Once upon a time in Utrecht… HFM 2021 Stories and Beyond report

Writers from The Netherlands, France, Indonesia and South Africa were in the frame during the 2021 HFM Stories and Beyond session as they sought ways to radically boost the impact of their new and highly promising screenplays.

13th Year by Silas Miami (South Africa/Kenya, Uruca Media)

During his Holland Film Meeting pitch, South African director Silas Miami conceded that this was a “semi-autobiographical queer romance about two people who have no business being together.” In the film, budgeted at just shy of €1.4 million, lonely Dutch retailer Bastian escapes to Cape Town as part of a trial separation during the 13th year of his failing marriage, but falls in love with a young Kenyan man whose unconventional life makes him question every choice he’s ever made.

“Although 13th Year borrows heavily from codes and conventions of the romantic comedy genre complete with the grand gesture at the end, it's important that it's cinematic translation and it's tone honour and match the textual complexity and beauty of its African locations, both visually and sonically,” he added.

The film is produced by Elias Ribeiro, with Cait Pansegrouw taking a co-producer credit.Personally, for me as a feminist and as someone who strives to be a meaningful ally to the LGBTQ community, representation of narratives is very important to me in my work,” commented Cait. “As a team we feel that this project is an ode to love that really has the potential to break old barriers. And we're particularly excited to be telling it from Silas's point of view, considering that this is so deeply inspired by his own love story.”

A Good Girl by Maxime Kathari (France/Switzerland, Les Films du Buisson)

The film may be directed by Maxine, but it is written by his mum Christine Kathari, and told very much from her own very personal perspective.

In A Good Girl, while working the summer season in Ibiza to financially support her parents back in Brazil, Lia (32) is confronted with the news that she might be infertile. Anxiously awaiting her test results, she takes matters into her own hands and finds herself having unprotected sex, dangerously testing the limits of her body and her power over her future.

“The story of Lia is inspired by my own story,” says Christine. “The story of the secret power that we have deep inside our bodies as women, which I felt intensely when I had my first period. In the film we deal with this dizzying moment when Lia decides to use this power.”

A Good Girl is produced by Chachi Hauser who is collaborating on the project with filmmaker Dea Gjinovci, whose highly lauded Wake Up on Mars (2020) was itself lensed by director Maxine Kathari.

“We are very excited about this project and already managed to raise 100k in non-recoupable grants for development because of its deeply feminist point of view and the timeliness of its narrative,” says Chachi. “Lia's struggle, while highly personal, is that of many women internationally. She's an economic migrant who not only carries the financial burden of her family, but like many women today carries the sole responsibility for contraception. Lia is a character who has the depth and complexity that is historically granted to male characters in cinema.”

Adds Dea Gjinovci: “Really what we're looking for is international co-producers because the film is written in French by Swiss filmmakers. Our lead actress is Brazilian and the film will be shot in Ibiza, which is really this magical and free spirited island. That's the perfect setting for the story.”

Chance Encounters by Naomi van Niekerk (Netherlands/South Africa/France, DRYFSAND)

Sometimes a small event can have a large impact not only one's own life but also on the fate of generations to follow, reads the project logline.

For filmmaker Naomi van Niekerk that event was the shooting of her grandfather in South Africa in 1966, long before her birth. How does such a tragic event, as related by a mother, and set in a country in a unique political situation, affects one's childhood and future artistic development?

The 12-minute digital culture/animation project will be produced by Olivier Catherin (France) with the near legendary Dutchman Richard Valk as co-producer. The total budget is €180,000 with €11,000 so far raised. The project has received script development support from the National Film Foundation of South Africa. The stated goals at HFM were to find production funding, meet programmers in the Netherlands as well as distribution partners such as festivals and gallery spaces interested in showcasing film content.

“As a little girl, I used to imagine these events in a very cinematic language. The question that I would like to address with this form is how the narratives that are around us, like the stories that we hear, how does that influence who we become as human beings? How does that affect our identities and in my case how did it effect my artistic imagination?”


“This is really a family story, it's the kind of story that we hear many times during our lives and I have the feeling that this story really fed the imagination of Naomi during her childhood, and participated to create the artist that she is now and her desire to tell stories herself,” said Olivier. “As the producer, of course I'm very excited by these kind of topics and rather sure that the audience will share this interest.”

Richard Valk was equally enthusiastic. “It's really a pleasure to work with Naomi, not only because she's such a nice friendly woman, but because she's so talented. Already An Ordinary Blue Monday (2016) and also My mamma is bossies are on my favourite list of best animation films that were ever made. With Chance Encounters, I expect this film to be really unique.”

