Markus Duffner • Head, Locarno Pro
“This year, we wanted to observe the industry from the inside, to see how we’re doing now, but also how we were doing pre-Covid”
- Cineuropa met with the head of Locarno Pro, appointed 1 January 2021, who spoke enthusiastically about the event’s upcoming edition
Before his appointment at the head of the Locarno Film Festival’s Locarno Pro section, Markus Duffner had been working with the Swiss festival since 2014, managing flagship projects such as First Look and Match Me!. In 2020, he founded and has since been the project manager of Heritage Online, which is the only platform of its kind dedicated to the digital distribution of classic films and arthouse cinema. Set to assist Duffner in his work are Sophie Bourdon, the deputy head of Locarno Pro and the head of Open Doors, and Nadia Dresti, who will continue to work with the festival as an international advisor.
Cineuropa: How did you approach Locarno Pro this year? How has the pandemic impacted this year’s edition, and film production more specifically?
Markus Duffner: We started planning several sections of the 2021 programme back in November, in the hope that we’d return to a physical edition, despite the second wave not being far off. That said, vaccination programmes - in Switzerland at least - have advanced far more efficiently than we could have imagined, which means we’ll be allowed to occupy the Piazza Grande almost to full capacity, while cinemas will be filled to 70% of their capacity and our Industry activities will all go back to unfolding in person. Clearly, back then (November 2020), we rolled our sleeves up and prepared ourselves for a hybrid edition, because after 18 months of the pandemic, it was essential that we plan for a digital component of our activities. The pandemic aside, I think that digital is a fairly democratic option, given that it allows those who are unable to travel for financial, political or health-related reasons to take part in the various events, regardless. There are lots of activities which can be enjoyed remotely, including meetings, but obviously it all depends on their specific form. Meeting other people, other professionals, which is a huge part of the Match Me initiative, can also happen online. Informal, exploratory meetings are a fundamental part of what we do in Locarno; our industry is characterised by a very informal approach where people are more relaxed, calmer, and take the time to get to know one another. All accredited Industry or Industry online attendees will have access to our services: the meeting platform, where they can sign up for Match Me, Alliance For Development or Open Doors meetings. Participants will also be able to watch films from the Online Digital Library, but only between the 3rd and 31st of August. Then, from the 2nd of August onwards, when our most active, online component opens, a platform for informal meetings will also be available. This platform allows participants to chat, video-chat and exchange files, as if in an online networking event. In addition to that, there will also be a constantly updated, interactive participant list, as well as a variety of other tools and plenty of video content, mostly linked to the presentations of all our selected participants, aimed exclusively at our accredited attendees.
Could you tell us more about the Heritage Online, Industry Academy and Step In initiatives?
Heritage Online is our online database for heritage films which is aimed at increasing their distribution abroad in all its possible forms, but especially online. We believe DVDs are a dying breed or, at least, their use has fallen significantly and the works which feel it the most are heritage films. As part of this initiative, we’re offering all of this year’s accredited Industry attendees access to the platform and to the database, for a total of 12 months. We will also organise a public round table in collaboration with FIAF (the International Federation of Film Archives) and PACC (The Programming and Access to Collections Commission) which will examine the production and distribution of classic films. As for the Industry Academy, this is a training and education programme aimed at young professionals hailing from all over the world, focusing on the fields of sales and distribution, festivals, programming and, above all, marketing. Lastly, Step In is an ideas lab, a whole day dedicated to reflecting upon key industry issues. Generally, we chat with key players within the sector, people who can make important decisions on fundamental matters such as distribution and the entry of streaming platforms into the film industry. During the 2020 edition, we tackled the theme of online festival events, whereas this year we said to ourselves: why not take a step back rather than immediately launching ourselves into topics such as the digital situation and the post-Covid context? These are important, sacrosanct issues, but this year we wanted to observe the industry from the inside, to see how we’re doing, but also how we were doing before Covid; whether it’s a healthy environment, whether it’s working. How is the industry structured? In our view, there’s a lot to improve upon, so we’ll be analysing and discussing subjects such as mental health among professionals and economic instability, because, let’s be honest, freelancers and the like have suffered an awful lot throughout the pandemic, but so have gender equality, inclusivity and diversity.
In recent years, the Locarno Film Festival has sought to shine a light on and promote young talent, especially by way of Locarno Pro initiatives. How important is this new generation to your festival, and to the film industry, more generally?
We take a major interest in new talent within the industry. The Swiss MEDIA Desk, which is our main sponsor, is also very interested in supporting youngsters. It’s very important to us, and we hope these young people will be the new, key players of tomorrow. It has to be said that Industry Academy boasts a pretty vast network of alumni. Over 300 people have taken part in past editions and many of them are now experts and hold prestigious, decision-making positions within the film industry. This tells us that these training programmes and laboratories for professionals are in some way helping us to get the ball rolling, helping them to understand what they want but also training them, in some way, for the work that awaits them. On the one hand, we’re giving them input, but then they will be the ones to train the industry’s new generation. I think that within ten years or less, the industry will already look very different and will be composed of the very people who are taking part in our activities today.
(Translated from Italian)
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