Festival Atelier: Strength in numbers


Now an integral part of what Cannes is all about, the Festival Atelier this year hosts 15 movie projects, including many from international directors with a strong track record.

The Atelier, or workshop, was launched in 2005 as something of an experiment in nurturing fest-friendly fare upstream into the production chain. The idea is to give directors and their producers an opportunity to indulge in 12 days of intensive networking with potential partners on the Croisette.

Entering its third edition, the Atelier can look back on a pretty successful run. "It's now well established in the fabric of Cannes," says Georges Goldenstern, director of the Cinefondation, the section of Cannes dedicated to upcoming and graduate directors that runs the Atelier.

Goldenstern points to Paz Encina as a prime example of what the Atelier sets out to achieve. Her film, "Hamaca Paraguaya," was one of the workshop entries in 2005. "It was her first film, it found all its financing in Cannes and then came full circle and was back in Un Certain Regard last year when it won the FIPRESCI critics' prize," Goldenstern says.

"Daratt," directed by Mahamat-Saleh Haroun of Chad, was another title that went through the Atelier before winning the Grand Prix at Venice last year. "It's never easy for African films to find funding, so that was satisfying," Goldenstern says.

For the 2006 edition, the Atelier hosted nearly 500 meetings among filmmakers and interested potential partners, involving more than 100 companies from 19 countries. Goldenstern reckons three out of four of the projects have now either been shot or are in the process of shooting.

To qualify for inclusion, all projects must have a completed script, the commitment of a first producer and a portion of financing in place, which this year varies from about 10%-50% of the anticipated budgets. Selected filmmakers will then see their projects detailed in a glossy brochure that is sent out to market attendees well before the start of the festival. A rendezvous form is attached, and the Atelier group has been feverishly pre-

booking meetings for the past few weeks.

"The Atelier organizers do a very thorough job to make things happen for participants. They really hold people's hands on projects," says Viviana Adriani, producer of "Le Quattro Volte" (The Four Times), directed by Michelangelo Frammartino of Italy along with Milan-based Invisible Film. Frammartino hopes to shoot in the fall and is seeking close to $600,000 in Cannes to complete the budget for the project.

Invited films each benefit from a table throughout the market at the Atelier's headquarters in the International Village, where directors and producers can hold meetings. The filmmaking talent is also flown in and put up by the Atelier, which has an annual budget of about $170,000.

"Cannes is a particularly bubbling place for contacts and for meetings. The Cinefondation offers us two tables for the duration and has invited two of our directors, one coming from Patagonia, one from Taipei. You couldn't really ask for more," says Jacques Bidou of JBA Prods., which has two projects in the Atelier -- "Salamandra," directed by Pablo Aguero of Argentina, and "Salome," helmed by one of the better-known international directors in this year's lineup, Taiwan's Tsai Ming Liang.

Bidou admits that a film like "Salome" could easily find partners without going through the Atelier, given the profile of the director and the attached cast, which includes Jean-Pierre Leaud and Maggie Cheung. "I think the organizers wanted to open the doors to some more confirmed filmmakers to foster the notion of creative networking during Cannes," he says.

By contrast, "Salamandra" will need to make the most of its Croisette inclusion. "We need Cannes if we're going to shoot in October as planned," Bidou says.

Last year, English was the lingua franca of the Atelier with a majority of projects in that language. This year, there are none. The only film from a U.S. director, "Treeless Mountain," directed by New York-based So Yong Kim, will be shot in Korean. "Treeless," inspired by the director's own childhood experience, was selected for the Sundance Writers' and Directors' Labs. The producers hope to shoot this fall.

As in previous years, many of the Atelier directors have previous links to Cannes, either via the Residence, an 18-week live-in script development program held in Paris and run by the Cinefondation, or through having their films selected in one of the various Croisette sections.

Aguero's short film "Primera Nieve" received the Jury Prize at Cannes, and he developed the script for the Patagonian-set "Salamandra" during the Residence last year.

Austrian director Ruth Mader -- who has her second film "Serviam" in the Atelier -- saw her first feature "Struggle" screened in Un Certain Regard in 2003. "Serviam" is a noirish thriller set in a waning Catholic girls school.

Frenchman Bertrand Bonello, who is seeking financing for his fourth picture, "De La Guerre," is practically a Croisette veteran. His second film, "The Pornographer," unspooled in Critics Week at Cannes in 2001, followed by "Tiresia," which screened in Competition here in 2003. The producers are looking to assemble nearly $4 million to finance what is billed as a search for transcendence.

Romania's Catalin Mitulsecu, who is bringing to the Atelier his project "A Heart-Shaped Balloon" about a 17-year-old orphan living by his wits in a Black Sea port, is also a Cannes regular. His first two short films screened on the Croisette in the Cinefondation selection, while his third, "Traffic," won the Palme d'Or for a short. Subsequently, his feature "The Way I Spent the End of the World" screened in Un Certain Regard.

The project "Ahasinwitai" (The Fallen) is to be directed by Sri Lankan Vimukthi Jayasundara, another graduate of the Residence whose first feature, "The Forsaken Land," won the Camera d'Or in Cannes in 2005.

And Joao Pedro Rodrigues of Portugal, who is seeking partners for his Lisbon-set transvestite story "To Die Like a Man," had his previous film, "Odete," screened in Directors' Fortnight in Cannes in 2005.

Goldenstern says the Atelier is a place to discover the cinema of lesser-known territories. This voyage of discovery encompasses Latin America, Central Asia, the Middle East and North Africa.

No doubt redressing perceptions of Kazakhstan gleaned from "Borat," director Guka Omarova's project "Native Dancer" is about a Kazakh healer and clairvoyant whose powers come from a piece of land on which developers build a gas station and hotel. Omarova's first feature, "Schizo," aired in Un Certain Regard in 2004.

From Lebanon comes the French/Arabic project "I Can't Go Home" directed by Khalil Joreige and Joana Hadjithomas, two visual artists and docu makers whose second feature "A Perfect Day" is screening here in the World Cinema section. "Home" is about a Lebanese woman, six months pregnant, who arrives for a meeting in Paris just as war breaks out at home. Forced to watch events unfold at a distance while her husband is at the heart of the conflict, she starts to film, making a sort of diary that fills the gap that separates them.

"Entre Parentheses" (In Brackets), the first feature directed by Hicham Falah and Chrif Tribak, deals with the previous generation of politically motivated Moroccan students and the rise of Islamic fundamentalism in the early 1990s while it sets out to foreshadow the current global situation.

Latin America is also represented by Ciro Guerra of Colombia, who made his first film "The Wandering Shadows" for $3,000 before it went on to garner a string of awards as well as representing his country in last year's Oscar race. His Atelier project is "The Wind Journeys," the tale of a wandering musician who decides to make one last journey to Northern Colombia to return a supposedly cursed accordion. Guerra hopes to shoot this summer on a budget of $1.5 million.

Turkey is on the map with Semih Kaplanoglu's "Milk," the second in his trilogy about the mother/son relationship; it has half its $1.2 million budget in place. Mainland China is represented by Ying Liang's "Blown by the Typhoon," the story of how people's lives are changed when their town is hit by a once in a millennium occurrence.