Progress report

Sidebar is filmmaker's ticket to ride

They may not be vying for the top prize at the 55th San Sebastian International Film Festival, but a cluster of Latin American filmmakers with spools of unfinished film could be the real winners here.

Six films screening in the Films in Progress sidebar compete to win a free ticket on postproduction costs that see the film to completion with a 35mm copy subtitled in English and a coveted slot in next year's San Sebastian lineup.

But the showcase has catapulted its participants to the limelight beyond San Sebastian, with six graduates of the initiative seeing their films screen at Cannes in the official lineup this year.

"Even if a film doesn't win a prize in Films in Progress, it can find a European distribution and festival circuit network that breathes life into a project," says Thomas Sonsino of France's National Film Center.

A venture created by the Rencontres Cinemas d'Amerique Latine in Toulouse and the San Sebastian International Film Festival, Films in Progress screens the completed footage exclusively to producers, distributors, technical industries, TV channels, festivals, organizations and companies related to the different stages of the cinematographic process whom, as a whole, can play a decisive part in helping these projects reach the general public.

Of the 58 films to run in Films in Progress since 2002 — both in Toulouse and San Sebastian — 53 are finished and one is now in postproduction.

But finishing is only part of the story.

"The hardest thing after the shoot is to start with the promotion of a film, to make noise with a film," Sonsino says. "Films in Progress begins the word-of-mouth and generates interest in a particular film."

That fact and the reality that Latin American films are hot in the present market has buoyed the sidebar significantly each year. This year there were more than 100 attendees, up from 80 last year.

"Films in Progress allows you to track things that aren't on the radar. It's a great formula. I think they should expand it and add more films," says Max Saidel, chief of Madrid-based sales office Latido.

In fact, distributors and sales agents love the forum.

"We see the cinema emerging from here and statistically we know we can find a good mover," Laurent Danielou of Paris-based Rezo Films says.

Much of that has to do with the directors' eagerness to make this one shot they get at an international audience work.

When asked after the screening of his film if he was willing to cut images from his footage to make it more marketable, one director replied, "Certainly. This is Films in Progress. It's in progress. Nothing is finished."