‘You Get the Bigger Calls When You’re Here’: Cannes’ Focus COPRO’ Gives First-Time Feature Filmmakers a Launching Pad

A host of emerging talents gathered at Cannes’ Plage des Palmes on May 22 for the latest edition of Focus COPRO’, an event launched in 2018 by the Cinéma de Demain Rendez-vous Industry program to give a boost to first-time feature directors.

Seven up-and-coming filmmakers whose previous shorts have bowed at the Cannes Film Festival and other prestigious fests including Berlin, New Directors New Films and Clermont-Ferrand, gathered under sunny skies on the French Riviera for an informal lunch with a host of industry decision-makers.

The event offered a casual setting for the directors to chat about their upcoming feature debuts, seated alongside veteran producers and sales agents, as well as reps from leading co-production markets, labs, residencies, workshops and institutions focused on identifying and nurturing emerging talent.

Previous editions of Focus COPRO’ have yielded success stories such as “Piggy,” Spanish director Carlota Pereda’s boundary-pushing body-image horror which premiered at Sundance last year. This year Focus COPRO’ alum Felipe Gálvez’s Chilean Western “The Settlers” premieres in Cannes’ Un Certain Regard sidebar, while Pham Thien An’s Vietnamese drama “Inside the Yellow Cocoon Shell” bows in Directors’ Fortnight.

The event spotlighted a diverse slate of seven upcoming features from Algeria, Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, France, U.K., Spain and Taiwan. “Singular and hybrid narrations, bold animation, mystical atmospheres and personal paths. This year, the human journey is at the heart of filmmakers’ inspiration in the Focus COPRO’ selection,” said the organizing team.

Along with lunch on the Croisette, this year’s event featured consulting from industry experts including Vicky Miha of asterisk*, Hédi Zardi of the Marrakech Film Festival’s Atlas Workshops, Isabelle Fauvel of Initiative Film, Didar Domehri of Maneki Films, and Thibaut Bracq of La Fabrique Cinéma.

Focus COPRO’ is presented in collaboration with key partners who awarded several of this year’s selected filmmaking teams. The Pop Up Film Residency will provide a three-week residency program to Patricio Martinez and Francisco Canton to further the development of their film “Amazonia,” a residency supported by M-Films and the city of Vilnius.

The ECAM Madrid Film School’s Incubator program, which contributed a Spanish project to the Focus COPRO’ line-up, awarded a one-week, tailor-made workshop on production and marketing as part of its new Start Me Up program to Vladimir Durán for his project “Voice Pieces,” produced by Clara Massot (Hiedra Films).

Finally, Initiative Film is offering the equivalent of €1,000 ($1,070) worth of consultancy centered on screenwriting, script analysis and development to Mouloud Aït Liotna for “Steppe Wolf,” which is produced by Jules David (L’Oeil Vif Productions).

Each year, Focus COPRO’ underscores the fraught pathway to success for many emerging filmmakers, particularly as they make the leap from shorts to feature films. U.K. director Karni Arieli, who’s developing her feature debut “Caring Sharing” alongside co-director Saul Freed, made a splash more than a decade ago when their first short, “Turning,” premiered at the Berlin Film Festival and was nominated for a BAFTA. Their sophomore effort, “Flytopia,” played at Clermont-Ferrand and a host of other fests two years later.

The duo’s star was rising. Life, however, intervened. “The transition from short to features was hard for us because we had kids,” Arieli said matter-of-factly. “We were on a short-to-feature scheme with Film4, and we had to choose either feature or child.”

That interruption, followed by the coronavirus pandemic, forced the couple to go back to the drawing board as they developed the script for “Caring Sharing.” In the end, it took a full decade for them to make their next short film, “Wild Summon,” which premieres this week in competition in Cannes.

Now the duo is focused on their first feature, a genre-bending animated movie set in an alternative, distorted reality where humans have regressed and are looked after by their larger-than-life, DNA-manipulated carers. It’s been a long journey, but the Cannes spotlight has shined as bright as the sun that’s finally managed to break through after a stormy first week on the French Riviera.

“We’ve been getting L.A. calls since Cannes,” said Arieli. “You get the bigger calls when you’re here.”

Here are the seven projects selected for this year’s Focus COPRO’:

The Island
Director: Hong-Kai Liang
Producer: Elsa Klughertz (Jonas Films)
Hao (22) is propelled into a military island for a year of mandatory service. The wimpy schoolboy needs to find his place and establish his authority in this barbaric and Kafkaesque world, even if it means betraying his best friend, Xiang (19). After Xiang’s disappearance, the island slides towards a mysterious world, haunted by the ghosts of the Civil War.

Amazonia
Director-producers: Patricio Martinez, Francisco Canton
Alberto (40) is forced to take a trip to the Amazon jungle to accompany his ex-girlfriend Mara, who is struggling with depression. Mara’s objective is to take a mushroom which grows in the heart of the jungle which is supposed to clean your psyche from past traumas and fears. Alberto, who is self-centered, materialistic, pragmatic and quite emotionally detached, still feels responsible for Mara’s current situation and therefore agrees to take part in the adventure, which deep down feels like a waste of his time.

Caring Sharing
Directors: Karni Arieli, Saul Freed
Producer: Peter Carlton (Warp Films)
An alternative, distorted reality where humans have regressed to a child-like, asexual mentality and are looked after by their larger-than-life, DNA-manipulated carers: the Emotos. Based on the short story by Will Self.

Voice Pieces
Director: Vladimir Durán
Producer: Clara Massot (Hiedra Films)
Filmmaker Vladimir Durán explores the life and memory of his late father, filmmaker Ciro Durán, using interviews, archival footage and family recordings. Through the editing process, Vladimir creates a powerful expression of emotions, intertwining his father’s recorded voice with his own present voice, capturing shared experiences across time.

Steppe Wolf
Director: Mouloud Aït Liotna
Producer: Jules David (L’Oeil Vif Productions)
De Chastillon, CEO of GSE, undertakes to install solar panels in Algeria. He instructs his employee, Amir Touati, to go there and close the deal. But Amir needs to relocate a whole village to implement the project. He takes on board his cousin Mohamed Aït Ouchen, an unemployed Algerian, as a fixer. When he discovers the reality, Mohamed faces an ethical dilemma that leads him on a very singular path.

Purple Cotton
Director: Jasmin Tenucci
Producer: Apoorva Charan (All Caps LLC)
On a runaway trip to the Amazon, the aimless and pregnant Leo falls madly in love with Nadia, an aspiring musician. Their reckless romance leads to a miscarriage — a shared tragedy that forever binds them as they come together and separate over chapters of their lives, each time reconciling with their ideas of womanhood, motherhood and nature.

Head on the Wall
Director: Manuel Manrique
Producer: Diego Saniz (Kabiria Films)
Spain, 2026. It’s been three years since bullfighting was banned. Rafael Jesús (32) will no longer be the bullfighter icon he was meant to be. He wanders around the streets trying to fit in the new world that doesn’t seem to have a place for him. Each step along the way brings him further away from the bullring and closer to blood.

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