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HFM Boost NL 2021 Report

HFM 2021 saw the sixth outing of BoostNL, the tailor-made and increasingly essential professional programme presented in association with CineMart (IFFR). Timely exposure was given to 7 new projects from The Netherlands, Kazakhstan, Thailand/Singapore, Bolivia/France and Brazil. As in past years, special attention was paid to script development as well as advice on festival, sales and marketing strategies.

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.


A Chronicle From Nagorno-Karabakh by Ibrahim Karatay and Janneke Pol (The Netherlands)

“The basis for our film is the knowledge that generations of Armenians and Azerbaijanis have inhabited this disputed area, feel a special bond with it and are fatally displaced,” explained co-director Ibrahim Karatay (with Janneke Pol) to HFM of their Boost NL feature documentary project. “This connectedness and ‘fatal’ displacement are our starting point for making this film. A film that transcends the politics and issues of the day, focuses more on personal stories.”

The logline of the film reads how two seemingly antagonist families from Nagorno-Karabakh share one tragedy. A film about memories, displacement, mourning, but also surviving and hope in the shadow of a vicious circle of violence. The synopsis continues, asking “where do they find hope and strength to continue their lives? We will meet people with their melancholy, anger, incomprehension, but also with their positivism and strong urge to survive.”

Karatay and main producer Roomans (Alchemic Film) have raised €20,500 towards the 85-minute €600,000 film, with partners so far involved being Amarte Fonds, Stichting Niemeijer Fonds, Gemeente Den Haag and Fever Film.

“Our Armenian family shows us the (acute) meaning of fleeing and being displaced. The experiences of the Armenian family are the memories of the Azerbaijani character and the journey that our Azerbaijani character undertakes to the native soil is the hope of our Armenian family,” Karatay continues. “Our Azerbaijani character and our Armenian family do not know each other and cannot communicate with each other. What is not possible in real life, we want to achieve with cinema by 'bringing them together' and indirectly making them 'talk to each other'. Our co-director Janneke Pol, cameraman Lukas de Kort, main producer Ilja Roomans, coach Aliona van der Horst and I strongly believe that this film will provide us unique insights and cinematic experience worth to be supported.”

Partners so far are on the project are Amarte Fonds, Stichting Niemeijer Fonds, Gemeente Den Haag and Fever Film.

A Winner is Seen at the Start by Zhannat Alshanova (Kazakhstan)

“While dealing with her emotionally unstable mother, Mila (17) finds comfort in swimming. However, when she meets the team from the experimental swimming team, she will need to face her own corrupted values and toxic ambitions,” reads the log-line of Zhannat Alshanova’s Boost NL Russian-language project, budgeted at €450,000 and with HBF development support in place. It is her debut feature, and is produced by Yevgeniya Moreva of Accidental Films.

“For me, it's a film about independence and about finding your own voice by navigating through impulse values and your personal desires,” explains director Zhannat Alshanova, whose short film History of Civilization won a Silver Pardino - Leopard of Tomorrow at Locarno 2020. “And I'm also very interested in exploring this mother-daughter relationship and its complexity with a backdrop of modern Kazakhstan.” At HFM, she was looking for co-producers, sales agents and distributors, creative collaborators.

“I have to admit to that I found her really impressive, uh, because she has such a clear view of what you want to achieve,” said French co-production partner Jean-Laurent Csinidis of Films de Force Majeure. “And at the same time she has this very relaxed and open way to share it with potential collaborators. That's something I really love. So I'm really looking forward to the next step…We've been talking together with Zhannat also about the possibility of expanding the production to other countries, if needs be including Netherlands."

Becoming Dubois by Joost van Hezik (The Netherlands)

In Joost’s latest film Becoming Dubois (which follows on from his immensely funny and creative Boy Meets Gun), over-qualified au pair Elena (23) and down and out actor Ben (59) are together one night when Ben is mistaken for the world-famous trend­watcher Charles Dubois. In an attempt to escape their miserable lives they slowly lose themselves in an increasingly dark fictional adventure. But how far are they willing to go?

“For me, this film started with the question, ‘can you have a meaningful life if it's based on a lie?’” says the director tabout his crazy adventure within the worlds of the financial elite, one in which reality and fiction must eventually intertwine if both characters can save their friendship and regain their sanity.

Producer Layla Meijman (Studio Ruba) points out that the €1.5 million film will be very much in line, stylistically, with, their previous collaboration. Adds Joost of the news film’s distinctly comedic tone of voice: “I can summarize it in the best way that the characters should be able to fart while being in an existential crisis, because both levels of reality exist. And I think that's very funny and also very true.”

