By Tara Karajica | Indiewire December 23, 2013 at 12:55PM
In 2010, Variety labeled the Les Arcs Film Festival as the "European Sundance." It wasn't entirely wrong about that – but not entirely right either.
Founded in 2009, the Les Arcs showcases European independent cinema and takes place annually at Les Arcs ski resort in the French Alps. This year's edition, which wrapped up over the weekend, celebrated the festival's fifth anniversary. It was the biggest year to date, according to co-founders Guillaume Calop and Pierre-Emmanuel Fleurentin, who both hail from the Savoy village.
Comparisons to Sundance are inevitable, mainly due to the ski resort factor and the parallel of showcasing indie films. What makes Les Arcs different – and perhaps unique – in this era when film festivals try so desperately to distinguish themselves in an oversaturated film festival circuit and marketplace for indie film? Start with this: Some of its screenings take place in a sculpted igloo in the middle of the slopes and a truck equipped with a fully functioning screening room. How fascinating and innovative is that?
More importantly, Les Arcs is looking to distinguish itself in another less sensational and more serious and professional manner. Indeed, with the evolving financing landscape for European indies, drastically reduced funding and distribution opportunities as well as a very unpredictable box office, it is a dire time for the European film market. According to Fleurentin, Les Arcs is aiming to show that "just like Sundance proved U.S. indie films could have an international and commercial potential, the same is true of European-driven films with small to mid-sized budgets up to €8 million."
In that sense, the festival's objective is to promote European cinema in all its diversity by showcasing European indies that tend to remain within their geographical boundaries. The festival also intends to improve the structuring of a European film market by organizing professional meetings that gather more than 500 movers and shakers of the European film industry. These professional events in question take place as part of the Les Arcs 1950 co-production market, a three-day event aimed at professionals interested in a financial or production participation in 28 projects (out of a total 250 submissions received this year, 90 more than in 2012) selected by the head of industry, Vanja Kaluđerčić, who is also a programmer at the Sarajevo Film Festival. Additionally, the event showcases 10 works-in-progress selected by Frédéric Boyer, the head programmer at Les Arcs and Tribeca. Boyer's selections include new projects by Clément Cogitore, Ian Fitzgibbon, John Huddles, Hans Van Nuffel and Hafsteinn Gunnar Sigurdsson.
During the DIRE Days (European united independent distributors), the members of this network show upcoming releases to exhibitors while discussing the challenges of European films in the Héxagone. Moreover, the festival is broadening its horizons by inviting American and Canadian distributors in an attempt to open the market to non-European professionals like 20th Century Fox International -- "so they can find European films to finance," according to Fleurentin.
As far as the lineup is concerned, Fleurentin deems this year's selection the strongest, "a real balance of the diverse offering that can be found across Europe." Indeed, the 12 titles competing for the Crystal Arrow include David MacKenzie's "Starred Up," Pawel Pawlikowski's "Ida" (which has already snatched awards in London, Warsaw and Toronto), Hungary's foreign language Academy Award submission "The Notebook," Lukas Moodysson's "We Are The Best!," Jean-Stéphane Bron's "L’Expérience Blocher" and "Love is the Perfect Crime," which opened the festival.
Boyer organized the lineup so that 70% of it are French premieres, many coming straight from Toronto. This time, the focus is former Yugoslav cinema and includes classics such as "I Even Met Happy Gypsies" by Aleksandar Petrović, Emir Kusturica's "When Dad Was Away on Business," and the Oscar-winning "No Man’s Land" by Danis Tanović. It also features contemporary works like Maja Miloš's controversial "Clip" and Srda Golubović's "The Trap."
Jasmila Žbanić, whose film "For Those Who Can Tell No Tales" is also screened in competition, has received the "Femme du Cinéma" award, an honorary prize that supports women directors that has been introduced for the first time this year. Innovative additions like this are highly significant for a festival that cannot merely rely on high-profile world premieres due to its place in the festival calendar.
Les Arcs not only exerts influence on the European indie marketplace because of its emphasis on diversity, but also because it presents a mixture of low budget works from emerging and established talent alike. After only five editions, with its an ambitious lineup and high-profile industry events, Les Arcs has managed to become a key rendez-vous for the film festival circuit and industry and one of the most pleasant ones at that -- no matter which festivals to which it's compared. Chapeau!