The 5-month Boost NL programme, which commenced online at HFM before concluding at IFFR in January 2021, has become a renowned platform for the development of brilliant audiovisual works, such as The Reports on Sarah and Saleem (Muayad & Rami Alayan), Jessica (Ninja Thyberg) and Sacha Polak’s Dirty God. La última primavera by Isabel Lamberti (produced by Ijswater Films) was part of BoostNL 2018 and HFM 2019, and was selected for online Cannes 2020.
Holy Electricity (Georgia)
“It is the story of two guys with a lot of ideas but no money,” explained director Georgian Tato Kotetishvili of his black comedy about two guys who hit upon the idea to sell neon crosses illuminated with stolen electricity. “Selling neon crosses charged by stolen electricity.”
In their pitch, they underlined how “a cross is a symbol of Christ’s sacrifice for us, reminding us to live by Christian values. Neon symbolizes the commercialization of our world full of neon signs, billboards and television screens. Thus, a neon cross is a great metaphor for the role of the church in our society: it incorporates human values and the reality of a commercial business at the same time.”
The €300,000 film is almost halfway financed and has Dutch partners on board in the form of The Film Kitchen (Amsterdam) and Stout&Smits (Rotterdam). It was also recipient of an HBF development grant. “A real Rotterdam/Georgian connection, I like that as a Rotterdam person,” said moderator Ido Abram, who further asked producer Irakli Metreveli what the project can deliver to an international audience.
“We believe that this project is unique because it brings a new voice from Georgia which has not been presented yet,” she responded. “We think that Tato the director has a very unique style and the place where we are going to shoot is interesting for an international audience. The topic we are dealing with is done with humour, and people from all around the world can relate to it, [although it’s from] a small Georgian world.
A Flying Character (Argentina)
The Argentinian project A Flying Character by Martina Juncadella is the recipient of Hubert Bals Fund Script and Project Development support and picked up an Arte Kino Award at BAFICI BAL.
The film tells a story of overcoming grief. After his mother’s death, a writer attempts to cleans up his life without success until he finds a unique way to transform his pain. He will adopt another identity, parallel to his own, with its own histories, fears and desires.
“From the beginning of the development of the idea I was captivated by Martina’s way of creating a very intimate audiovisual world which concentrates its forces on the acting presence and the pictorial and plastic language,” stressed producer (and sister to Martina) Julieta Juncadella.
She added of her €350,000 budget, 100-minute drama that she is looking for partners in The Netherlands, “who are interested in unique and risky audiovisual narratives. This film is a unique and personal approach to queer narratives and transitioning identities. This contemporary theme is urgent [and must] be represented in cinema.”
In her pitch director Martina asked, “how may identities fit in a life? How many do we know? How many we don’t know? A Flying Character is conceived from the fascination of imagining one life becoming another one. In my personal experience as an actress I live composing and creating characters which I enter and exit. That transforms the person that I am.”
She added how the drama will also feature non-professional actors. “I am an actress but I can say that I love non-actors. I will reach a mix between those two universes, between real people and professional actors, The acting, yes, it’s central.”
“Marina is movie for a youth audience, it’s a story that mixes teenage love with social tragedy and it takes place in a touristic city of Brazil which is my home town Maceió, says writer and co-director Laís Santos Araújo (with Pethrus Tibúrcio) of her Boost NL project.
In the project Marina (14), the only black girl in a wealthy private school, prepares for her 15th birthday party. She is unaffected by the ongoing discovery of bullet-ridden bodies until she start to go out with Pedro, the son of her seamstress.
Maceió is beautiful,” says Laís, getting to the heart of the film’s dilemma. “It is also one of the safest cities of Brazil, it’s where you are least likely to get killed. But only if you are wealthy and white. If you happen to be black and you happen to be poor it is one of the most dangerous cities in the country. And that’s where we are in this movie. In this tropical city of inequalities and contrasts.”
€300,000 of the €560,000 budget is already sourced in Brazil. During Boost NL, producer Nara Aragão of Carnaval Filmes is looking for co-pro partners to bridge the gap, as well as interest sales entities and distributors.
Laís adds: “I wrote this film based on my personal experiences during high school and things that I saw friends of mine go through. When I was around sixteen, 40 people were murdered around my neighbourhood and in my home town. They were homeless and nobody was ever punished. Since then I have been researching about segregation and violence and producing art and other types of work around it, and this is where the movie comes from.”
The Settlement (Egypt)
At the beginning of his very personal Utrecht Boost NL pitch director Mohamed Rashad stated, “how heart-breaking it is to start to build your feature over the death of someone else. It is especially more painful when this person was close to you. He is your father.”
In the film, when a youngster is offered a job in the same factory that killed his father, he is not sure if it is a reward or a curse. “Being a crucial element in the narrative, the dialogue is written with intelligence and wit. It doesn’t expose or explain the feelings of the characters, but gives a sense about them leaving them for the viewer’s interpretation. Information beats are not given through dialogue, but through the complex structure of the characters and their arcs,” Mohamed further stresses.
Producer Hala Lofty has raised a fifth of the €250,000 budget. Partner Etienne de Ricaud of Caractere Productions (France) stressed of the project that “this can become one of the landmarks in contemporary Egyptian cinema.”
Lofty articulates the essence of the HBF-backed project: “Rashad captures a neglected, a remote, isolated and almost taboo area in Egypt… where factories were built first and then came the workers… where the rules were designed to serve the interests of the factory owners, and where the government is totally absent and only shows up to commit more oppression over the workers,” she says. “It is an unheard comminity and what Rashad is trying to do is giving them voice, talking in a very beautiful and artistic way about the hard life they are leading.”
Dutch projects (moderated by Eye’s Ido Abrams)
In Jacob’s Way director Eelko Ferwerda tells a fictional story, but one informed by his father’s early diagnosis of Alzheimer’s.