Collapse by Damien Faure (France/Norway, French Kiss)

Damien Faure’s long documentary project seems about as cinematic as one can get, and indicates how film itself can work as a chronicler of change, in this case climate change.

Not far from the North Pole, in the utterly deserted former Soviet city of Pyramiden, Vladimir and Elena try to find the traces of a vanished world and to reconnect with the wildlife. Thanks to the hundreds of old forgotten reels films found in the abandoned cinema, they can see the changes that climate change has wrought, but can also imagine new stories for the future. One day a curious visitor (Harald) arrives and tells them that mankind had anticipated the global catastrophe by sheltering all the plant seeds on Earth in a bunker dug into a mountain a few days walk from Pyramiden…

Producer Alice Balso has raised €86,000 towards the total budget of €182,000. Partners on the project are CNC, Procirep, Region Occitanie and the French Institute Oslo, and at HFM she was looking for looking for a Nordic broadcaster in order to conclude a co-production with ARTE G.E.I.E.

“If you ask me about why I produce this film, I would say of course, because of its topical issue,” she says. “Global warming is a major issue of our century, but [in Collapse] it's seen from a different point of view for once, that doesn't only deal with our human responsibility, but with our human need to dream and to invent a new way of living. So I will say I produce this documentary because I need, and we all need, to dream again about tomorrow.”

Cursed Circus by Fajar Nugros (Indonesia, IDN Pictures)

“The revenge motive of the main character is a reflection of how people carry their actual power in their voice,” days director Fajar Nugros of his new film, in which a disgraced member of a travelling stage troupe takes revenge on the main star by using a new mysterious power that can make all his terrifying stories come true.

The film was inspired by the director’s upbringing on Java, close to a sugar factory. “A place in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by railroad tracks that carried the sugar cane farming products to the sugar factory. The people there live such a hard life, poor and with no hope whatsoever. Even though every season, their sugar cane products were always processed to be sugar, they never taste the sweetness of their hard work. That story inspired me to carry out this cursed circus film.”

Two thirds of the film’s total budget of €1,566,698.00 are already raised. The languages spoken are Javanese and Indonesian. The producer is Susanti Dewi.

“Basically Fajar is not only my film director, but he's also my partner in life,” Susanti told HFM. “His talent, his vision, his focus on history, on social issues and social class in Indonesia, those are the things that connect us professionally and personally.”

“This movie is about vengeance for poverty, vengeance for injustice and vengeance for oppression,” added Fajar. “We're familiar with the expression, ‘the voice of the people is the voice of God.’ With that, I think every single one of us that experienced oppression should be able to express what we are feeling. We have to be able to say what we want. Therefore, the power of voice is a very important factor of this movie.”

Galeo of the Sleepwalkers by Andra Fembriarto (Indonesia, Studio Amarana)

The 90-minute €1 million fantasy animation was presented by director/producer Andra alongside fellow producer Ryandi Pratama. In the film, when a timid fisherboy is forced to embark on a journey to save his runaway sister who has been seduced by ghosts in a mysterious sea-forest, he has to master his fears of the sea and conquer his past demons in order to become a mighty Seawalker. But as soon as the fisherboy succeeds, he quickly realises that the trials of life are never ending, thus he must keep learning how to navigate the politics of society.

At HFM, the pair were looking for partners in the Netherlands and “any European country with interest in South East Asian contents and/or animation.”

“Galeo's world is inspired by the peoples of Indonesia. In my research process, I visited many fishing villages where I learned about the wisdom of living in balance with nature and of the mastery of oneself,” said Andra.

“Through this research, I aim to convey the sense of how it really feels to be in Indonesia. I want to take the audiences on a vibrant and colourful journey through open seas, floating villages and giant sea forests. So imagine this kind of tapestry of cultures in animated form. Galeo’s story also explores themes of extreme religious practices, which divide an otherwise united people, practices which sadly still exist in Indonesia. Through Galeo's journey we aim to show how people can keep practising their faith without taking an extreme route. It's a rumination on critical thinking and critical belief, which is crucial to Indonesia's spirituality,” he added.

Mata Hari by Paula van der Oest (Netherlands, Levitate Film)

Leading Dutch auteur Paula van der Oest takes on one of the 20th Century’s great female icons in her latest feature. She will produce the film together with Dutch production doyen Alain de Levita as well as Mark van Eeuwen.

The story of Mata Hari, who was executed for her alleged crimes of espionage, will be told in four distinct chapters in which she will be portrayed by four different actresses.

During HFM, Paula described the inherent complexities of her heroine (née Margaretha Geertruida Zelle in The Netherlands). “She was someone who refused to let men decide her fate. She wanted to have sex, but didn't want relationships,” Paula said. “She set her own rules, using her sensuality, even her sexuality, but always out of her own free will. Mata Hari was a dedicated artist, creating her artistic vocabulary, which was essential for her. Her career was more important than anything else in the world. She had convictions and was self-assured about her abilities and talent - and women were not like that in Mata Hara’s era.”

