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Festivals Undergoing Major Sea Changes As Seen in Fall Fests…Focus on Latino and Spanish Language

Festivals Undergoing Major Sea Changes As Seen in Fall Fests...Focus on Latino and Spanish Language

IFP, NYFF, TIFF, Locarno, Venice, San Sebastian …and Special Focus on Latino and Spanish Language Oriented Festivals and Business

Fifty film festivals convened this week for IFP Film Week, the reworked Market and No Borders Pre-Market under the new leadership of Joana Vicente. The festival think-tank is part of IFP’s celebration for having acquired Festival Genius. The think tank of some 50 festival directors will discuss festivals’ reconfiguring their events. In this new digital age of increased festival exhibition along with increased digital exhibition platforms — whether for festivals or otherwise — such a coordinated discussion is brilliant. This, plus Joana Vicente’s revitalization of the IFP event along with changes at the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s New York Film Festival (Rose Kuo’s being named Executive Director) and IndieWIRE (Eugene Hernandez’s going to N.Y. Film Festival and its magazine Film Comment, all bring New York into the limelight of change and may move it toward reclaiming its place in the forefront of indie films.

Festivals are at this moment, without a doubt, in the process of “changing the guard”, i.e. replacing many old faces with new ones. With the changing of the guard come further developments.

Toronto / TIFF’s rise over the past few years as a leading world Festival and also as a key ‘de facto’ film Market, and their recent more aggressive search for premieres collided with Venice (held always the week before TIFF) which was already facing its own budget cutbacks along with the U.S. major studios’ cutbacks on expensive European launchings which usually took place in Venice. Venice now has replaced its emphasis where it originally had it: on “new” talent as showcased in the Orizzonti’s section. And luckily for it, Marco Mueller remains on board, able to guide it through the international festival and local Venetian currents.

Locarno’s new star director Olivier Pere (formerly of Cannes Directors’ Fortnight) finally places it among the premiere European festivals. Its early August time frame makes it artistically and commercially a precursor of “things soon to come” in our annual Autumn Festival and Market race for international feature films of high quality.

San Sebastian’s chief, Mikel Olaciregui, steps down in January, though he’ll still work on various programming fronts such as the U.S. films. He will be replaced by Deputy Director, José Luis Rebordinos, who already knows the festival inside out as a part of San Sebastian’s executive team since 1995. He is also the head of two other festivals held in San Sebastian, the Terror Film Festival and the Civil Rights Film Festival. And he is a great supporter of a new Culture Factory now being built in San Sebastian out of the 100 year old former tobacco factory which employed 2,000 women at one time. This huge facility of 33,000 square feet is being built in anticipation of San Sebastian’s winning the competition for being named the Cultural Capital of Europe in the year 2016! It is financed by the city and by the rich Basque state, one of Spain’s economic leaders in industry along with Catalonia.

Though “Rebo”, as he is known locally, is not the international personality Mikel is, however he is a strong player in the city. This change could throw the festival into a new level – higher or lower. It has grown into its premiere position among the European Film Festivals under Mikel’s leadership. He has created its position as the launching pad for new Latino films and the final signing ground for Spanish distribution deals of the newest films. As the city itself aims to be named the Cultural Capital of Europe in 2016, Rebornios may put greater emphasis on the festival’s international cross-continental and educational importance when he takes over in January.

“Festivals can only survive if they serve the industry,” Olaciregui maintains. Under him, San Sebastian has carved out a niche as the world’s biggest Spanish-language art picture platform. In 2002, Olaciregui launched Films in Progress, the jewel in San Sebastian’s industry crown, a first-peek showcase for films originating in Latin America at roughcut stage. Of last year’s pictures, ♀ Paz Febrega’s Agua fria del mar aka Cold Water of the Sea later won a Rotterdam VPRO Tiger; ♀ Natalia Smirnoff’s Rompacabezas aka Puzzle competed at Berlin.

Rebo has brought in the next generation of filmmakers by joining the city initiative Meeting of International Film Schools with the San Sebastian Film Festival in its 9th edition. This was covered in a previous blog.

As all festivals worldwide today bear witness, the largest challenge, greater than a decade ago, is BUDGET. San Sebastian, at €6.3 million ($8.1 million), though holding, pales when compared to its rival Venice whose (declining) budget is €12 million ($15.4 million). Neither is likely to grow in the forseeable future. And Venice, as explained above, has its own special issues. The two film festivals are book-ends to Toronto. Spain’s biggest fall bows—Alex de la Iglesia’s The Last Circuit (A Sad Trumpet Ballad) and Guillem Morales’ Julia’s Eyes—premiered in Venice and Toronto.

A second challenge is the current festival circuit. Credit-crunched and cost-conscious, film distributors now only (!) attend five festival-markets en masse: Berlin, Cannes, Toronto and Sundance and AFM whose place may be declining among European art distributors and art film sales agents. Many, but by no means a majority, of those sales agents screening in Toronto still come to San Sebastian to consolidate movies’ critical profiles, crowd-pleasing credentials and to make the Spanish distribution deals.

“Olaciregui has turned San Sebastian into a unique meeting point among fall festivals, a place where people have time to really talk with one other,” says Jose Maria Morales, at Spain’s Wanda. And the people talking are speaking Spanish. San Sebastian primes Spain’s import business. A competition berth helps trigger a Spain sale, while generating initial buzz.

Given San Sebastian’s important part in Latino Works in Progress and in Latino programming section brings this discussion to encompass recent Latino film and film festival developments. For example, in Los Angeles, LALIFF has never done so well as recently seen this year, even under the financial ax which threatened it for the second year. It has gained filmmaker’s enthusiastic kudos for its place in their hearts as a place for community to gather to discuss not only films, but social issues now engulfing continents. Director Marlene Dermer, a current jury member in San Sebastian, has an eye for new talent and nourishes filmmakers as they make their first shorts. She also is vitally interested in film literacy and nurturing public high school students’ talents, making her a leader in the trend which recognizes the need for the ignored working poor adolescents to find their voice and to express themselves in order to build literacy and decrease recidivism in our public schools which ultimately increases our prison populations.

Miami was holding a place in the Latino film world but the recent departure Tiziana Finzi for being too “high brow” for the festival constituency (what a vote of non-confidence in the intelligence of its population!) and the concurrent departure of Latino programming executive Monica Wagenberg of Cinema Tropical who went to Cartagena Film Festival in Colombia, puts Miami’s former position as one of the contenders for a major U.S. based Latino feature film pre-market into jeopardy.

We’ll watch San Diego Latino Film Festival’s continual growth which also includes bringing public school students and the neighboring Tiajuana Mexico into its fold. Their financial success in these tough days is worth watching.

In terms of production and acquisitions of Latino originating films, Lionsgate and Telecinco along with Panamax’s James McNamara recently have renewed vigor in forming Pantelion to capture the U.S. Latino market by forming a new alliance. Maya is also continuing its mission of acquiring Latino films while buildiing multiplexes in U.S. Latino neighborhoods. This plays a part of the development of the Latino side of film festivals and growing an underserved audience for Latino films.

The Fall Circuit now solidly consists of Locarno (even if it’s in the beginning of August), Venice, Telluride, Toronto and San Sebastian.

As we say adios to San Sebastian, the question becomes, where will we meet next? And the answer: November at AFM though it looks like fewer Europeans may be selling there than last year. Or we’ll see you in December in Ventana Sur, Argentina…and for the curious and Latino film buffs…Havana International Film Festival.

Thus concludes the fall circuit and next commences the winter: Sundance, Rotterdam and Berlin. What changes can we expect next? Read my buzz in future weeks to find out all the latest ….

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