Writers and their projects were once again in the frame during the 2020 HFM Stories and Beyond session as the core European industries of The Netherlands, Ireland, Germany and the UK sought ways to radically boost the impact of a selection of highly promising screenplays. Eye’s Ido Abrams moderated their online presentation during Utrecht 2020.
When, in 1960, a remote Irish island is forced to evacuate, Thomas, 50, refuses to leave. Left alone that night, he cannot move forward until he confronts the ghosts of his past.
Screenwriter Deborah Grimes was at HFM to drum up interest in her lyrical and melancholy project. “He feels that he would be abandoning his two sons who were drowned at sea. He felt there spirits remained on the island,” she explains. “On the final night he lays a table for three, he lights a candle and opens the door for his two boys. He wants to make a communion with them.”
Ido stressed how it is obviously a project close to Deborah’s heart, so how can she guarantee that a director would deliver the film that she sees in her mind’s eye? “That is a bit scary, I have been with it a little while. So I would hope to find a director that I really like and admire, and hope that we share the same vision for the story,” she responded. She is also looking to find a producer for the project supported by Screen Ireland.
“Really in many ways it’s a very Irish story, a story on the edge of time and woven into the fabric of Irish culture,” Deborah added. “It’s very much a soundscape, the music is very important and is threaded through the story. But it’s very universal. Its themes are so universal. Themes of loss and displacement which are so relevant today in this world.”
“It’s also very much the hero’s journey. I was very interested in this character, very much a fictionalised character at this point, who has to find a way back to life again, who suffers great loss but does ultimately find his way back to life.”
Outside the Family (Ireland)
“This film is now more urgent than ever as it handles societal issues for which previous generations fought very hard and that are now at stake again,” comments director Miro Mirko Mastropasqua of his HFM 2020 Stories and Beyond selection.
In the film, a career-driven mother turns her attention to her teenage son who is having an affair with an older man. This triggers a deeper family crisis as she is forced to re-evaluate her relationship with her son as well as her place in the Irish society. All of this is against the background of an economic recession that threatens to tear this family apart.
“We talk about basic civil rights, of sexual identity and acceptance, the age of consent, latent homophobia or HIV stigma, cultural integration, clichés and prejudices about and against foreigners,” Miro adds. “But we also find the solution here, with love, acceptance, recognition that are prevailing over every challenging circumstance. This film wants really to be the deep sentiment of hope and emotional reconnection, as what happens here can happen to every parent or every teenager in the world.”
The script is ready on the €250,000 budget project, and partners are Riga Script Meeting, Mediterranean Film Institute and the National Film School of Ireland
“I am personally involved in this story because it affects my past and my biographical experiences around the themes of the film,” added Miro. “I would welcome any country that can continue this journey with us.”
Darlington Academy (Ireland)
During HFM Sarah Kate Fenelon outlined the premise of her dystopian feature, set in a British private school for girls.
“It is a dark, suspenseful prison break story that follows two sisters plot their escape from boarding school with life and death stakes,” she explained. “Set in a dystopian but not so foreign fascist Britain this elevated horror film is Hitler’s Youth territory, or more specifically, the lesser known female equivalent called the League of German Girls.”
She added how “the film leads into Britain’s dark past of institutional bullying, called fagging, and it explores the insidious cruelty women in particular are capable of inflicting on other women. Not only from an authoritarian point of view but as equals and peers through fagging.”
She sees the film as an international co-pro and is looking for an up and coming female director who has an experience with horror. “I would be delighted to find someone like that.”
Sarah Kate, who is a creative producer in LA working with Neil Gaiman, further outlined her vision to Ido. “It’s a dystopian universe that I sort of imagine if all of the wrong people in the world right now got into the right places, the most dangerous individuals getting into the right place of government. What would the space of education look like in the future if that happened? So this is a comment in particular on British boarding schools [and] I wanted to see what women may do in a situation like this.”
Lima 616 (Ireland)
The cost of war is hell unbound, reads the logline for Martin Stalker’s horror Lima 616, budgeted at €1 million. When an elite forces unit accidentally kill the son of an Afghan warlord during a black ops raid, they unleash a demon intent on revenge.
Commented producer Jules Charlton at HFM: “One of the reasons I love horror movies so much is they allow you to take big important subjects and to transform them into popular exciting entertainment.”
Director Stalker takes up the story. “Lima 616 will be an anti-war film taken from my experiences operating in both Iraq and Afghanistan with the Royal Marine commandoes,” he says. “Although I have had a subjective experience of war it is important to show an audience a true sense of battle. The biggest fear out in these war zones wasn’t necessarily the enemy from beyond the wire, it was the threat that came working with these indigenous troops.”
