With new titles increasingly being squeezed into the schedules of the four major festivals, is it time that sales agents took a punt on other festivals, like Locarno?

The first Locarno Film Festival under the artistic direction of Olivier Pere finishes this weekend, and Pere’s selection was bold and ballsy. His competition programme included three in-your-face adult films not for the faint of heart – LA Zombie, Homme Au Bain and Bas-Fonds – as well as a 356-minute documentary from China called Karamay about the tragic fire at Karamay in 1994. Discussing Bruce LaBruce’s semi-porno in the same breath as a six hour Chinese doc should make for some stimulating conversations among Eric Khoo’s jury.
It’s a programming gambit of shock and awe which might be a response to the fact that Locarno has struggled in recent years to secure films from the mighty double threat of Cannes in May and Venice at the end of August. Locarno is actually just as old and distinguished as both and this year’s festival trailer evoked films and directors from Locarno’s past (bearing distinct echoes of the trailer for Cannes Directors Fortnight whence Pere came).
But producers and sales agents traditionally insist that a launch to buyers and media at Venice or Toronto, or ideally both, is more effective. While Locarno certainly attracts its fair share of industry and some high profile world premieres, like Benedek Fliegauf’s Womb this year, it is often passed over. Pere no doubt encountered this reality when putting together his inaugural programme at Locarno: sales agents will take a risk on securing a Venice/Toronto slot and forsake a high profile launch at his festival in the process.
But as Venice and Toronto started to announce their lineups, packed with the biggest auteurs and movie stars in the world, the sheer volume of world premieres in both festivals once again began to loom intimidatingly for all who attend them. And most industry and press cannot afford to go to both, with more choosing Toronto these days in an effort to cut back on some of the escalating costs of festival attendance.
Between Venice and Toronto, over 150 films will have world premieres. Of those 150, consumer media and high spending buyers will be focused on fewer than 30 big ticket pictures. That leaves at least 100 films which are not a priority for either category.
Certainly from a media viewpoint, it is not feasible to cover all these titles. Journalists and critics, like buyers, target the films which are of most value, leaving many to slip through the cracks.
The question is: should a tasty non-English language film from an accomplished director hold out for Venice/Toronto when in fact the film will not get much attention from any industry or media there? Or should its producers instead target a world premiere slot at a high profile festival like Locarno which is outside the Berlin-Cannes-Venice/Toronto stranglehold?
There is no shortage of profile and attention that can be achieved at Locarno, and buyers have more time to focus on new films there than in the choked schedules of Venice and Toronto.
As festivals lose sponsorships and cut down on the number of industry guests, new titles are increasingly being squeezed into the schedules of those four major festivals with the result that many of them simply get lost in the shuffle. In 2011, perhaps some sales agents need to take a punt on other festivals and redistribute the wealth. It might actually be better for the films.