“And it's no surprise that men eventually accused her of treason. It was just very convenient to accuse this controversial elusive woman who confused so many men - men who couldn't possess or dictate to her, and [who] sentenced her to death.”

The film is budgeted at €9 million, with €422,500 already in place. Development support has been granted by the Netherlands Film Fund. Dutch distributor September Film is on board the film which will begin shooting in Summer 2022 in The Netherlands, France, Belgium and Indonesia. The target audience is women aged 30-60, said Levitate Film’s Hanneke Bosman who was looking to find partners in France, Indonesia and beyond, as well as sales interest.

“The four chapters will be played by four entirely different actresses,” Van der Oest confirmed. “This is to strike the fact that Mata Hari was an icon for all women of all ages, of all ethnicities. It will be a challenge to connect all the chapters in such a way that we stay close to the main characters, but I think this is the right approach for this movie. I want to tell Mata Hari's story, because I think it's entertaining but also important. She was a woman who fought for freedom. She was not a feminist, but she wanted to live the life that she wanted to live. And she wanted to have freedom, and sexual freedom, in a time where that was not evident. But I think freedom for women is still not evident these days: sexual freedom and equality. So it's an important and relevant story to tell today.”

Plantation Wildlust by Hesdy Lonwijk (Netherlands/Belgium/Suriname, Staccato Films)

Directed by Hesdy Lonwijk and produced by Dutch producer Emjay Rechsteiner, the €2 million project Plantation Wildlust tells an urgent and highly relevant story.

Based on the 2020 novel by Surinamese-Dutch writer Tessa Leuwsha, the film concerns the black overseer of a former slave plantation who vows to retain power when the new manager arrives from Europe with his ambitious young wife.


“Why now? Why me?” asks director Hesdy. “I think having people from African or, in my case, African diaspora, to stand at the helm of colonial films makes a huge difference. Steve McQueen, Barry Jenkins, just to name a few, you can see how their presence and the culture that they bring along on the project quickly turns around how you perceive the story.”

“What I want to focus on is first and foremost the characters, and next to that I like to approach the story as more of a theme of resilience instead of struggling,” he added. “And I also like to explore how I can use spirituality as a visual metaphor. In the end, my aim is to bring an epic tale to a large screen audience and to bring a film that can be both entertaining and insightful, gut-wrenching, at the same time a visceral bombardment, but moreso a moving tale about a man who just wants to be seen and fully accepted.”

Producer Emjay has so far raised €600,000 towards the Sranang/Dutch/Caribbean/Hindustani/Suriname/Indonesian-language film. The treatment is complete and he is looking for feedback (and partners) especially from “countries that share a colonial past,” such as Belgium, UK, Germany, Denmark, Spain and Portugal. “I think you will all be able to relate to this particular story,” he underlined to potential partners from these territories.

Shiny New World by Jan van Gorkum (Netherlands, Make Way Film)

Shiny New World is a throwback to the horror comedies from the 80s and 90s that I love, such as Evil Dead 2, combined with a modern twist,” said Jan of his hilarious upcoming comic-frightener.

In the €2.15 million project, produced by Monique van Kessel, a down on his luck construction worker gets caught up in a bloody power struggle between demons in human disguise, and discovers his true purpose in life: cleaning up their mess.

“It will be an exciting and unique film, which will be made with a relatively low budget for a genre film like this,” said Monique. “We believe that Shiny New World creates an original world with room for more adventures later on. At this point, we're looking for potential co-producers and sales partners in order to get to financing in place.” Monies raised so far amount to €400,000. At HFM she was looking co-producer(s) and world sales partners “with a passion for genre.”

“I really love to combine genres and create unique and quirky stories,” said director Jan. “So in that regard, this film really is a continuation of what I've been doing as a filmmaker so far. Shiny New World has everything that I love about genre film; horror, dark comedy, special effects, an amazing fast-paced story and original main characters you can relate to. And it's a film that will definitely appeal to audiences around the world that love this type of genre film.”

Show Up by Andrew Brukman (South Africa/UK, Spier Films)

Director Andrew Brukman set out his stall at the beginning of his online pitch to the HFM community. “Show Up is a queer ensemble road-trip documentary feature, following two brave, bold, and proudly queer performers as they lead us around South Africa, meeting members of the LGBT community effected by queer violence,” he said.

