It isn’t getting any easier for producers of quality Arab movies to find financing, especially within their region where the only titles that consistently work at the box office are commercial Egyptian romancers, comedies and action pics that don’t travel internationally.

Still, Arab films with fresh narratives and visual styles burst forth on the international festival circuit in the aftermath of the so-called Arab Spring, which had industrial as well as creative consequences. And the cinematic collaboration with Europe is getting stronger.

Egyptian producer Mohamed Hefzy points out that the Arab film funding well got drier recently with the shuttering of the Abu Dhabi Film Festival and its Sanad film fund, just as private equity coin continues to be scarce “because a lot of these movies don’t pay back.” The only positive difference, he notes, “is there are more European co-productions” and several curated industry events “make it a little easier to connect with European producers.”

Hefzy’s Film Clinic shingle last year successfully worked both sides of the Arab cinema fence. With France’s Pyramide, it co-produced Mohamed Diab’s potent post-revolution political drama “Clash,” which was widely exported after playing in Cannes, but underperformed in the Middle East. Film Clinic also co-produced “Hepta,” Egypt’s top 2016 box office draw.

The big challenge is to make high end Arab movies that can play well at home and also abroad.

Berlin-based producer Roman Paul, whose Razor Film has co-produced several standout Arab titles including Hany Abu-Assad’s “Paradise Now” and Haifaa Al-Mansour’s “Wadjda,” the first feature out of Saudi Arabia, says he consciously tries to avoid making movies that only speak to Western audiences. “We think very, very hard with our [Arab] filmmakers about how to make a film that is also valid for the Arab world, specifically the country it comes from,” he adds.

Sadly, within the Arab world the market share for regional cinema has shrunk significantly, says Jacques Kruger, general manager of the Vox Cinemas chain.
Instability took its toll on the industry in Egypt, which is the region’s film production powerhouse, and this in turn “impacted the market share of Arabic language films in all the local markets,” Kruger notes. But there are signs of a recovery. According to the Egyptian Chamber of Cinema some 40 feature films were produced there last year, twice as many as in 2011, the year of the revolution.

Getting Arab movies on Middle East screens outside their country of origin is difficult, unless they are commercial Egyptian pics, the only ones with real pan-Arab reach, because it’s a large region with several Arab dialects. “There are differences in culture, differences in humor and a number of other aspects,” Kruger points out.
In the past decade new Arab film industry entities have emerged in oil-rich nations that are trying to build a film industry to diversify their economy.

Abu Dhabi-based Image Nation has produced several groundbreaking Emirati genre pics, including Ali Mostafa’s road movie “From A to B” and Tarantino-esque thriller “Rattle the Cage” by Majid Al Ansari. The Dubai Film Festival market has become the top movie mart in the Middle East. And the Doha Film Institute is now the most important funding entity for auteur-driven Arab fare and a key incubator and industry matchmaker with its unique Qumra event which blends creative workshop, co-production market, and festival elements.

“You now have Arab events and institutions that have made the rest of the world more exposed to Arab filmmaking,” says Paul. “Meeting someone from the Arab world who pitches you a project has become a more common part of the process.”
He thinks that in these ISIS-stricken times co-productions between Arab and European producers are bound to intensify.

“When there is a lot of conflict, there is also a need to understand more: who are we dealing with? It’s more of an obligation for us as producers and filmmakers to enhance understanding of each other.”


Chris Messina and Abigail Spencer’s romantic dramedy “The Sweet Life” has been acquired for digital release by The Orchard on April 11, Variety has learned exclusively.

Mockingbird Pictures has also announced the movie, directed by Rob Spera from a Jared Rappaport script, will have a limited theatrical release from Tugg in March with a portion of the proceeds going to suicide prevention groups. “The Sweet Life” is the story of two lost souls who embark on a road trip from Chicago to San Francisco in order to jump off the Golden Gate Bridge together — but find that plan getting complicated by falling in love with each other.

Tugg is a web-based platform that allows fans and content owners to play films in local theaters and community venues.

Kevin Iwashina and Adam Galen handled the sale on behalf of Preferred Content. WestEnd Films previously acquired international rights and is showing the film to buyers at the  European Film Market in Berlin.

“We are thrilled to have Tugg partnering with us to show the film theatrically, particularly since it will assist a number of suicide-prevention groups,” said Spera. “And the Orchard has already proven themselves to be an exciting and innovative partner with an inventive, passionate and dedicated staff.”

The film is produced by Mockingbird’s Julie Lynn and Bonnie Curtis. Maggie Siff, Tyson Ritter and J.D. Evermore also star. Spencer stars in the TV series “Timeless.” Messina was last seen in “Live by Night.”

Mockingbird’s comedy-drama “To the Bone,” starring Lily Collins, made its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival. Netflix picked up worldwide rights.


