Stories & Beyond 2020

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.
Oilean (Ireland)
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.”
Roxy (Germany)
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.”
Monu­ment (Germany)
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.”
Brutes (UK)
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,” said­Jessie. 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.”
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