Producer Jules told Ido during HFM how the development process went into overdrive after support from Northern Ireland Screen. “Our next step is to start talking to sales agents, distributors and financiers about the film, and also start having discussions about possible casting of the main roles.”
Added Stalker: “As our characters find out, preternatural evil has no uniform [and] preternatural evil has no boundaries, so they all must dig deep to fight against this invisible threat that they find themselves facing in the forward operating base… It is going to be an extremely hostile and frightening experience for the audience.”
Screenwriter Katharina Reschke and producer Oliver Schütte (Tellfilm Deutschland GmbH) pitched their €3.5 million kids’ project Roxy. When cheeky, enthusiastic detective Roxy (10), driven by an indomitable love of truth, moves to Berlin, she falls straight into the biggest case of her life. She can only solve this case with the help and friendship of two other loners: Annaté and the mysterious ‘compulsive hoarder’ Mr. Grindelmann.
“Who is Roxy? Roxy is a nerd. A detective nerd. And when I say nerd I mean nerd nerd. Because she loves to investigate,” says screenwriter Katharina. “What I love so much about her is not only that she is special and she loves tools and is interested in everything, but she sees things differently. She has no prejudice like we do as adults.”
“People see her as a nerd but for me she is a superhero,” countered producer Schütte, adding that heis looking for partners and sales representation and that casting will commence at the end of this year for adults, and early 2021 for kids.
Katharina is delighted by director Joachim Masannek’s interpretation of her creation. “Roxy is Amelie. Like Amelie, she is lonely and different, but not weak. She is strong because she is true to herself,” he writes. “This gives her the strength to help others and as a result she is rewarded by others, receiving from them the most precious gift, friendship and love. In the end, with Roxy we learn that being different does not have to mean loneliness, but a chance to win honest and deep friendship.”
Director and Screenwriter Christoph Rainer promised more than just a mere “project about inventors, inventions and the patents that protect them.” As the highly gifted Alice and her new-found friend Ramona aim to secure a patent for an invention, they are together sucked into an obsessive Kafkaesque tour de force within the gigantic Kafkaesque (patent) building… “all this madness culminates in a magical, absurdist, tragic clash that comes down to the question: how far is Alice willing to go for her dream? Is she willing to sacrifice her ideals, her health and even her relationships?”
Producer Maximilian Haslberger (Amerika Film) commented of his director: “Christoph is one of the most gifted filmmakers and talented filmmakers I have met in my life. His films are always an intense, emotional journey. They are clever and most of all very entertaining. His past films have shown that he is definitely a crowd pleaser.”
“For me Monument is pure cinema. The script combines everything that I love about cinema. It has a driving and driven heroine. It is absurd and it is funny. It is an emotional roller-coaster and it has a magical realism that only cinema is able to create. Last but not least it also focusses on one of the major issues of the world of work today, the struggle between work life and personal life.”
Ido asked Christoph about his filmmaking raison d’etre. “My love for cinema really is where tragedy and comedy connect and where people can leave the cinema crying and laughing at the same time. I think that’s where most of the magic happens,” he responded.
The film will be shot in English and producer Haslberger is looking to cast an English or US actress to play Alice. “One of our market aspects is that we have somebody attached who is known across borders…because we really want to do this as an international project,” he said.
Sirens Call (Germany)
Produced by Claus Reichel of German production company and co-produced by the Dutch Elbe Stevens Film, Miriam Gossing & Lina Sieckmann’s experimental hybrid doc is an ode to the mermaid.
The work focusses on the contemporary phenomenon of ‘real-life mermaids’ in Europe and the US. For various reasons, men and women worldwide take over the identity of a mermaid. The film follows a number of main characters and examines their different motives. Human, animal and cyborg merge into one.
“A main topic of the film will be overcoming individual and collective trauma through imagination and play,” says co-director Miriam. “We follow the character of Una through different places in the US, from Hawaii to NY to the Mermaid Parade to Las Vegas which are connected through the topic of the siren and the mermaid, and also show the different realities of the place in a time in the US when there are huge changes, with the elections and the pandemic. We are following these mermaids in their daily lives.”
The project is fully financed (€420,000) and the team is looking for sales and distribution. The main shoot will be in the US, but also the Netherlands and Germany. ZDF will broadcast in Germany, but the work is designed for screening across all formats including installation, they say.