In the film, Jacob, 60, embarks on the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela with his dog. After a risky climb in the rain, he loses his dog and must get into the car of a young man to recover. He wakes up on a gated estate, which he finds he is unable to leave, forced to stay.
“Alternative realities, imagination and heightened realism are often returning subjects in my work,” says Ferwerda. “But above all the human perception or the deconstruction of it is always a starting point.”
“Since nobody knows exactly what it looks like inside a deconstructed mind that has less and less grip on the world around him, we have taken the poetic freedom to tell a compelling an suspenseful story from the perspective of a patient,” he continues. “Although Jacob’s Way is a work of fiction the events and characters, with their own dilemmas and conflicts, are inspired by our extensive research into the dramatic world of Alzheimer’s patients and my own experiences as well with my father.”
The 90-minute film is produced by powerhouse Dutch outfit Bind and is budgeted at €1.8 million, of which €1.2 million is already raised. Their stated aims for Boost NL are a script session with an English native genre expert on suspense/thriller dramas and to hook up with Dutch filmmaker/trainer Gert de Graaff “for advice and inspiration.”
Moderator Ido reminded the online audience of Bind’s enviable record at international festivals. Does this film offer the opportunity of similar success? “Let’s put it this way, we worked on films which have won awards, but in my view from the start I already had it in mind that this has great potential,” answered company boss Joram Willink. “The pov from the patient, an extreme pov, gives so many possibilities and makes it very exciting, and also interesting with all kinds of layers.”
“Wood is an homage to the men of the lumber yard, men who do not always have the social skills to really express how they feel, but in those spare moments when they are really honest and show their vulnerabilities, they are men in their purest form, heart-breaking and touching at the same time,” was screenwriter Matthijs Bockting’s lyrical opening to the pitch for Wood, to be directed by Flynn von Kleist.
In the film Ben (17), who has grown up without a father and with an unpredictable mother, struggles to hold his own within the harsh masculine world of the sawmill. Little by little he discovers that he is transforming into wood.
“Central to Wood is the theme of adulthood, specifically male adulthood,” says director Von Kleist. “We are combining the coming of age genre with body horror… Ben’s environment is filled with imperfect adults, especially indifferent men. We are using body horror as a way of externalising his inner transformation.”
The filmmakers cite films such as Edward Scissorhands and Pan’s Labyrinth as influences, as well Let the Right One In, Raw and When Animals Dream.
Producer Guusje van Deuren (The Rogues) stresses of the €2 million budget film: “At Boost in Utrecht we will be focussed mainly on the development of the script and the visual approach of the story. We are also very keen to talk to coaches and collaborators about early ideas for the marketing strategy and the use of genre. At IFFR there will be a whole new English-translated version of the film, and we will be looking to talk then with partners about co-production, finance and sales.”
While transporting a shipful of white desert sand from Le Havre to a beach in Rotterdam, Jan discovers an East African refugee camp in the hold of his ship, forcing him to re-evaluate his life and values.
The 100-minute €1.8 million project by feature debutant Teddy Cherim is described as a dark comedy, a road movie and a coming of age film. But with an intensely serious theme, the director notes.
“Jan is ‘us’ and he has his own problems and his life is difficult enough, and he is not ready to be hospitable to all these new people,” says Cherim. “But to me this is an important story because I am the grandson of refugees during the 2WW and so I know within my family the pain that it caused. It’s not so long ago that this was happening, and I find it appalling the way we are reacting to the current influx of refugees. That is why it is an important film to make.”
Refugees will be cast in the film as a result of a collaboration agreed between producer Graniet Film and the NGO Body Project that helps refugees find work in the film industry. “It’s a story about them and us coming together,” underlines Teddy.
Comments screenwriter Kim Kokosky Deforchaux: “We have refugees from lots of different countries and they all have different experiences, how the travel worked out and how difficult it was to communicate along the way with Europeans, and how did they see each other. These are insights that we could have never have developed without these characters.”
Producer Marten van Warmerdam is looking to shoot in Belgium, France and the Netherlands and is looking for sales and distribution as well as a French co-producers. Concluded director Teddy: “This will be one of the sickest movies you have ever seen in your entire life.”
Another body transformation film is Arianne Hinz’s debut feature Marionettes, a 70-minute dark drama budgeted at €850,000. Produced by Ibrahim Karatay of Rinkel film, the film focusses on 11-year old Lola who is desperate to join a group of kids playing marionettes in a theatre production. But as the kids identify with their characters they begin to lose grip on reality. When they plan the murder of a young woman, Lola questions her involvement with them.
“The children turn into marionettes…but that doesn’t mean that it is a fantasy film with no link to reality,” said director Arianne. “Because I think that the risk of giving up too much of yourself in order to belong, it happens all around us. In the real world this can lead to things like fascism and cults, and I think that this film can show how gradual this process is and how innocent it often starts, and we only find out what actually happened after it is much too late.”
Producer Ibrahim told Ido in Utrecht how he wants to avoid special effects, and that a short test film will be made in 2021 to hone the techniques necessary for later use in the feature, itself to be shot in 2022. He added that he is looking for sales interest, distributors and co-producers, especially from Germany, Spain, Belgium and the Nordic countries.
“Marionettes is going to be a film for adult audiences,” he stressed.
And why does Arianne find kids so fascinating, Ido asked. “I seem to be drawn to telling stories from the child’s perspective. There are many answers to this question, but one of them is I think that for children the difference between fantasy and reality is smaller, which makes it easier in films to mix these two aspects,” she responded. “If you work with adults, then you would have to invent a reason why they could believe they all of a sudden could become marionettes, whereas with children that is just part of their play.”
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Written by: Nick Cunningham