Locarno Industry Chief Markus Duffner on Streamers’ Impact on Indie Ecosystem

·3-min read

Since being appointed head of the Locarno Film Festival’s Locarno Pro industry program last December, Markus Duffner has been working to pull off what will be a mostly in-person edition of the Swiss fest’s formidable space for international indie industry operators, just as the fest is increasingly embracing streamers. Netflix Original film “Beckett,” by Italian director Ferdinando Cito Filomarino, is the Aug. 4-14 event’s opener this year. Duffner, who had been with Locarno Pro since 2014, prior to taking the reins, last year launched Locarno Pro’s Heritage Online, a first-of-its-kind platform that serves as a database and business facilitator with streaming platforms of films that premiered prior to 2005. He is also founder of VOD platform Spamflix dedicated to cult films. Duffner spoke to Variety about embracing streamers and this year’s challenges. Excerpts.

How is Locarno Pro changing?

Nadia Dresti [Duffner’s predecessor, still on board as a consultant] over the years set up a great growing structure and the core of the market remains that: a place for informal exchanges where you can meet new people and discover new films and talents. We have a lot of young producers and young professionals coming and we act as a conduit for them and their slates to more veteran international industry folks. But I’ve always been interested in platforms, I even launched one myself. And I believe that — in terms of the feedback we are getting –– that I want to increasingly focus on the streaming world.

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These days a producer thinks: ‘With a streamer on board I’ve closed my budget: they fully finance me.’ But also I think going forward streamers will start co-producing, especially the smaller ones. That’s why we have to embrace the streaming world, because the production ecosystem is changing; sellers are no longer just sellers, they are co-producing. I’m also very interested in the new regulatory aspects of the streaming world in Europe. I’m following that very closely. And that’s a topic that we are going to be thrashing out going forward.

But in terms of topics this year Locarno’s StepIN think tank is dedicated to envisioning a healthier workplace in the film industry.

Yes. We are now all in restart mode. But was everything working properly prior to the pandemic? And during the pandemic — when in a way we were all in the same boat around the world — who suffered the most? Freelancers, for one. There are certain categories within the industry that were hit much harder than others, and this is not fair. There is no economic fairness or stability in the industry. So we need to talk about this. About the health of the industry. Mental health; gender equality; inclusion. Going forward there needs to be greater attention towards all this.

How much is the Cannes date change — which brings Cannes forward to just a few weeks before Locarno — impacting the fest’s industry side?

Even before Cannes changed its dates I had planned for LocarnoPro to be hybrid [in person and online]. But we are splitting these two components. There will be a first few days of online meetings to warm up, and then we will go into the in person part, though the digital library will remain active. But the core will be in-person. In terms of attendance, what I’m seeing here in Cannes is that some industry people who’ve arrived from outside Europe have decided to go on holiday after Cannes and then travel directly to Locarno. In general I’d say we will see a 25% drop in industry attendance compared with other years, which is not bad considering it’s 2021 and we are not yet totally out of the woods [as far as the pandemic goes].

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