Celebrating its sixth year, the Locarno International Film Festival's annual Open Doors Factory (August 9-13) has become established as an important co-production event.

Backed by the Swiss Agency for Development and Co-operation (SOC), each year Open Doors targets a key region and 2008 is the turn of the lesser-known Latin American countries. Organisers say the response from the region's film-makers has been astounding with more than 300 projects submitted, compared with 130 last year for the Middle East.

"Open Doors as a name and as a point of interest for the industry is growing and growing," says Frederic Maire, artistic director of the festival.

"We started with Argentina as our focus territory back in 2003, with projects from first-time directors such as Albertina Carri and Lisandro Alonso. They are now respected film-makers with titles at Cannes and Venice and working on their third or fourth features. We thought it was a good time to return to the continent, but this time to try to uncover film-makers from countries like Peru, Chile, Venezuela and Uruguay."

Eclectic mix

The responsibility of finding the right projects fell to Vincenzo Bugno, who took over as Open Doors project manager in 2006, the year Maire became artistic director.

Bugno and a team of Locarno experts travelled the length and breadth of Latin America speaking to producers, directors and sales agents, as well as leading film institutes in each territory, and struck up a relationship with the Buenos Aires Lab. The industry office, headed by Nadia Dresti, also consulted relevant organisations in Europe with knowledge of Latin America, such as Association des Cinematheques Europeennes (ACE) and the European Audiovisual Entrepreneurs (Eave), and talked to groups such as the Catalan Producers Association and Fapae (the Spanish producers' association).

"The strategy was to get in touch with all the producers. It's not just an administrative decision," says Bugno. "You need to understand the soul and the aim of the project and the artistic motivation of the director. The production landscape on the continent is different from one country to the next."

This year's 12 titles are an eclectic mix, featuring projects from experienced hands, including Marcelo Gomes with The Man Of The Crowd, and the return of Celina Murga with her harrowing drama The Third Side Of The River. New names also feature, including Alejo Crisostomo (Faith) and Marcela Said (El Verano De Los Peces Voladores).

"We included films from the key territories like Argentina, Brazil and Mexico, but we also have three projects from Chile, which shows how strong that country has become, and one from Colombia, which is a country that is going to play a major role in production in the coming years," Bugno says.

"We're trying to break down the cliches and stereotypes of a country, such as Colombia's image of drugs and terrorism, to find and highlight the creativity in film production."

Some of the selected film-makers have already worked with international producers on previous projects, but nonetheless, on the first day of the factory, the event's organisers will give the directors and producers a crash course on how to promote projects to potential co-producers, financiers and sales agents. (Top tip: "I recommend the film-makers keep the pitch short and clear, while maintaining the integrity of the project and their vision," says Maire.)

Relationship building

Maire and Bugno have invited 60-70 industry figures to the event, including Bavaria Film and ZDF from Germany, Arte and Back Up Films from France, Spain's Urban Films and Paramount Pictures International, all of which will be attending.

"We also have producers who are with projects at the festival or who are promoting their films that turn up for the Open Doors sessions. In fact we have more or less 80-90 industry figures who come for the one-to-one meetings," says Maire.

The idea behind the one-to-ones is not just for the selected few to pitch projects but to encourage film-makers and supporters of film from different countries to open up a dialogue and potentially build long-lasting relationships.

"For example, Lisandro Alonso first met the Spanish producer (Luis Minarro) for his film Liverpool (which recently screened in the Directors' Fortnight at Cannes) at Locarno two years ago," says Maire.

"Admittedly with Latin America most of the connections are Hispanic because of Ibermedia support and because of the language connection, especially between Spain and countries like Argentina and Chile. However, as this year's Open Doors projects prove, relationships are building with other countries," says Maire.

Bugno adds: "We're trying to support co-operation between Latin America and Europe, but also co-operation between Latin Americans. This is one of the key identities of Open Doors because it helps promote the distribution of films within the target region as well. For example, it is not so easy to see an Argentinian film in Peru or a Colombian film in Venezuela."

