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“We want to create a real market and engage in serious conversations”

Industry Report: Produce - Co-Produce...

Torsten Frehse • CEO, European Work in Progress Cologne


In Cologne, 32 feature-length projects will be presented as works in progress to a wide network of industry professionals

Torsten Frehse  • CEO, European Work in Progress Cologne
(© Annette Hauschild)

A few days ahead of the start of the sixth edition of European Work in Progress (EWIP), unspooling in Cologne from 16-18 October, we sat down with the industry event’s CEO, Torsten Frehse, to talk through what it offers to the professionals in attendance and the slate of projects being showcased this year.

Cineuropa: Could you please briefly introduce the main mission of European Work in Progress Cologne?
Torsten Frehse:
EWIP is an independent industry event for producers, distributors and film festivals for European films with a high level of quality and appeal, and crossover market potential. Unlike other co-production markets, EWIP aims to present projects already in production. As an alternative to most of the other work-in-progress events, we also host a large proportion of Central European projects in the programme. Our idea – thus or task – is to close a gap here. In addition, there is not even remotely a work-in-progress [event] of the same size as ours in Germany.

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In summary, the work-in-progress [event] is a reaction to the new acceleration in the market. We film distributors simply need platforms in which the projects can be evaluated much more efficiently in terms of their suitability for the cinema compared to when they’re in the financing phase, since footage is already available, the cast and style of the film can be assessed, and the director's work is presented.

How does the selection of projects work? And what rules must be observed by the teams on stage?
The selection process is solely down to the management of EWIP, and that is Olimpia Pont and myself. We had 189 submissions this year, but fortunately, with 30 projects to pick, we have a breadth that allows us to accept many good ones. Of course, in addition to quality, we pay attention to [building] a diversified programme in terms of sales potential, formats and countries. And, of course, we also brief the teams before their performance. The most important rule at EWIP is that everyone who is on stage – be they representatives of the projects after showing the eight- to ten-minute film excerpts, or experts on panels – must make an honest appearance. We want to create a real market and engage in serious conversations, which is why all moderations are carried out by real industry participants, not speakers.

Who are the main partners of the event, and how do they contribute to its organisation?
The main partner at EWIP is clearly the Film- und Medienstiftung NRW. The encouragement and support from this film foundation, which allowed us to hold the event during the pandemic years – in person as well – contributed a great deal to its success. Our colleagues were able to get to know us while other markets had to be cancelled. In the meantime, we have also managed to obtain further support from the MEDIA Desks, KölnBusiness, the MMC, K13, Gruvi, Way Film and the Cologne Film Festival, plus the cooperation with TorinoFilmLab is now in its second year. And as the whole thing develops, more will be added. But we don't beg. Only those who feel like it take part. We want to create a platform that is beneficial for everyone, fun and voluntary.

What other events do you have planned besides the pitching sessions?
At EWIP, we traditionally host two case studies and a film-policy panel together with the MEDIA Desks. This time, it will be about the exciting prospects of European-African cooperation in production and distribution, and the mutual possibilities offered by the markets. And, of course, there is something going on in the evenings, too!

This year, the International Distribution Summit will take place for three days, from 17-19 October. What is your relationship to the summit? What are you cooking up?
I had already developed the concept for the International Distribution Summit in 2019. Last year, we seized the opportunity. And after it was so well received, there was a desire from several quarters to repeat it.

I myself am a passionate film distributor, and of course, the work is constantly evolving. I'm simply interested in the work of colleagues from abroad, what they might be doing better and what innovations they have developed. I also travel around sometimes, whether to New York, Beijing, Nairobi, Addis Ababa or Lagos. Actually, everyone should be interested in it because there is still a lot of potential for innovation in our area of ​​work.

And that’s why there is this summit, which is more of a huge workshop with people or companies that have developed new methods and strategies, rather than a conference. The focus is on knowledge transfer for the benefit of everyone.

Why did you decide to focus on Africa and the Benelux this year?
I was simply interested in Africa, and the Benelux suggestion came from the film industry in North Rhine-Westphalia, just because they are neighbours and cooperation is an increasingly prominent topic there.

What are your long-term plans?
I'm primarily a film distributor and not an organiser. But I also enjoy [doing this], and as long as the participants feel the same way and it makes economic sense for them, then it will be something [that will continue in the] long term. If not, I'll be the first to put a stop to it. There are too many projects in Europe that only take place for mere economic ends. But I don't have the time or the desire for that.

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