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For the latest edition of Focus COPRO’, an event launched in 2018 by the Cannes Court Métrage Rendez-vous Industry program to give a boost to first-time feature directors, the organizing team decided to give the event a reboot, scrapping the formal pitches and giving the selected filmmakers a chance to mingle and network in a more casual setting.

After a breezy lunch at Cannes’ Carlton Beach on May 23, the Rendez-vous Industry team described the event as “a great moment to discover and meet these renowned talented filmmakers and producers, who already have an impact on today’s cinema and will confirm their artistic vision with their first feature.”

Among the industry professionals who joined the up-and-coming filmmakers were not only respected producers and sales agents, but a range of reps from leading co-production markets, labs, residencies, workshops and institutions focused on identifying and nurturing emerging talent.

“We noticed since a few years ago that some of the projects were at a very early stage, and that they would gain from getting in touch with specific development programs,” the organizers told Variety. “Key industry platforms have a huge impact in providing strong mentoring and in supporting the development of projects through a large panorama of initiatives.”

Previous editions of Focus COPRO’ have yielded success stories such as “Piggy,” Spanish director Carlota Pereda’s boundary-pushing body-image horror which was picked up by Charades and sold to Magnet Releasing for North America after its premiere at Sundance this year.

This year’s event spotlighted seven upcoming features from as far afield as Argentina, Chile, Costa Rica, Denmark, France, Ghana and Greece whose range isn’t strictly geographic. “Diverse narrations are represented – strong female voices, intimate coming-of-age stories, bold hybrid explorations, dark imagery,” said the organizing team. “All the projects have strong potential on the international market.”

Along with lunch on the Croisette, this year’s event featured keynote speeches from industry veterans including EAVE’s Linda Beath, Hédi Zardi, of French sales agent Luxbox, and Isabelle Fauvel of Initiative Film. The filmmakers also received a consultation on co-production strategy with the help of EAVE group leader Didar Domehri, of Maneki Films, and Thibaut Bracq of the Marrakech Film Festival’s Atlas Workshops.

Focus COPRO’ is presented in collaboration with the Pop Up Film Residency, which provides a three-week residency program to further the development of one of the selected projects; the ECAM Madrid Film School’s Incubator program, which contributed a Spanish project to the Focus COPRO’ line-up and will also offer one of the film’s teams a one-week, tailor-made workshop on production and marketing as part of its new Start Me Up program; and Initiative Film, which is offering the equivalent of €1,000 ($1,070) worth of consultancy centered on screenwriting, script analysis and development.

The filmmakers in attendance on Monday stressed the value of breaking bread in Cannes with such a range of respected industry players. “A thing like Focus COPRO’ is great because it puts you in the position of talking about your film and talking about the films you want to make with people who can actually make it happen,” said Danish director Casper Rudolf Emil Kjeldsen, who’s back in Cannes one year after his short film “In the Soil” bowed in the official competition.

Kjeldsen is developing his feature-length debut “Trees Painted in Tar,” a father-son drama that explores the subject of masculinity through the story of a nightmarish wild boar hunt. He credits the Focus COPRO’ pre-festival sessions with connecting him to mentors who helped him recognize “what we needed at this stage in the development to make the film come true.”

The Boy With the Light-Blue Eyes

Thanasis Neofotistos, whose 2018 short “Patision Avenue” premiered at the Venice Film Festival, has had his fair share of success launching his short films on the festival circuit, including trips to Toronto and Clermont-Ferrand. Yet the feature-film industry, he admits, is like “another world.” “They don’t know me, and I don’t know them,” he said, making initiatives like Focus COPRO’ essential “to close this gap.”

Neofotistos is now prepping his debut feature, “The Boy With the Light Blue Eyes” (above), which is set in the mountainous hinterlands of Greece, where a teenager who looks different from the superstitious villagers around him struggles to be free. With production set to begin next year, said the director, “This is the perfect time for me to be in Cannes.”

Ghanaian filmmaker Amartei Armar was in his apartment in Accra, helping his 9-year-old daughter with her math homework, when he got the call that his short film “Tsutsué” had been selected for this year’s official competition in Cannes. “I started screaming. She started screaming,” he said. But no sooner than he’d packed his bags for the Riviera, he was polishing the pitch for his first feature, “Vagabonds” (pictured, top), a drama about two orphaned brothers threatened with separation which was selected for Focus COPRO’.

It is, Armar admits, “surreal” to pitch his debut feature before “Tsutsué” has even had its Palais premiere. But he recognizes that that’s the nature of the business, and it’s a challenge he’s ready to accept. “The film that you have [finished] is sort of a celebratory thing,” he said. “People say: ‘Congrats! Congrats! So now what’s next?’”

The following projects were selected for this year’s Focus COPRO’:

Erratics
Director: Thomas Woodroffe
Producer: Rodrigo Diaz (Bloques Erráticos, Chile)
Co-Producer: La Belle Affaire Productions (France)
After a long time trapped in the glaciers of Patagonia, the ghost of cameraman Lucien Le Saint is released. Dazed, he follows the same navigation route taken a century ago, stopping at the places where he once filmed native peoples. On this journey, he crosses paths with new inhabitants of a technocratic society and the vestiges of an indigenous past.

Creature
Director: María Silvia Esteve
Producer: Laura Mara Tablón (Rita Cine, Argentina)
After a failed suicide attempt, Alen is looking for meaning. But the deeper she gets entangled in the toxicity of her relationship, the more the memories of a tragic family loss resurface. The repressed emotions fracture her in two as a dark creature sprouts from deep within her.

Ripli
Director: Elena Tara
Producers: Eva Moreno, Cristina Urgel (Not Alone Productions, Spain)
Angeles has a mental disorder and a huge imagination that she does not value. In the middle of the chaos of her life and mind, she meets a character inside a video game with whom she’ll set off on an emotional adventure that changes her forever.

If We Don’t Burn, How Do We Light Up the Night?
Director: Kim Torres
Producer: Alejandra Vargas Carballo (Noche Negra Producciones, Costa Rica)
Co-Producer: Tropical Films (Mexico)
Laura, a restless teenager, arrives in a magical and hostile town. She discovers that there is a forest-dwelling beast there that has killed several women. Through a mystical journey, she explores the frontiers between womanhood, sexuality and the secretive world surrounding her.

The Boy With the Light Blue Eyes
Director: Thanasis Neofotistos
Producer: Ioanna Bolomyti (Argonauts Productions, Greece)
Co-Producer: Atalante Productions (Greece)
In the mountainous hinterlands of Greece, there is a remote village steeped in folklore and superstition. Peter, a teenager who seems somehow different, lives there with his strict grandmother and overprotective mother. Through a series of events, lies are revealed, curses are unveiled and Peter will sacrifice his light-blue eyes in order to be free.

Trees Painted in Tar
Director: Casper Rudolf Emil Kjeldsen
Producer: Giulia Triolo (Snowglobe, Denmark)
Teenager Silas is caught up in a hellish dream when a boar hunt with his father and his father’s friends turns into a glorification of drinking, violence and transgressive behavior. Surrounded by trees and dead wild boars, Silas is about to lose himself. His only way out is to leave his father behind.

Vagabonds
Director: Amartei Armar
Producer: Sébastien Hussenot (La Luna Productions, France)
Co-Producer: AKA Entertainment (Ghana)
Ghana. Owusu and Gyasi, two orphaned brothers threatened with separation, flee to Accra in search of freedom and a family to call their own. The journey to find this family will be fraught with obstacles and mirages.