In its first full-on post-pandemic edition, Locarno roared back into action as an industry hub over Aug. 3-9, smashing attendance records with delegates at industry arm Locarno Pro soaring from 2019’s prior record of 1,040 to 1,300.
That reflects the year-round work of festival artistic director Giona Nazzaro and industry head Markus Duffner at Locarno Pro, building on foundations laid by Nadia Dresti over 2010-19. Sky rocketing attendance also says much about the state of the international film industry as it is is rocked by titanic sea change propelled by global, regional and local streaming platforms. Following, 10 takes on Locarno as its turns its final bend towards Aug. 13’s awards announcement.
A score or more of new deals announced since Sunday in exclusivity to Variety:
*Germany’s Pluto Film has been in negotiations with several theatrical distributors on Locarno Piazza Grande title “Semret,” ahead of its world premiere on Aug. 10. Meanwhile, “How I Learned To Fly” was sold for theatrical distribution to 17+ territories all over Europe, among them Germany-Switzerland-Austria (Der Filmverleih), Italy (Imago), Poland (Nowe Horyzonty) and Estonia (Estin Film). “Stop-Zemlia” has closed Germany (Dejà-Vu) and Singapore (Anticipate Pictures). “Jesus Lopez,” “Heavens Above” and “Vanishing Fog” have been sold to HBO.
*Elie Grappe’s “Olga,” Switzerland’s 2021 Oscar entry, continues its impressive sales roll out. Just before Locarno, Pulsar Content closed Italy with Wanted. Some weeks before that, it closed deals with Tanweer in Greece and Falcon in Indonesia and Flamingo in Spain. Further buyers take in A2B Entertainment for Germany and Scandinavia, Pandora in Japan and Film Europe in Czech Republic. Kino Lorber has U.S. rights.
*In a just-revealed deal, U.K-French sales house Alief has swooped on international rights to “Matadero (“Slaughterhouse”), the fiction feature debut of Santiago Fillol, co-scribe on Oliver Laxe’s “Mimosa” and “Fire Will Come.” Film world premieres in Locarno International Competition.
*New Europe Film Sales has rolled out yet further territories on “Medusa Deluxe,” arguably the hottest property bowing at the Swiss Fest, clinching deals for Spain (Elastica Films), Benelux (Filmfreak), Scandinavia and the Baltics (NonStop Entertainment).
*Tatiana Leite’s Bubbles Project, one of Brazil’s most energetic international co-producers, has boarded “Kids Swimming in the Lake” from Venezuela’s Michael Labarca, a buzzy big winner at this year’s Locarno Open Doors.
*German director Lukas Nalrath has announced his next feature after “One Last Evening,” which won the largest prize at Locarno’s 2022 First Look pix-in-post competition..
*Julie Lerat-Gersant’s French teen pregnancy drama ‘Little Ones’ sold to Satine Film for Italy.
*Alief has just licensed all rights to Italy on Locarno 2021 title “Cop Secret” with Blue Swan which plans a November 2022 release. During this Locarno it is also actively negotiating
Australia and New Zealand, Poland, Czech Republic, Latvia, MENA and Nordic rights.
* Just released by Giant Pictures in the U.S. and Canada on multiple platforms such as AppleTV and Google Play, Jorge Thielen Armand’s multi-prized “La Fortaleza,” which premiered in Rotterdam’s Tiger Competition 2020, has been acquired for Colombia by DOC:CO.
*‘Small Body’ producer Tomsa Films in France has boarded Andrei Epure’s First Feature ‘Don’t Let Me Die’
*Sales agency Taskovski Films has acquired Susanna della Sala’s “Last Stop Before Chocolate Mountain,” produced by Marco Visalberghi, who won Venice’s Golden Lion for “Sacro Gra.”
Carlos Conceição’s “Tommy Guns,” a “remarkable,” “layered, adventurous second feature,” Variety’s Guy Lodge wrote in our publication’s most upbeat Locarno review to date. Alessandro Comodin’s “The Adventures of Gigi the Law,” has its fans. “Piaffe,” which world premieres later in the fest is described by Indie Wire as as a “sexy, queer and questioning gem.” Match Me!, Locarno’s vibrant networking event, brought onto the market a bevy of projects from new talent. Two most definitely to track: “All We Imagine as Light,” the fiction feature debut of India’s Payal Kapadia who dazzled with 2021 Cannes Golden Eye winner “A Night of Knowing Nothing”; and “The Far Mountains,” from British-Iranian artist/director Mitra Tabrizian, with “The Salesman” star Shahab Hosseini attached to star.
