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The European Works in Progress Cologne (EWIP) couldn’t have come at a better time.
For a European art house industry in crisis — box office revenues for specialty films remain well below pre-pandemic levels while the cost of producing films has only gone up —the need for exciting new “content” in the form of films that will draw audiences back to the theatres, has arguably never been greater.
For the past three days, some of Europe’s top festival programmers and international sales agents have gathered in the western German city to check out arthouse productions at various stages of development that promise to be the breakout projects of the coming months.
Programmers from the Cannes, Berlin, Venice and San Sebastián festivals, as well as from Karlovy Vary, Locarno, Tribeca and elsewhere, as well as sales heavyweights including mk2, The Match Factory, Charades and Fortissimo Films came together to assess the latest crop of auteur drama. Alongside projects from some familiar festival figures, including Lost in the Night from Mexican director Amat Escalante (Los bastardos, Heli) and Mˣ, a sequel to 2004 German sleeper hit Muxmäuschenstill, written and directed by the film’s star Jan Henrik Stahlberg, there are dozens of in-the-works features for lesser known or first-time directors.
“For first-time directors, it is super hard to access not just the festivals but the market itself,” says Olivier Barbier, head of acquisitions at French distributor MK2 and a member of the jury at this year’s event, “so places like [the EWIP] are becoming more and more important…what I like from what I’ve seen is the diversity of places from where stories are coming from: from Brazil, from Mexico, from Europe, from Taiwan from Israel.”
Instead of looking for projects that fit into easy categories, Barbier says he is trying to discover movies that break the mold.
“I think what we have to preserve in the art house ecosystem is our uniqueness, our originality,” he says. “Art house has always been a place where you are going to see things you have never seen before.”
Barbier cites Carla Simón’s Alcarràs, a moving drama about a family of Catalan peach farmers, which won the Golden Bear in Berlin this year, as a prime example.
“Even before the film won the Golden Bear we had offers from everywhere in the world and the movie has now sold everywhere,” he notes. “This is a film with a very local topic, but people connect with it. It’s sold everywhere and audiences are connecting with it.”
Success stories to come out of EWIP include Martin Eden, Pietro Marcello’s Italian adaptation of the Jack London novel, which won the best actor award for star Luca Marinelli at the 2019 Venice Film Festival, and French-Brazilian co-production Memory House from director João Paulo Miranda Maria, which premiered in San Sebastián in 2020 and won multiple honors on the festival circuit, including the Roger Ebert Award at the Chicago International Film Festival and the best cinematography honor for Benjamín Echazarreta at the Stockholm Film Festival.
28 European co-productions at EWIP are competing for a series of awards, which come with around $60,000 in in-kind post-production services. The event, which wraps up Wednesday, is backed by regional film fund the Medienstiftung NRW and organized in cooperation with AG Verleih, the association of German independent film distributors.