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VENICE 2023 Venice Production Bridge

At the Venice Production Bridge, experts explore the untapped potential of comedies in European independent film


- VENICE 2023: Making people laugh is a hard task, but one of the most important and needed in this time of crisis, the speakers agreed

At the Venice Production Bridge, experts explore the untapped potential of comedies in European independent film
From left to right: Alec Von Bargen, Mercedes Fernandez Alonso, Thomas Pibarot and Christoph Friedel

On 2 September, the Venice Production Bridge (31 August-8 September) hosted a panel titled “As If Comedy Wasn’t a Serious Matter,” hosted by the TorinoFilmLab (TFL) and Turin’s National Museum of Cinema. The event, moderated by Alec Von Bargen, saw the participation of TFL’s managing director Mercedes Fernandez Alonso, TFL’s ComedyLab curator Thomas Pibarot and producer Christoph Friedel.

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Bargen first asked the speakers to say what makes them laugh. Alonso answered that “the unexpected” amuses her, adding how with the TFL team they’ve been thinking a lot about the untapped potential of comedy within independent cinema, which is what brought them to set up their first ComedyLab.

Pibarot underscored how “we’re bound to keep on laughing in order to survive,” and “how rare it is to laugh during festivals, especially at places like Cannes, Venice and the Berlinale.” He explained how “we all think we’re doing a great job by doing things in a serious manner,” but we’re forgetting how laughter is one of the most important emotions and one of our basic needs.

When asked what makes him laugh, Friedel tells the audience: “I’m German so I don’t laugh at all. We’ve this joke in Germany: What is the thinnest book in the world? It’s A Thousand Years of German Humour!”

Alonso highlighted the importance of setting up a lab dedicated to comedy, as the genre requires a special development process “involving writers and comedians.”

“I’ve been a buyer for 25 years. We’re strange people who think we know [things] better than the rest of the world because we set trends, we buy films. […] Comedy is the most prolific genre from an industry perspective, in every local market. Having said that, comedy is looked down on by fests, institutions and high-brow critics,” said Pibarot, adding how writing comedy is much harder than writing drama, and how rare it is to laugh while reading a script owing to the lack of “magic formulas.”

Next, Friedel touched upon the struggles of comedies who are too local and cannot be watched even a few kilometres away from their setting. He then showed the trailer of Maria Elche and Benjamin Naishtat’s Coming Soon, a comedy he co-produced with Argentinian, Brazilian and French partners and which is set to take part in the main competition of this year’s San Sebastian Film Festival.

Alonso said that with the upcoming ComedyLab, the ambition is “to redefine how comedy is seen within independent cinema,” and pointed out how the TFL team receives about 500 applications per year, and comedy applications are very few. With the ComedyLab, TFL tries to provide a solution to the lack of dedicated training, which is instead much more present in other territories such as the UK and the US.

Later, Pibarot touched upon self-imposed censorship: “We all know how comedy, by definition, is a very political genre of cinema, and a reflection of society. The best Italian comedies produced in the 1950s and 1960s spoke about money, people and social classes. And laughter is never as strong as when you tackle a huge subject.”

He concluded that today’s extreme turns of political correctness and sensitivity issues are therefore limiting creativity and “killing comedy.”

Friedel argued that we’re going through a transition period, but agreed this was “not the best moment for comedy,” as everyone is “scared of doing something wrong.”

Towards the end of the panel, Alonso explained how the upcoming ComedyLab will put together screenwriters and other comedy authors. The team will pick 10 participants and set up a preparatory meeting, during which they won’t be writing but will instead try to familiarise themselves with one another through games and other playful activities.

Among these, a maximum of four projects will be selected which will be developed through three workshops, before being presented to a group of professionals. The call for participants will be launched on 24 October.

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