Drawn from an exciting Locarno Pro lineup, these talents – directors, producers and industry execs – impacted at Locarno, and will often in the future. Nine are women, which says a lot about cutting-edge innovation in Europe and beyond.
Despina Athanassiadis, France
Born in France and with Greek roots, Athanassiadis is currently focusing on her Alliance4Development project “The Young One,” about female truck drivers – “It’s a story of transmission, from older to younger generation” – which was awarded script consultancy residency at DreamAgo. “As a filmmaker, I’m interested in people who struggle. I find it fascinating, watching how they find ways to fix their problems. I want to see them on screen,” she states. In her next film, she will focus on a middle-aged French woman, whose life changes forever when she goes to Greece. “It’s a movie with inner and outer journeys, and with lots of international characters. Different countries will meet on the same island.”
Rokhaya Marieme Balde, Senegal
A Dakar-born filmmaker whose shorts screened at IFFR and Locarno who is developing feature debut “The Passion of Aline,” dedicated to Senegalese heroine Aline Sitoé Diatta and presented at Alliance4Development. Inspired by African folktales – “They blur the lines between history and legend” – Balde wants to explore diverse themes, combining the personal and the political. “I strive to capture the essence of stories such as Aline’s and inscribe myself in their long-rooted oral history,” she states. “Being a part of a minority infuses personal narratives with political undertones, as they shed light on marginalized or overlooked perspectives. I believe that impactful art often stirs controversy, and that’s why it holds value.”
Maya Barenstein, Italy
A sales executive at Coproduction Office, at Locarno’s U30 think tank, Barenstein is interested in “personal voices that push the boundaries of independent cinema.” “Our films don’t shy away from difficult topics,” she says, citing Roy Andersson, Ruben Östlund or Jessica Hausner. “But we are also reflecting on their commercial sides and their potential to reach international audiences, which is one of our key goals.” Hausner’s “Club Zero” has been sold worldwide, with its international releases scheduled for fall 2023. “In the next months, we will concentrate on our catalogue’s distribution, as we believe there is a market and potential in library titles internationally. We are also aiming at expanding our classics catalogue.”
Cécile Embleton and Alys Tomlinson, U.K.
British-French documentary director Embleton and Tomlinson, a photographer, join forces on Locarno’s First Look winner “Mother Vera” about a young nun with a complex past. “We were a two-woman team, directing, filming and recording sound ourselves,” says Tomlinson. While their “special” collab might be a one-time thing, it helped the project. “Spirituality is a big part of my life and meeting Vera, who has travelled between earthly and spiritual realms, ignited something in me. Alys’ anthropological practice brought another dimension and that combination created something unique,” says Embleton, also behind “The Watchmaker.” “It was an incredible, fascinating challenge. Hopefully, we have succeeded in honoring Vera and her generosity in sharing her journey with us.”
Johanna Maria Paulson, Estonia
With Taska’s Adeele Tähemaa, also at Locarno, Paulson rates as the rising star of Estonian production. “My main focus is to collaborate with bold talents who possess a strong vision aiming to reach international audiences,” she says. At Locarno’s Match Me! she had two strong bets: Moral quandary thriller “At Your Service,” directed by Student Academy Award winner German Golub and penned by Livia Ulman and Andris Feldmanis, co-scribes of Cannes Grand Prix winner “Compartment No. 6”; and “Beatrice,” a futuristic love story from Vallo Toomla, who wowed with “Pretenders.” In a cinema theatre at a film she’s produced, “watching the opening credits, your heart becomes filled with indescribable emotion,” she says.
Yifang Lee, Taiwan
Developing Albert Ventura’s “Goodbye North, Goodbye” and Yin-chuan Tsai’s “That Burning House,” Lee is also completing the script for “The Day Before Tomorrow” about a highschooler who gets trapped in the day before her biggest exam. “It’s a perfect backdrop for horror. Our education system nearly broke my children,” she says. Director of “Little Blue,” she enjoys venturing into producing. “At least this time I don’t need to sell my flat,” she laughs. “When I named my company G-Spot Entertainment, it was a bit naughty, but I wanted to take control of my stories. The two projects I brought to Locarno are accessible to audiences. Making [only] arthouse would mean selling more flats, and I only have one left!”
Ximena Málaga Sabogal, Peru
By day, Chasca is a radio host at the real-life Radio Onda Azul, high up in Peru’s Puno, where she relays Quechua-language soap operas to the far-flung highlands. But in “Rimana Wasi: Hogar de Historias,” she’s also a mother, and daughter tending the llama livestock up in the mountains. Co-written and directed with precision by Málaga Sabogal, a New York School of Arts alum, and Piotr Turlej, the Open Doors short that was received rapturously at Locarno, weighing in as the moving portrait of a woman who embraces modernity – she and her children switch from Quechua to Spanish seamlessly, always have their mobiles at hand – while promoting her Indigenous roots.
Nadine Rothschild, Spain
Hugely energetic, well-connected, the Argentine-German co-founder with Inés Massa of Barcelona-based Materia – and there are few better places these days in Europe to launch a production house than Catalonia – and head of sales at Coproduction Office, seeing “Triangle of Sadness.” A co-producer on “The Permanent Picture,” Laura Ferres’ well-received Locarno main competition debut feature, Rothschild brought to Match Me! a slate of arresting projects such as doc feature “Qui Som,” about Baro d’evel; the 25-minute “Plàncton” by Goya winner Irene Moray. “Our main objective is to find strong and distinctive voices,” say Rothschild, also a former Celluloid Dreams head of sales and director of marketing at WestEnd Films.
Gaëtan Trigot, France
Another producer who cut his teeth at Celluloid Dreams, but based out of Paris’ Pentacle Productions from 2020. A production-sales house, it’s making movies of large ambition and geographic sweep which are France’s bread-and-butter. One case in point: Christophe Reveille’s “To Live and Die with Che Guevara,” the animated doc feature Trigot brought to Match Me!, which turns on three guerrillas who pledged allegiance to Che Guevara and after his death, are hunted by the Bolivian army. “We will continue to meet as many partners as possible as we know that there are constantly new ways to produce and show our films. Diversification is definitely the essence,” Trigot tells Variety.
Génesis Valenzuela, Dominican Republic
Open Doors’ runaway winner taking three nods with producer Wendy P. Espinal. Little wonder. No other project at Open Doors’ Projects Hub encapsulates with such force as their “Three Bullets” the makeover of a far less submissive Latin American filmmaking that questions authority, dominant history and received wisdom with explosive hybrid cocktails. In the case of “Three Bullets,” for example, this combines an investigation into the murder of fellow Dominican Lucrecia Pérez in 1992 by four neo-Nazis. But Valenzuela places this crime against the sweep of colonial history and the diaspora, coming in at this as she reconstructs her own identity as a “human being/woman/Afro-Caribbean/filmmaker.”