Films Distribution has come on board to sell Iranian Sou Abadi’s directorial debut, “Some Like It Veiled” (Cherchez la femme), a topical French comedy tackling serious issues such as radicalism, cross-cultural love and religious beliefs.

Produced by Michael Gentile’s The Film, “Some Like It Veiled” stars Felix Moati and Camélia Jordana as Armand and Leila, two lovers from a Parisian suburb whose romance hits a rough patch when Leila’s brother, Mahmoud, (William Lebghil) returns from a life-changing trip to Yemen. Eager to control Leila’s life, Mahmoud decides to confine his sister at home, which leaves Armand with no other choice then to start wearing a niqab, pretending to be a girl seeking private Koran lessons from Leila.

In spite of its daring topic, the movie has pulled powerful backers, including Mars Distribution, which will release the film in France, as well as Canal Plus, France 2, Orange, and the CNC’s selective scheme. The movie will be completed in mid-March.

Films Distribution is shopping the film at Berlin’s EFM.

A French-Iranian director, Abadi has directed several shorts, including “Bhaï bhaï” and documentaries, notably “SOS Teheran.”

Gentile said he received a synopsis of the project by mail three years ago and developed the film with Abadi for nearly three years. “When we started working on this project with Sou Abadi, the issues of radicalism and religious beliefs were already pressing with the Mahomet caricature scandal and Charlie Hebdo attacks, and then when we started raising the financing, the November 13th attacks in Paris happened. But all these events made this film even more compelling and timely,” explained Gentile.

“It’s an important film because it talks about today’s society, about issues like Salafism and unfair treatment towards women but it does so in a light, intelligent, and tender way,” added the producer, whose credits include Julie Delpy’s “Lolo” and Atiq Rahimi’s “The Patience Stone.”



BERLIN– Ad Vitam, one of France’s leading independent distribution companies, is set to produce Valeria Bruni Tedeschi’s “Les estivants,” the actress-turned-director’s follow-up to “A Castle in Italy” (pictured above) which competed at Cannes

Launched in 1998 by Gregory Gajos, Arthur Hallereau and Alexandra Henochsberg, Ad Vitam has been raising its profile and scope lately with the launch of sales outfit Alma Cinema in partnership with Charles Gillibert’s production company CG Cinema (“Mustang,” “Personal Shopper”).

Although Ad Vitam is usually mainly involved in distribution and co-production, it boarded Tedeschi’s project as a full-on producer because of Henochsberg’s close relationship with Tedeschi. A popular actress in Europe, Tedeschi recently starred in Paolo Virzi’s “Like Crazy,” which played at Directors’ Fortnight in cannes, and Bruno Dumont’s “Slack Bay,” a competition entry at Cannes in 2016.

Budgeted at 6 million euros ($6.8 million), “Les estivants” was written by Bruni Tedeschi and her co-screenwriters on “A Castle in Italy,” Agnès de Sacy and Noémie Lvovsky.

The film centers around Anna, a woman who travels with her daughter to spend a few days at lavish, isolated French Riviera property; there, she must overcome her recent heartbreak and pursue the writing of her next film.

Ad Vitam has been thriving in France’s ultra competitive distribution landscape thanks to European and American director-driven films, such as Damien Chazelle’s “Whiplash,” Jeff Nichols’ “Mud,” Hsiao-Hsien Hou’s “The Assassin,” Laszlo Nemes’ “Son of Saul,” Andrew Haigh’s “45 Years,” Benoît Delépine and Gustave Kervern’s “Mammuth,” Pablo Trapero’s “Carancho,” Deniz Gamze Ergüven’s “Mustang,” Marco Bellocchio’s “Sweet Dreams,” as well as Bruni Tedeschi’s “A Castle in Italy.”

While contending that the access to upscale American indies like “Whiplash” or “Mud” has been more difficult within the last couple years because these pics are being nabbed by Netflix, Amazon, and U.S. studios, Henochsberg said Ad Vitam remains dedicated to discovering and launching thought-provoking and ambitious films from talented emerging and well-established filmmakers from all around the world in France.

At Berlin, for instance, Ad Vitam picked up French rights to Sebastian Lelio’s buzzed-about “A Fantastic Woman,” which is competing at the festival and was just scooped by Sony Pictures Classics for North American, Australian and New Zealand. “A Fantastic Woman” is one of the rare completed films acquired by Ad Vitam: The company is now pre-buying about 80% of its 10-to-15-pic lineup at script stage, pointed out Gajos.

The company’s upcoming distribution slate includes Guillaume Nicloux’s “To the Ends of the Earth,” an Indochina-war set drama with Gerard Depardieu and Gaspard Ulliel, which Alma is shopping at the EFM. And Ad Vitam currently has Thierry Fremaux’s documentary “Lumière! L’aventure commence” out in theaters.