Co-Production: The New Arthouse Mantra
“The [international] theatrical market is becoming more challenging,” says Raffaella Pontarelli at Italy’s Amarena Film, which brought a buzz project, “The White House,” to Locarno’s Match Me! So Amarena’s business model is “to collaborate with international partners, building up long-lasting relationships,” she adds. Most producers at Locarno this year would agree with her. Co-production equity, predicated on international partners tapping incentives or dedicated funds in their own territories – think the CNC’s Aide aux Cinémas du Monde – is ever more the new business model in Europe and Latin America. Sales, when they happen, can be icing on the cake.
New Talent: The Other Industry Mantra
In a streaming platform world where the battle for success is a battle for talent, discovering new talent across the world is a priority for streamers, Hollywood agencies – think CAA – and governments alike. “The part of our industry which most needs Unifrance’s help to be connected with international networks” are its emerging producers, Axel Scoffier, Unifrance general secretary, told Variety, explaining Unifrance’s bringing producers for the first time to Locarno’s Match Me!. There they can forge relations which yield production partnerships in the future. More institutions look likely to sign up for Match Me! next year.
Disability and Inclusion: The Market Upside
Locarno has committed to becoming a more inclusive and accessible festival, as expressed at a Disability & Inclusion in the Audiovisual Industry” panel, with fest artistic director Giona A. Nazarro calling it a “very important moment” in the event’s history. “Inclusion is a long-term commitment, but it also means a bigger audience. 20% of Swiss people live with disabilities. So where are they?! It’s a process and let’s make it happen,” said Pro Infirmis’ Paola Pitton. Differently abled singer and Outlyer founder Emmanuel Kelly agreed: “This message goes to the entire film and TV industry: You guys like money, right? Do you? Yes? There we go. So why are you saying no to $125 billion a year? That’s what you are losing by not representing those who are differently abled.
Valais’ New Cash Rebates
What part of the world’s film industry is still growing? One axis, without doubt, is the international shoot business, as governments or regions battle to lure big shoot to film in their territories. These days, no festival is complete without a new incentive announcement. At Locarno, Valais, a canton stretching from Lake Geneva in the West along the Sion Valley to Zermatt in the South, announced a new cash rebate offering returns of 15%-40% on shoots lensing in the canton with a minimum spend of CH100,000 in eligible expenses. Total moneys available are limited, but the scheme is a step in the right direction, said Tristan Albrecht, Valais Film Commissioner. “We will grow little by little.”
’Medusa Deluxe’: A Star is Born?
The biggest deal on a movie at Locarno was A24’s acquisition of North American rights to Thomas Hardiman’s debut feature “Medusa Deluxe.” The deal was made way before Locarno, but soft-announced on the cusp of the Festival. With MUBI closing a swathe of major territories and New Europe Film Sales rolling out more deals, “Medusa Deluxe,” a comedic murder mystery, is no doubt the hottest property at Locarno. Hardiman’s “penchant for salty dialogue and ostentatious staging distinguishes him from many recent British freshmen, and could conceivably be put to more commercial use in future projects,” Guy Lodge wrote in his Variety review. A star auteur is born?
Jason Blum & Genre
The biggest star turn at Locarno was Jason Blum who declared “Paranormal Activity” definitely dead – who thought it alive? – and said he understood “Batgirl’s” axe. Meanwhile, after Locarno’s genre splurge last year, a cohort of specialists piled into the festival to catch this year’s crop. They were disappointed. Genre items were few and far between. But genre, as an international production focus is building ever more. As arthouse theatrical sales become ever more challenging, the strategy at Italy’s Illmatic is “focusing on genre films which are more placeable commercially-speaking. Market demand is more and more oriented towards that,” Illmatic’s Francesca Delise told Variety.
In earlier deals reported in exclusivity by Variety, Italy’s Intramovies picked up “Nightsiren,” Heretic “Tengo Sueños Eléctricos” and Toronto-bound “The Runner” and Open Reel “De Noche Los Gatos Son Pardos.” Germany’s Pluto Films confirmed international rights on “Semret,” while Taskovski Films acquired “The Visitors” ahead of its Locarno premiere. Woo Ming Jin’s Locarno player ‘Stone Turtle’ was swooped on by Parallax Films. At the Open Doors project hub, director Michael Labarca confirmed further co-production partners on “Kids Swimming by the Lake” in France’s Ticket Shoot Films and Chile’s Oro Films and Bolivia’s Empatia Cinema announced that Maravilla Cine would co-produce “Diamond.” Ecuador’s Epopeya unveiled production partners for “Ñusta” in Argentina’s Hain Cine and Peru’s Casa Aguaflorida.
Christine Vachon on an Industry Driver: Optimism
Delivering a punchy, hugely enjoyable Locarno masterclass producer Christine Vachon was quoted Ted Hope’s comment that the “greatest skill a producer can develop is extreme paranoia.” “It’s definitely a hope-for-the-best-expect-the-