Unifrance Energizes Locarno

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There’s a new giant in town, or at least at Locarno’s Match Me!, one of the festival’s biggest industry initiatives.

For years, by a large head, France has had more titles at the Locarno Festival’s two biggest sections, the Piazza Grande showcase and main International Competition than any other country in the world. 2022 is no exception.

Unifrance also hosts the Festival’s biggest industry bash, a first Friday night sit-down dinner or party which used to take place at Locarno’s hillside Belvedere Hotel and has now moved to the near Maggiore Lake-side Blu Restaurant.

Now, however, Unifrance, Europe’s biggest national film-TV promotion board, has put its weight behind Match Me!, a networking initiative this year bringing together 32 emerging producers from over the world.

“It’s a perfect fit,” said Locarno Pro head Markus Duffner. Unifrance’s first-time presence at Match Me! also says much about the strategic priorities of European states as they emerge from pandemic, and a lot about the current state of the film industry at large.

“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.

“Some young producers don’t wait for us to travel to festivals. But there are many places which they don’t access or know people, so we’ve developed a strategy for producers coming from France’s very rich and diverse short film economy,” Scoffier added. “This  produces a lot of talents who want to step into the feature film industry, which has different leverages, commissions, networks.”

France’s film support system, still the most developed in the world, is robust enough to allow its producers to make movies without seeking finance abroad. Two French major section titles are totally Gallic productions: Blandine Lenoir’s “Annie Colère” and Jean-Paul Civeyrac’s “Une Femme de Notre Temps.”

But France is Europe’s most avid co-producer, making 121 movies with foreign partners in 2021, 69 minority co-productions. That compares to just 24 for the U.K. last year, according to the Marché du Film’s 2022 Focus. France’s domination at Locarno stems not so much from its own majority movies as minority co-productions, accounting for 7 of its 12 Piazza Grande and Competition titles.

In a streaming platform world where the battle for success is a  battle for talent, France’s arthouse sector, its producers and sales agents, understood a long time ago that talent can come from anywhere.

That passion for international has, if anything, now sharpened. Two of the three French companies chosen for Match Me! by Locarno Pro are almost startling cosmopolitan. Jonas Films’ Elsa Klughertz has produced doc features in Texas, New Mexico and Iran. At Petit Chaos, Thomas Hakim’s Match Me! lineup features projects from India’s Payal Kapadia and Rwanda’s Samuel Ishimwe.

“We have heard and understood that young professionals are very interested in honing an international strategy and international profile,” said Scoffier.

“French producers can bring a lot to the table for Match Me! and Open Doors participants,” observes Duffner. Based out of Tours, a fast-expanding production hub, Petit Chaos can tap not only federal but regional funding. Companies can also apply to the CNC’s Aide aux Cinémas du Monde, which has backed at least six movies screening this year as completed titles at Locarno.

Match Me! isn’t exactly a co-production forum: Most projects are too early in development to have even begun financing. But at it, presenting a slate of projects, companies can begin to create the relationships which will yield co-productions some where down the line in the future.

For France, that it a passion. For much of the world’s arthouse scene, it is an ever more dire necessity, as domestic state funding and theatrical distribution at home and abroad both falter. Little wonder that Match Me! Looks to be going from strength to strength.

All We Imagine as Light

Following, brief profiles of France’s three Match Me! participants:

Thomas Hakim, Petit Chaos

Founded in 2018 by Hakim and Julien Graff, Petit Chaos hit the ground running with its first feature, “A Night of Knowing Nothing,” from India’s Payal Kapadia, which world premiered at 2021’s Directors’ Fortnight winning Cannes’ best documentary Œil d’Or. He’s at Locarno with Kapadia’s follow-up, ”All We Imagine as Light,” a collective dream-layered drama about two women, as well as “Ikimanuka,” from Rwandan Samuel Ishimwe, a Berlin Silver Bear winner for short “Imfura,” and Pablo Dury’s “Animals.” A highly cosmopolitan slate.

Elsa Klughertz, Jonas Films

Having produced the Texas and New Mexico-set doc features “Southern Belle” and “Seekers,” and “Tan,” a take on contemporary Iran, upcoming projects from Jonas Films include “The Island,” inspired by director Hong-kai Liang’s one year of military service in Taiwan.  Also part of Jonas Films’ Locarno lineup: “The Best Part,” the feature debut as a director of “Call My Agent!” and “Stalk” writer Victor Rodenbach.

Charlotte Vande Vyvre, Balade Sauvage Productions

Set up in 2016 by Vande Vyvre and Francesca Betteni-Barnes, Balade Sauvage’s Match Me! slate is lead by “Magistrate,” the awaited feature film debut of France’s Pierre Mazingarbe, director of a series of often fantasy-laced comedic shorts (“Grub,” “Moonkup”). In “Magistrate,” a brilliant and badass prosecutor transfers to a court whose clerk is her highly estranged mother. Also coming to Locarno, “La Sarramauca,” from Sarah Lasry (“Spell on You”).