Locarno market meatier

Deals come during, after festival

As the Locarno International Film Festival winds down, much of the talk at the event's 60th edition is centering on its increasingly visible quasi-market.

Nobody will confuse Locarno's Industry Office with the thriving markets at such festivals as Cannes, Berlin or Toronto. But the consensus among industry players here is that Locarno is carving out a niche for itself among European buyers seeking a low-key setting with a good selection of quality midsize films.

"This is an interesting situation because there's a good selection of films, a good support structure and a wonderful venue like the Piazza Grande that makes it easy to showcase a film," said Michael Weber of Germany's the Match Factory. His company is in Locarno representing "The Drummer," one of two films that played Thursday evening in the Piazza Grande.

The case of "The Drummer" illustrates the Industry Office's strengths. Weber said that the film's screening this week attracted more than 40 buyers, several of whom expressed interest in acquiring rights to the film.

"I think the industry presence here is getting stronger every year," said Weber, who has been to nine previous editions of the Locarno festival.

Judging how effective the Industry Office is can be difficult, since few deals are signed during the festival.

Two deals were penned on the eve of the event: German distributor Media Luna picked up Fulvio Bernasconi's "Outside the Ropes," a Swiss-made, Italian-language drama about an aging boxer; and Philippe Ramos' "Captain Ahab," a French drama based on "Moby Dick," was acquired by France's Wide Management.

A third title — "Une journee," a French and Swiss psychological drama from Jacob Berger — went to Media Luna this week. But organizers say that dozens more deals could be signed in the coming weeks based on the groundwork laid in Locarno.

"This is the strongest industry presence we've ever had here," said seventh-year Industry Office chief Nadia Dresti, noting that the 170 buyers in town represent a larger turnout than in previous years. "The feedback we're getting is very strong."

The evening's program in the Piazza Grande went off as planned Thursday under cloudy skies and an occasional light drizzle.

The previous two nights in the Piazza Grande where rained out, forcing films scheduled to screen there to move to Locarno's Fevi sports center, which was transformed into a 3,500-seat film venue for the festival.

"The Drummer," from Hong Kong's Kenneth Bi, is about a rock drummer faced with the threat of having his hands cut off. He flees and becomes involved with a group of Zen percussionists who change his life. The film was well received by a mostly full Piazza Grande crowd that stayed on to watch the second film, Mikael Hafstrom's thriller "1408."

"1408" was the second Piazza Grande film to carry a warning about violence this year, joining Robert Rodriguez's "Planet Terror," which screened Sunday.

Two U.S.-made films — Adam Shankman's musical "Hairspray" and the documentary "Chicago 10" from Brett Morgen — will screen in the festival's main plaza tonight.

Saturday's closing night festivities will see the presentation of the main award winners, followed by the world premiere of "Winners and Losers," a Franco-American documentary about the 2006 World Cup from British director Lech Kowalski.