The Open Reel Acquires That Weekend, Compañía de Cine Takes ‘Mostro’ as Locarno Draws to Close (EXCLUSIVE)

As the 2021 Locarno Film Festival rounds its final bend, sales deals were still coming through.

In one such pact, San Sebastian New Directors title “That Weekend” has been snapped up by leading Italian sales-production shingle The Open Reel. A debut feature from director Mara Pescio, the film tells the story of Julia who returns to the neighborhood she left years ago to recover money she hid in her home. The reunion prompts a life-changing confrontation with her daughter.

The film is an Argentina-Brazil co-production hailing from Maravillacine,  Murillo Cine, Santiago Carabante and Persona Non Grata Pictures. Variety previously spoke with Pescio about her making her directorial bow.

In other late Locarno dealing, Compañia de Cine, a Buenos Aires-based boutique sales operation, announced it had taken world rights to “Mostro,” which world premiered Aug. 11 in Locarno Cineasti del Presente.

Also, Mad Solutions signed all sales and distribution rights for Arab-speaking countries to Locarno Panorma Suisse title “Neighbors,” by Kurdish-Swiss director Mano Khalil, plus “A Tale Of Love And Desire,” by Laila Bouzaid, which was selected for Cannes, Mad Solutions Alaa Karkouti told Variety.

Set on the Syria-Turkey border, “Neighbors” charts how Arabs and Kurds live in peace, until a teacher arrives from Damascus, inciting villagers to suppress Kurdish culture.

Locarno returned to a mostly in-person market this year, after a vastly scaled back virtual edition last time around. Some of the more notable sales pick ups in early going during the festival itself included London-based sales outfit Film Republic swooping on Peter Brunner’s “Luzifer,” a film about a man living in an Alpine hut with his pet eagle and his devout mother, and Kinology homing in on Russian drama “Gerda,” the story of a young woman whose soul remembers the metaphysical perfection it witnessed before becoming embodied.

However, arguably the biggest sales pacts were sealed in the weeks building up to the festival.

One of the more eye-catching pre-fest deals was Alief’s decision to bust down the sales door on hot prospect “Cop Secret,” a tongue-in-cheek action offering from Icelandic director Hannes Þór Halldórsson, best known for saving penalties as the national soccer team’s goalkeeper at several major tournaments.

Sales agents noted the festival’s continued push into the genre space, pointing to the likes of “Cop Secret” and “Hinterland,” the crime thriller from Austrian Oscar winner Stefan Ruzowitzky, as clear attempts to bring more broadly appealing fare to Locarno audiences. However, several agents commented that much of this year’s lineup veered too much towards the experimental for distributors to pull the trigger.

Generally speaking, distributor appetite appeared down on previous editions, likely due in no small part to the substantial backlog of films that many distributors have on their hands due to the pandemic’s major disruption of theatrical. Locarno’s tricky positioning between Cannes and Venice also contributes to distributors’ holding back on deals.

Expect next year’s Locarno to be more active on the distribution front, says one one industry insider, who added they’ve noticed a trend of distributors showing interest in projects at much earlier stages than usual. With the global theatrical floodgates edging ever more open, it appears distributors are already turning their attention to 2022 and putting in offers for projects still in the draft stages to get ahead of the competition.

The biggest news to emerge from Locarno pro’s Alliance 4 Development program was legendary French actor Denis Lavant joining the cast of French-Georgian gangster thriller “Blood Burn.” Themes of immigration and colonialism dominated the platform which fosters co-development opportunities between France, Italy, Germany and Switzerland.

The fest’s Open Doors section closed off its three-year focus on Southeast Asia and Mongolia, awarding Thailand’s “A Useful Ghost” with the top production rant. The Thai film, a ghost story with a deeply satirical, political bent was triumphant at an emotional awards ceremony where many filmmakers were delighted to receive support as funds from cultural ministries across the region have dwindled fast of late.

Several of the projects at the fest’s Match Me! producing forum attracted buzz, with HBO Europe and Berlin-based Dreamer Joint Venture Filmproduction announcing they were backing open relationship documentary “Trust Me,” and Spanish outfit Filmika Galaika boarding Gabriel Azorín’s time-blending feature “Last Night I Conquered the City of Thebes”(“Anoche conquisté Tebas”).

The festival kicked off with a major coup in the form of the world premiere of “Beckett,” the Netflix thriller headlined by John David Washington, Vicky Krieps and Alicia Vikander. Although the triumphant return to Piazza Grande was almost washed out, it remained a heart-warming sight for film lovers to see the 8,000 seater outdoor venue packed with audiences once more.

Locarno 2021 certainly answered the question of whether European film professionals were ready to head back to a festival that wasn’t staged in Cannes, Berlin or Venice. Overall attendance for Locarno’s pro section was down just sone 15% on the last in-person edition in 2019, not a bad return given the pandemic, vaccine and social distancing circumstances.

However, the festival energetic industry area Locarno Pro also raised as many questions as it answered. One major query is whether existing and new state funds will prove sufficiently robust support to pick up the slack of sagging theatrical and sales markets (certainly the U.K.’s Global Screen Fund came under some intense scrutiny during a Locarno Pro panel).

Netflix (via “Beckett”) and Mubi had some presence at Locarno, and the the festival wants to continue embracing the realities of streaming. But the question remains: Are global, regional or local platforms prepared to move to any significant degree into a tight arthouse space?

As the Piazza Grande is surrendered to the cafes and tourists, the industry may only have to wait a few weeks for a clearer picture on the state of the sales and distribution markets. Roll on Venice.

John Hopewell contributed to this article. 

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