Building these relationships can prove extremely important, not just for the film-makers but also the countries. Last year's Middle East focus brought together film-makers from countries with troubled histories. "Talking became the key concern," says Maire.

Creating a relaxed atmosphere

The festival also prides itself not just on its professional approach, but also its laid-back vibe. "If producers or directors feel they need to chat beyond the one-to-one meetings, they can take a coffee on the terrace," says Maire. Furthermore, the festival will be conducting private and public screenings of some of the Open Doors directors' previous films so producers can get a flavour of their film-making style.

The Open Doors Factory takes place over five days, starting with two days' training and a day and a half of pitching, followed by two-and-a-half days of one-to-one meetings and a round-table discussion between everyone about the production situations in the different countries. The final day also sees awards and grants presented to the winning projects.

"We have two grants of $48,000 (chf50,000) each provided by the Swiss government, which are given directly to the producers of two of the 12 projects selected by a small jury that includes Vincenzo Bugno, Walter Ruggle and Martial Knaebel from Visions sud-est, a foundation that supports our forum, and Luciano Barisone, director of the Popoli Film Festival," says Maire.

A further grant worth around $11,000 (EUR7,000) is given by France's CNC to a project that must be a first feature for the director and which requires work still to finish the script.

Most of the projects chosen for Open Doors have a high artistic profile, often with strong local themes. "However, that shouldn't put off potential suitors," says Maire. "It is the normal path of many film productions which don't have the support of Hollywood or rich production companies. Films from Latin America have to fight as hard as films in Europe to make a dent at the box office."

Next year's focus will be on China, which boasts a hotbed of film activity. "There are plenty of projects to choose from and we are spreading the word there already," says Maire.

- For more information about the projects visit www.pardo.ch (user name: Opendoors; password: Latina).


By the fire (sentados frente al fuego)


Dir: Alejandro Fernandez

The third side of the river


Dir: Celina Murga

Heart Of Stone (corazon de piedra)


Dir: Miguel Barreda Delgado

El verano de los peces voladores


Dir: Marcela Said

Crab Trap (EL vuelco del cangrejo)


Dir: Oscar Ruiz Navia

Faith (Fe)


Dir: Alejo Crisostomo

Cracks 1 - the kid who lies (Grietas 1 - el chico que miente)


Dir: Marite Ugas

Jean Gentil

Dominican Republic-Mexico

Dir: Israel Cardenas Ramirez

The life of fish (La vida de los peces)


Dir: Matias Bize

The last cristeros (Los ultimos cristeros)


Dir: Matias Meyer

So much water (tanta agua)


Dir: Ana Guevara

The man of the crowd (o homem das multidoes)


Dirs: Marcelo Gomes, Cao Guimaraes

The third side of the river (Argentina)

Dir/scr: Celina Murga

Prod: Juan Manuel Villegas, Celina Murga

Murga and Villegas first came to prominence separately at Locarno Open Doors; Villegas in 2005 for Los Suicidas and Murga in 2006 with Una Semana Solos.

Now they are returning together with The Third Side Of The River, a project based on a tragic true story about a prominent judge in a small town, Entre Rios, who fathers several children with a mistress.

However, when he refuses to acknowledge the children, one decides to take his revenge by killing the judge, his wife and their young child.

"The incident only took place last November, and I thought it was fascinating," says Murga. "I want to focus on the child's point of view, and find out how much pressure he was under at the time to take such drastic measures."

Murga is writing the script, and is attempting to speak to the child at the centre of the case. The total budget for the film, which she hopes to shoot on location at the end of next year, will be about $630,000.

"So far we have about $55,000," says producer Juan Manuel Villegas, who works alongside Murga at their Buenos Aires-based company Tresmilmundos Cine. At Open Doors, they plan to look for some more funding and entice a European co-producer onboard.

Murga is being mentored by Martin Scorsese on the set of his new film Shutter Island.

Contact: juanmaville@gmail.com celinamurga@gmail.com.