“I like to combine this visual cinematic style of storytelling in combination with more of a dead pan comedy style,” he adds.

The project is supported by the Netherlands Film Fund. “We have just finished the first draft of the script and are excited to work on it with the attending international experts, to see how the story and the humour resonates with an international audience and to work with them on the marketing and positioning strategy of the film,” said producer Layla. She added that the film will be multi-lingual and that the main role will be played by an Eastern European actress that they still have to find. “So we see a possibility for a natural coproduction [there],” she added.

Flat Girls by Jirassaya Wongsutin (Thailand/Singapore)

In Flat Girls, produced by Pom Bunsermvicha and Noorahaya Lahtee, Jane is the daughter of a police sergeant. She has lived in the same block of subsidised government housing since birth. Following the death of her father, Jane and her mother must prepare to leave. As their moving date approaches, Jane reflects on a youth spent within the confines of the police flats. But memories surface from her past as a chubby-cheeked high school student still questioning her sexuality. These memories bring past secrets to light.

“I met and got to know [the director] after having watched her short film That Day of the Month, that had won a special jury mention from Clermont Ferrand Short Film Festival,” explained Pom Bunsermvicha. “I wanted it to work and to support [Jirassaya] her as a female and queer film director.”

Flat Girls is going to be my first feature film. It is very personal as it is inspired from my experience growing up in the police flats, the housing provided for policeman and their family,” explains director Jirassaya. “When my parents got married, they had me. So I have lived here in a police compound since birth, but now my father has retired and we have to move out. So making this film is to view to my childhood life and me saying goodbye to a place I hold dear to my heart.”

“I would like to capture this tension between the past and the present in the visuals of Flat Girls,” the director adds. “I would like to create a sense of isolation in the characters. Jane is often alone and separated from the others in the police flats. Scenes in the past, on the other hand, are full of life, they are vivid and dynamic and give a real sense of youthfulness.”

“It's a coming of age drama,” adds Pom. “As the moving date approaches, the film flips back to when Jane is 15 years old and through the eyes of Jane, the film explores different themes, from issues about Jane’s weight and body image, to exploration of her bi-sexuality and gender expression and identity. Heartwarming stories of love and friendship between the flat kids are juxtaposed with the reality of what it's like to come from a police family.”

The Thai language 90-minute film has a budget of €425,000, of which €54,500 is secured. Partners on the project are Hubert Bals Fund, Thailand's Ministry of Culture Development Fund, Yubari International Fantastic Film Festival (Cash Award), White Light Studio, Momo Film Co.

“We are currently in the script development stage and we'll have the second script draft ready by January 2022,” said producer Noorahaya Lahtee. “Flat Girls is a story that has not been told before. The theme of exploring and the storytelling style embody a universality that will resonate with arthouse and general audiences locally and worldwide. We are really confident that Flat Girls is a very unique project for international co production. We are looking to find European partners from France or the Netherlands to co-produce and develop the project further together.”

Lost Songs of Distant Realms by Kiro Russo (Bolivia/France)

Director/producer Kiro Russo pitched his complex story of the relationship between an adolescent girl (who falls in love with a girl at school) and her father Charque, a ‘Satanist’ miner playing in a heavy metal band, who is suddenly forced to question his long-held beliefs. It is the third film in Kiro’s mining trilogy, following on from Dark Skull (2016) and The Great Movement (2021).

The director described Lost Songs of Distant Realms to HFM as a “dark wave musical film, about the deep love between a father and his daughter, about old legends… A tender and shocking story about work, growing up, dying and rebirth.”

The 16mm 100-minute film is budgeted at €600,500, with €45,000 secured. The spoken languages are Aymara (Bolivian indigenous) and Spanish. Russo’s stated aim at HFM was “to find co-producers, sales agents, investors, strong partners who can add passion and love the project, so that together we can make this film more beautiful and stronger,” adding that he is looking to find co-production investors in The Netherlands and the Nordic countries. “I also hope that the script consultancies will help me to achieve a more solid structure and a deepening of the character traits in the script,” he added.

Kiro further describes the skillset he will be applying to the project. “My greatest strengths are mise-en-scène and sound design, I work with natural actors that I have been training for more than ten years,” he says.

