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Producer Michel Merkt will be next to step up to receive the prize that for 15 years Locarno has awarded to leading players in international independent production. After Mike Medavoy, Christine Vachon and David Linde – to name just three – the 2017 The Best Independent Producer Award “Raimondo Rezzonico” will go to a Swiss producer whose skills have been crucial to the making of several international hits that have recently brought Switzerland to center stage on the international filmmaking scene.
Born in Geneva, Merkt first became involved in producing while working for the TV program Le Journal des sorties with Canal+. In 2008 he co-produced his first short film 8, the segment Person to Person by Wim Wenders, which proved to be the starting point of a career constantly on the rise. He is known in the industry first and foremost for his role in the making of Maps to the Stars by David Cronenberg, which he co-produced with his celebrated French counterpart Saïd Ben Saïd and actor-producer Martin Katz. Further proof of Michel Merkt’s unerring instincts was offered at the last Cannes film festival, which screened no less than 8 feature films in which he was involved, including: Elle by Paul Verhoeven, twofold César winner in 2017 for Best Film and for Isabelle Huppert as Best Female Lead, as well as an Academy Awards 2017 nomination for Best Actress; the Franco-Swiss cartoon Ma vie de Courgette by Claude Barras from Sion (Canton Valais), co-produced with Pauline Gygax’s and Max Karli’s production company Rita, another recent Oscar nominee and winner of a César for Best Animated Film; and Juste la fin du monde, directed by Xavier Dolan, winner of the Jury Grand Prix and Ecumenical Jury Prize at Cannes 2016, with an impressive line-up of stars such as Nathalie Baye, Vincent Cassel, Marion Cotillard and Léa Seydoux. To round off this quick résumé, mention should be made of his collaboration with another major figure in world cinema, director Walter Hill, with whom Merkt produced The Assignment, starring Sigourney Weaver and Michelle Rodriguez.
The Locarno Festival Award intends to pay tribute not just to the outstanding talents of a man of the cinema, but also to the intelligence of a producer whose work is reshaping his professional profile within an industry where, in Merkt’s own words, “the producer’s task should be to smooth the path for filmmakers, bringing their vision and ideas to the screen, and then to find them an audience.” It’s an approach based on working as a team, a kind of film production, which “should involve the communication of new world views and offer visibility to new cultures”, while never losing sight of the final objective: “what the public wants.”
As Locarno Festival Artistic Director Carlo Chatrian puts it: “From David Cronenberg to Walter Hill, Xavier Dolan and Philippe Garrel, not to mention two stand-out events of the past film season, Ma vie de Courgette and Toni Erdmann: in just a few years Michel Merkt has worked his way forward to the leading edge of global independent filmmaking. What I like about his work to date is how he takes you by surprise, transcending the confines of genre and nationality that have so often defined the output of his colleagues. His curiosity, combined with his undeniable instincts, have made him one of the leading players on the contemporary scene.”
The Best Independent Producer Award “Raimondo Rezzonico” offered by the municipality of Minusio, is awarded every year to a major producer in independent filmmaking and was established in 2002 to honor the memory of the President of the Locarno Festival from 1980 to 1999.
The 70th Locarno Festival will be held from 2 to 12 August 2017.