“We mostly work with 16mm,” says Lena of their work. “But later on we digitalise and we work with modern VFX techniques and very specific colour grading to create some kind of hybrid aesthetic…between digital and analogue.
Ido was curious how the pair worked together. “Lena and I have worked together as a director duo for already 8 years, but have known one another since early childhood, so we already developed our own cinematographic and artistic language together,” answered Miriam. “[Over the course of] eight different short films which were shown at festivals and museums, we already share this aesthetic vision.”
The Clock (The Netherlands)
Based on an original script by the late George Sluizer & Nick Fisher, The Clock is described as “a psychological thriller shifting between past and present, following the destiny of a brilliant professor in science and his fatal obsession for a very old astronomical clock.”
“It was a work in progress in 2014 to be directed by my father, but he passed away that year,” explained producer Anouk Sluizer during HFM. “The story has many layers. First there is the psychological drama between two brilliant minds, all about an ancient clock, and then embedded within the story there are many philosophical themes as well.”
“The Clock gives you both an entertaining story with a lot of suspense and as well can satisfy you intellectually,” she added. “We hope to illuminate and tickle the brain and nourish the imagination of our audience with this film.”
Sluizer was a legendary European filmmaker. Which contemporary director does the Dutch producer imagine can deliver his vision and imagination to the big screen?
“In 2018 we approached the director David Cronenberg and in 2019 Joachim Trier. Both for different reasons saw potential in the script but were not available due to private and professional reasons,” she said. “For us it’s clear we want to work with a director who is a master in suspense with a strong cinematographic language. We will also be looking for A-list actors for the two main characters. This will help the financing and in the end we hope to reach a broader audience.”
Producer Sluizer also revealed to moderator Ido that the end of The Clock packs an even more terrifying punch than her father’s masterpiece Spoorloos (The Vanishing, 1988).
Good Enough Burn Out Diary (The Netherlands)
A half-hour film is a perfect length, reasons producer Tünde Vollenbroek (Studio Pupil), and cites as an example the Dutch animation Mind My Mind, which was shortlisted for an Oscar, can be accessed on numerous streaming platforms and has won 21 international awards.
In the film, directed by Dario van Vree, Maaike is an illustrator, lover of tea, and a perfectionist. Her life is fun fun fun, but also busy busy busy. Maaike optimistically pulls through the many long working days and social engagements, thanks to an ‘inner voice’ that she affectionately calls her Little Dictator. But when Maaike gets a full-on panic attack, out of nowhere, her deepest fear becomes reality: she can no longer be perfect.
“It’s an honest, funny and recognisable journey that leads Maaike to accept that being good enough really is good enough,’ says Vollenbroek.
“Personal experience has taught Maaike, and the both of us as well, that burnout can be a radical, life-changing experience – but it also serves as an opportunity to start living life better than before. Not more perfect than before, but more relaxed. Good enough,” Tünde added in her pitch.
The film is budgeted at €400,000 and is selected for the upcoming Cartoon Form. At HFM, the pair were looking for broadcasters and sales agent, organisations investing in mental health, a wide audience-focused game publisher and an event organization that does mental health workshops.
Mengelberg (The Netherlands)
“The theme of this film is music and words – that is for me the intriguing issue,” says Dutch director Annette Apon (The Waves) of her HFM project, produced by Digna Sinke & Hugo Naber of SNG Film. “A film about the brilliant Swiss composer who is awaiting a lifting of a conducting ban imposed on him. Did he betray Mahler?”
Willem Mengelberg was once a brilliant conductor, the logline reads, but between 1940 and 1945 he was lost in the extra-musical reality of war and Nazism. Sequestered in the Swiss Alps he is surrounded by three women yearning for his love and attention. All three try to support him in his fight against the demons from his past. Music is ultimately the only thing he has.
“There is this man who lives entirely with music, in music, for music. Is it possible to stay out of the politics of the day? The beauty of this script is that this question is presented from many sides,” says Apon. “The more I think about Mengelberg the more difficult it is for me to judge him. Too easy to condemn his attitude during the war. I need the whole film to come to terms with him. And inevitably we have to ask the question: what would I have done in these circumstances?”
Producer Hugo Naber says that the script is ready to share and that a co-pro arrangement with Belgium is a major focus, as well as production facilities in Austria and Switzerland.
“This is such an epic story about artistic betrayal and how to cope with this years after the fact, and that is such a dilemma for anybody who is creating, having ideals, having a vision,” says Naber.
“Along the way you can lose track of this fire to create and you have to maybe compromise the wrong decisions, This is instilled in the script of Annette Apon, and together with Digne we are eager to get the movie forward.”