“In my films I create very immersive cinematic landscapes, blocks of pure cinema, and in Lost Songs of Distant Realms I will deepen these techniques. The magical realism script portrays the life and relationships between Nina who is in love for the first time and Charque her father, a miner who doesn't want to grow old and who will do anything to keep his job, so as not to be kicked out of his Black Metal band. A Super 16mm film, in colour and black and white, with long choreographies of sequence shots which follow the characters and also create forms and states through the camera movement that observes spaces and bodies, light and shadow.”

Nightsong by Maya Da-Rin (Brazil)

“When I saw her films, I was taken by surprise, not only because of the originality in dealing with such an urgent situation as is the one of the indigenous people of Brazil, but also for providing the main characters with a voice that has been silent for so long,” explained Brazilian producer Sabrina Garcia (prod company: Tamanduá Vermelho) of multi award-winning director Maya Da-Rin.

In the project Nightsong, which has received Hubert Bals Funds Script and Project Development support, Helena (7) lives with her parents at a large soy farm in southern Brazil. She is afflicted with sleep­walking and ever since her mother was diagnosed with cancer she has becomes friend with a Guarani indigenous woman who lives in the vicinity. When an unknown and pesticide-resistant plant begins to sprout in the fields, workers wonder where it has come from. But none of their speculations correspond to what Helena sees in her late-night walks.

The 100-minute project is budgeted at €600,000, with €10,850 in place. The film’s spoken languages are Portuguese and indigenous Guarani. Producer Garcia expects to shoot by the end of 2022 or the beginning of 2023, she confirmed and is looking for European and Latin America co-production partners, as well as sales agents and distributors “interested in joining the project from the beginning to work together on sales and marketing strategies.”

“For the Guarani, the devitalization and intoxication of the soil means the annihilation of their traditional way of life,” says director Maya. “According to their cosmovision, they're not the ones who possess the land – it is the land that possesses them. Over the last decade the increase in civilian armaments together with structural racism has exponentially increased violence and land disputes in Brazil. In many cases, the Guarani are driven from their land, not only by the state, but also by the farmers themselves who create armed militias or hire private security companies leading to the murder of hundreds of people and their leaders.”

“Despite this continuous and silent process of ethnoside, the Guarani continue to resist, occupying the farms or living in camps alongside highways near their traditional territories today covered in soy plantations. As in [previous film] The Fever, Nightsong is a film about identity and their relationship with their land, which investigates the intimate and personal feelings of the main characters in a broader political and social context in Brazil, something I'd like to film so the world can come to know - and I hope people will be touched by this story in the same way that I was,” she underlined.

The Right Answer by Mariia Ponomarova (Netherlands)

In the Family Affair Films project The Right Answer, when a young hard­working architect, Tania, takes on a prestigious job while going through her naturalization process, this brings her back to her youth in Ukraine when she participated in a TV quiz for super smart kids. Striving to win, Tania has to fight pressure both from outside and within herself.

The film is based on the experiences of the director who also took part in such a quiz, and is now living in Holland. “In general, I was raised to dream big, push hard, go that extra mile, but the bar was always too high,” explains director Mariia. “Now I'm a Ukrainian expat living in Amsterdam and like many of my friends from the show who are now overworked adults, I'm not a foreigner to mental exhaustion. Our main protagonist Tanja, a Ukrainian architect, living and working in Amsterdam, is experiencing similar issues.”

The 90-minute films is English/Dutch/Ukrainian language, with a total budget of €1,387,000 of which €14,000 is in place. It has received support from the Netherlands Film Fund.

“Combining the Eastern-European, specifically post-Soviet, normalisation of sacrificing yourself for the greater good, with the Western individual capitalistic achievers competition, Tania gets the pressure from both worlds,” points out Family Affair producer Noortje Wilschut. It challenges her own personality and it crashes narratives that she believed in from a young age. This clash creates a compelling point of view for a character who inhabits both worlds and has to deal with their respective pressures.”

“Mariia believes that the film should not just tap into the darkness of mental exhaustion, but also give the viewers a chance to come along for a character's journey,” Noortje adds. “Exhaustion often comes from sheer excitement about the workload and eagerness to do things better, stronger and more powerful. We hope to hook the audience into this energy from the first intense shots of the film. While we get to know protagonist Tania we will see events from her teenage years and will follow a parallel line during her adulthood. Exploring moments of pressure and release, we will see Tania's mental state up close and unleash the ultimate human power: empathy for someone in a hard emotional turmoil.”

Added Mariia: “If you're ready to explore the dark side of success through a powerful female-led story, join us to bring The Right Answer to international screens.”

Written by Nick Cunningham

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