At the heart of the film are the “footloose and gender-free” Gayle-speaking drag comedian Nathan Kennedy, aka Miss Nicky K, and non-binary activist and performer The Muzi Zuma who together “pack into a sparkling bus overflowing with costumes, makeup and all manner of fabulous props.” Gayle is the secret language that the South African gay community was forced to create/adopt in the time of apartheid.

During HFM, producer Quinton B Fredericks was enticing potential partners in Europe and the US to invest in the €400,000 project, for which €11,500 is already in place.

“For the 90 minutes, we visit different locations around South Africa, meeting a contributor in each whose story is linked to different themes and issues related to queer violence in the community, followed by the camera in verité style,” said director Andrew. “Nathan and Muzi uncover their stories as everyone brainstorms a performance, based on what we're discovering.”

“The project started five years ago and in 2019, we got commissioned by the British Film Institute to make a documentary short based on Nathan and the Gayle language,” Andrew added. “I always said that this film took longer to make than I did to come out as a gay man. And in part, that was my initial connection to this. As I met and filmed with Nathan, he inspired me to accept myself.”

The Silent Path by Yonri Revolt (Indonesia, Yoikatra)

‘After living in Papua for 50 years, a Dutch Pastor wants to return to his hometown,’ reads the logline for the 70-minute feature doc project The Silent Path. ‘Before returning home, he revealed a story of the past that had never been told before.’

Soebertono Mote, aka Father Bert, came to Papua 50 years ago where he served in various ways. As a priest he had his own personal views on armed conflict, colonialism and love. His return to the Netherlands, where he died, seemed to signal that there were unfinished things in Papua.

The film’s visuals will be accompanied by extracts taken from the priest’s personal diaries relating to different periods of his life. “We'll present them as a voiceover that serves as a time signifier, which captures the personal, political and historical events that happened during those times,” says producer Rendy Rizal, whose film is budgeted at €29,900 (€5,500 secured).

Director Yonri told how he got to know the priest back in 2007 by attending his class on social activism, “and had been a long-time friend since then.”

Added producer Rendy: “He was always critical towards what happened during his 15 years of service in Papua. In 2003, he founded a youth organization campaigning and advocating for HIV and AIDS prevention. However one can also notice his white saviour and Eurocentric bias, that we grew critical of.”

In the notes for the project, the pair expand on this. “He is also an actor who has shifted many people's way of thinking, from taboo to commonplace, such as condom use, feminism and independence. In Papua these three things are taboo, especially independence - which often results in persecution based on allegations of separatism.”

“His task was finished when he gave motivation, inspiration and knowledge to Papua - and we, the filmmakers, are the ones who critically transformed it into a device to communicate our ideas of freedom,” they continue. “On the other hand, we are well aware that independence in action is a separatism in the eyes of the State. But of course, that is not the goal of this film. The goal that we want to achieve is a recognition that currently Papuans don’t have any independence and freedom in thinking nor act. But for now, we just need to build a bridge to communicate which we realize from the start is the task of cinema and the reason behind the birth of cinema.”

Ended Yonri: “As the saying goes, history is written by the victors. This film is the opposite of that quote.”

Tunis-Djerba by Amel Guellaty (France/Tunisia/Qatar, Haut les Mains Productions)

“I wrote this movie because I wanted to give to my generation, and the [next] one, a voice. I want to talk about this forgotten youth, but without writing a dark social drama. On the contrary, I want to talk about them, about us, but with optimism, humour and energy. Even if it tackles that post-revolution reality where the 2011 revolutions hopes are vanished, Tunis-Djerba is a feel good movie,” underlined director Amel Guellaty of her HFM Stories & Beyond project.

In the 100-minute Arab language film, partnered by Tunisian CNCI, French CNC and Doha Film Institute, Alyssa, a rebellious 19-year-old girl, and her friend Mehdi, 23, a shy and introverted boy, use their imagination to escape their unpromising fate. One day, they find out about a contest in the South of Tunisia that may allow them to flee for real. So they decide to undertake the road trip no matter what obstacles they may encounter.

Tunis-Djerba has a budget of €903,000, of which €205,000 is in place. Producer Karim Aitouna was at online HFM to find co-producers, a sales agent and a TV broadcaster. She confirmed that the script is finished following its development at the EAVE Producers Workshop and the Less is More writing workshop.

“When Amel gave me the first draft of Tunis-Djerba I was immediately seduced by the way that she dealt with serious subjects, such as depression, unemployment and immigration without ever falling into melodrama,” Karim told the HFM online audience during the pitch. “I also loved all of the imaginary and fantastic sides of the film that I think distinguishes it from the codes of the road movie genre, and makes it original. I thought to myself, I want to be part of the journey. I want to contribute to build this arthouse/ mainstream movie with its feel-good moments.”

Written by Nick Cunningham

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