, who runs prominent Paris-based distribution and sales outfit Pyramide Distribution. Cannes “obviously” could not be held in May, due to a new surge in coronavirus cases, he points out. Like many other European industry execs, Lagesse thinks Cannes didn’t have a choice, though he “can understand that it’s probably a problem for a festival like Locarno that is squeezed between Cannes and Venice,” he says.
Karlovy Vary Intl. Film Festival artistic director Karel Och, who moved his event’s dates from their customary early July slot to Aug. 20-28, says the change was not dictated by an overlap with Cannes.
“We were made to understand by local authorities that if we postponed the festival for seven weeks we would have more than 1 million newly vaccinated people compared to early July,” he says.
That was the clincher. Fest executive director Krystof Mucha adds that, given that the COVID-19 infections rate in the Czech Republic is now rapidly improving, prospects are that by opening night the fest’s screening venues are likely to be allowed to operate at full capacity.
Sarajevo Film Festival head of industry Jovan Marjanovic is hoping current 30% occupancy restrictions on cinemas in the Bosnian capital will ease up in time for the event’s upcoming Aug. 13-20 edition for which he knows he’s “not going to get 1,500 film professionals to come to Sarajevo as we normally do.”
“I think filmmakers will travel with their films to introduce them and meet the audience. I think that will come back quickly,” he says. What will take more time to restart are the industry-related activities. So Sarajevo execs are going to focus on getting international directors to come with their films as well as regional talents, and will be catering on site to the regional professionals (from former Yugoslavia and the wider Balkans area) “who really consider us their meeting point,” while offering their online market platform to the rest of Europe and the world.
Och underlines that in this post-pandemic context the priority is “taking care of the local audience,” whereas due to travel restrictions “the international aspect, by definition, is limited.”
But Och is also very keen for films to screen at Karlovy Vary with talents in tow.
“This is a special year to show how much we care for the films and the filmmakers, and to really enable them to return in front of the audience,” he says. He vows that he will have films from all over the world for which many helmers, including at least one from the U.S., have said they are willing to make the trek. In a spirit of collaboration, Karlovy Vary is coordinating joint travel arrangements for invited directors with the Jerusalem Film Festival, whose dates overlap this year.
As Nazzaro puts it, the key thing is “that we are telling the global industry and cinephiles that Locarno is alive and kicking. Maybe more alive than ever. Of course we have to give the festival back to the local audience, which in Locarno has always been extremely warm and supportive.”
There is also lots of enthusiasm building up about going back to physical fest rituals that for Locarno means screening films on the Piazza Grande, Europe’s largest open-air venue in terms of both capacity (it seats 8,000) and screen size.
“We’ve just had this wonderful news from the federal government that we can re-open the Piazza Grande to an audience of 5,000 people,” says Nazzaro. “Just a few weeks ago this would have been unthinkable.”
How are Europe’s top post-Cannes, pre-Venice summer film fests coping with the COVID-19 coda for their August editions? Snapshot below:
The upcoming 74th edition of the prominent Swiss lakeside fest dedicated to global indie cinema will mark the debut of Italian film critic Giona A. Nazzaro as artistic director. Nazzaro is upbeat about submissions they’ve received. “The films we have secured are very interesting and will provide some indications of the direction in which I want to steer the festival,” he says. Nazzaro adds that he has embarked on “a more audience-friendly” course that will see “the industry be a key player in the scheme of all things Locarno.” That said, high on his priorities is the need “to give the festival back to the local audience,” comprising thousands of young Swiss film buffs that in Locarno have “always been extremely warm and supportive.” Festgoers will be able to enjoy the unique experience of Locarno’s open-air screenings on the 8,000-seat Piazza Grande, the largest outdoor venue in Europe, which has been approved by Swiss health authorities for a 5,000 spectator capacity.
COVID-19 safety measures for entry into Switzerland include a negative PCR test as well as proof of vaccination. Locarno’s customarily very well-attended industry side has “planned all kinds of [digital] activities in order not to cut out those who will not be able to reach us physically,” he adds.
Meanwhile, though Locarno will suffer from Europe’s overcrowded summer festival calendar as COVID-19 restrictions begin to ease, the number of accreditations they’ve reached so far “is extremely promising and, given the time-frame, way higher than we had predicted,” says Nazzaro, who is looking forward to launching some under-the-radar directors and putting them “on the global map for the years to come.”
Southeastern Europe’s top shindig is making the most of its role as a catalyst to kickstart the local industry’s post-COVID restart. Never idle, the fest is among the producers of Bosnian director Danis Tanović’s new drama “Ten in Half,” set in a pandemic-stricken Sarajevo. It wrapped in June “with no contagions” on set, which is a “good sign” says the fest’s head of industry Jovan Marjanovic.
Marjanovic says the number of submissions to the fest is up but, as always, “I hope to get some great titles for our sidebar sections from this year’s Cannes,” even though this will mean “a bit of last-minute confirmations.”
For Sarajevo’s CineLink Industry Days and co-production mart, which is the leading platform for projects from the region, “it will be a smaller edition on site,” he says, “but of course we will maximize the use of online technologies to reach more people.”
Bosnia has already opened borders to foreign visitors with a negative PCR test and/or a COVID passport, so there is “no need for special invites,” says Marjanovic. “What we are hoping to do is make it such that people can come easily with minimal hassle.”
He points out that proximity to Istanbul’s airport is a plus, since it’s “been open to international flights all along” and tourists are already starting to flock back to Sarajevo.
While borders are open, cinemas in Sarajevo are still operating at 30% seating capacity due to COVID constraints, but the fest is confident this restriction will be lifted, at least in part, by mid-August.
The Czech Republic’s Karlovy Vary Intl. Film Festival, which is the leading movie event in Central and Eastern Europe, has shifted its dates from July to late August to give local audiences more time to get vaccinated and to benefit from eased venue capacity limitations due to COVID-19.
“The moment we announced we were happening physically we got a lot of excitement and many directors are saying they are willing to come,” says artistic director Karel Och, who vows they will “have films from all over the world.”
“The situation is changing very fast,” add Och, who notes that as far as travel goes, “Cannes will be very important for us in terms of seeing what the situation will be for talents and also for international industry people,” though of course there will also be a strong presence of local film productions.
As for travel, festival executive director Kryštof Mucha says people from all E.U. member and partner countries people who are vaccinated or have a PCR test with a three- to five-day window will be able to enter the country. What’s still unclear are regulations for people traveling from the U.S., Australia and Asia, but Mucha notes that protocols will be nailed down by the end of July.
Meanwhile, their strategy to lure as many international attendees as possible is “to tell people that we don’t just want them to come and work,” says Och. “We want them to come and relax.”
Held in the coastal town of Haugesund, the Norwegian event — which also hosts the New Nordic Films market — is gearing up for a fully in-person fest with a hybrid industry component that “will be a more limited and more exclusive market with less [on-site] participants, because we know that a lot of countries can’t travel yet,” says New Nordic film director Gyda Velvin Myklebus, who notes that last year’s online edition of the mart “worked really well.”
The festival, which caters to a largely local audience, will instead be “almost normal,” she adds, since there are no travel restrictions within Norway and seat capacity in theaters will be “sufficient enough” both for the fest itself and also to hold a fully physical edition of Norway’s Amanda Awards, among the most prestigious film awards in the Nordics, televised live as usual.
Though Europe’s August festival calendar will be even more crowded this year, the Haugesund market chief doesn’t think the Cannes shift into July will impact them much “because we are very regional and those [film executives] who want to collaborate with the Nordics will want to find their way to Haugesund anyway.”