Dakar (The Netherlands)
“It’s the kind of story you dream of as a producer, it’s a huge challenge to take a fish out of water, go to Dakar and solve a mystery,” comments NL Film’s Kaja Wolffers about the project Dakar, selected for Stories and Beyond 2020.
In the film, to find closure, the timid Sandra travels to Dakar where her only daughter died in a robbery during a gap year. When she finds out that Marit was on the trail of an international corruption scandal and was therefore murdered, she decides to complete her daughter’s investigation.
Screenwriter Alexander de Bruijn further explains the project’s appeal. “With Dakar I am aiming to create an exciting story of international scope and appeal. It is something the audience can enjoy on multiple levels. There is the thrill and excitement of the plot, where the real killer of Marit is not revealed until the final minutes of the film.”
“But it’s also an engaging drama about grief, about a mother trying to restore the broken relationship with her deceased daughter, finding the strength and determination to finish what she began and find a new perspective on the world. And last but not least, it also has a deeper thematic layer, where the story invites the audience to reflect on social injustice and environmental issues.”
Producer Kaja told Ido how, at Utrecht, he wanted to get “tips and tricks” on “how we can take this idea which we really believe in and make it more interesting from an international perspective. In the last years we saw that a lot our projects were able to travel, but our ambition is to make this movie travel even more.” His pitch materials refer to the film as ‘John le Carré’s The Constant Gardener meets Erin Brockovich’.
Kaja also discussed director Tim Oliehoek’s qualities with Ido. “He has become so much better even in the last years by really focussing on the story. We did The Body Collector with him, and what I find so admiring is that he took such a heavy subject matter but translated it into a really exciting [and] well-made series. That made me think that also in a project like this, he is the perfect person to combine big story matter with a very exciting thriller for a large audience.”
Director/screenwriter Lucy Brydon and producer Jessie Mangum (Thought Experiment Ltd) promises a highly cinematic examination of contemporary gender politics in their Brutes.
Three years after a plane crash left her marooned on an isolated island, intersex sixteen year-old Semani sets out to rejoin the group of schoolmates she has become estranged from. When faced with her rival Noni’s strange new rules and way of life, Semani has to decide whether to try and change the girls – or join them.
The budget of the film, which is at early script stage, comes in at just under €1 million. “I’m confident that we can pull this off because it is a small scale project but I am kind of refining skills that we both learned on our debut features that were both under 200,000 pounds, which is a tough gig, so I am looking to expand that and also pull on the themes I have been long interested in, gender expression and identity and how conversations about them are working, certainly in the UK and also in the US,” said Jessie.
“For women and female-identifying people, to me, as a feminist, it is important that we all learn to work together – that is what I am trying to say with it – because otherwise we all lost. That’s the kind of point of the whole story, and that’s what we want the audience to take away from it.”
Lucy also stresses how it is a psychological drama with heavily satirical elements, such as when Semani encounters a mobile phone for the first time in years. “She is shocked to discover that not only is a TV celebrity the president of the US, but the natural world has been desiccated beyond repair, Britain is leaving the EU and to top it off there is a global pandemic. What the fuck happened since they were away?”
This is Home
“This will be the first gay feature film out of Scotland ever, and it is really important to me because it is the film that I wish I had seen when I was 15 years old,” explained screenwriter Silas Parry during his HFM 2020 pitch.
It gets better. “Years ago I found a letter in the back pages of The Digger. The Digger is a kind of vigilante magazine that you get on photocopy paper in Glasgow newsagents. The letter was from a young heroin dealer who had fallen crazily in love with the guy who stashes his drugs. But he was writing the letter from prison, so things hadn’t gone well for the couple, but it was a beautiful outpouring of love and regret and I was just so mad keen to give these strangers the ending they deserved. And that’s why I wrote this story. Because I know these characters and I love these characters and I want them to be happy.”
The synopsis tells how the film opens on a rain-soaked Scottish council estate, and ends with the discovery of alien life deep off the coast of Spain. Silas, who co-set up indie production company Feral Inc in January 2020, tells that the script is in a “a very strong” place.
“We are Looking for partners who love this project as much as we do and engage with the characters as much as we do. We are looking to meet co-producers from the south of Europe. In the script it is Spain but it can equally be France or Italy or Croatia. And we are looking to start discussions with like-minded sales agents.”
Producer Gill Parry adds: “I fell in love with the characters. They are incredibly endearing and physical and real. It is a kind of tough situation that they are in, that a lot of people are in, but there is a lot of love in this film.”
Written by: Nick Cunningham