Rather than focusing on viral campaigns and digital distribution like various indie French outfits, Ad Vitam has been relying mostly traditional marketing campaigns and grassroots film promotion, favoring theatrical distribution, Hallereau explained, giving the recent example of Fremaux’s doc which is being backed by film schools and has been doing well in theaters.

“Earth” headlines the sales roster of Alma Cinema, which bowed six months ago and is headed by Sara May, who previously worked at TF1 and Embankment Films. The sales banner has been building an eclectic lineup of high-profile auteur films and edgier pics such as Swedish-Iranian director Milad Alami’s psychological drama “The Charmer,” Roland Møller-starrer “A Bluebird in My Heart” and Robin Aubert’s chiller “Ravenous” with Marc-André Grondin.


Ever since the bulbous, gorgeous gay erotica of one-time underground icon Tom of Finland crossed over from the locked drawer to the coffee table, it has been plagued by the same old line of discourse. Is it art or is it porn? Dome Karukoski’s straightforwardly titled biopic “Tom of Finland” makes pleasingly short work of that tedious question: It’s both, of course. Though otherwise rather too cautious about letting its freak flag fly, Karukoski’s conventionally attractive, enjoyable portrait is most effective at showcasing the bountiful beauty of Touko “Tom” Laaksonen’s fleshy, filthy sketches, as well as the empowered pursuit of pleasure for which they continue to stand. If the more intimate side of the frisky Finn’s story seems insufficiently liberated on screen — any kinky content here is pure vanilla relative to the rocky road of Tom’s own oeuvre — the film’s compromises should at least yield a wider, welcome audience for its rainbow flag-waving.

A crowd-pleasing choice of curtain-raiser at this year’s Gothenberg Film Festival — where it also landed a FIPRESCI award — “Tom of Finland” should easily rack up further fest bookings and an international spread of distribution deals. LGBT-specific programmers and buyers will obviously be first in line, but Laaksonen’s film has ample crossover potential thanks to a cinematic sensibility that’s only moderately queer, plus a surface as glossy as the taut black leather coating the cartoonish curves of Tom’s fantasy musclemen. There’s nothing here to deter a more playful filmmaker from more explicitly probing the intricacies of the artist’s personal fetishry, as well as his legacy in contemporary gay culture, but this serves as an appealing (albeit loosely factual) primer all the same.

The film’s opening reels are its strongest and most sinuous, as the closeted young Laaksonen (the lanky, likeable Pekka Strang, manfully playing the character across a half-century span) first tentatively acts on his same-sex desires while serving in the Finnish army during the Second World War: Karukoski has a sharp, precise sense of the wordless power in glances and gazes, giving early scenes of nighttime park cruising and bar-crawling a frisson of tension and electric connection. Scenes of police confrontation and military action — in particular, a bloody, supposedly formative run-in with a dreamy, dashingly mustachioed Russian paratrooper — are cannily framed through Laaksonen’s eyes to imply his burgeoning erotic fixation with authority and its iconography; costume designer Anna Vilppunen deftly clothes his surrounding menfolk in uniforms that, while historically authentic, all look tailored to a particular T.

After the war he moves in with his younger sister Kaija (Jessica Grabowsky), who also works at the advertising agency where he’s employed as an illustrator. She’s affectionate but homophobic, essentially stalling his coming-out process; for a time, it seems his life as a gay man will be limited to the postcard-sized sketches of free-and-easy horseplay between generously appendaged beefcakes that he doodle in his spare time. That changes when Kaija — evidently one of those women who wondered why Liberace couldn’t settle down with a nice girl — takes on the beautiful, covertly gay dancer Veli (Lauri Tilkanen) as a lodger. He and Laaksonen become smitten, emboldening the latter to bring his hidden artistic oeuvre slightly more out into the open; gradually, he accrues a following beyond Finland’s highly conservative borders, as the rechristened Tom’s drawings essentially provide the very blue blueprint for an international queer leather scene that thrives to this day.

This entire silent ascent to notoriety is chronicled, however formulaically, with tender loving care. Things get a bit sloppier in the second half, following an awkward, decade-skipping lurch in the timeline that glosses over some critical personal development on the protagonist’s part; a temporary shift in focus to the blossoming of his earliest American fan and eventual patron Doug (Seumas Sargent) is equally ungainly. If the film’s pacing never quite recovers from this leap, Tom’s Californication years still yield some lively material, as Karukoski and screenwriter Aleksi Bardy look back wistfully at an era of sexual revolution in the U.S. that pointedly seems all the more distant and golden in this age of aggressive conservatism.

This backlash to, and eventual liberated reclamation of, Tom’s art in the wake of the AIDS crisis is but one complicated angle that “Tom of Finland” hastens through a bit too glibly in its rush to an uplifting climax — one that could hardly be more joyously scored to Sylvester’s ecstatic disco anthem “Take Me to Heaven.” Such narrative cramming, in addition to the sexual beigening of the story’s colorful sexual content, are predictable pitfalls of this mainstream biopic format, but Karukoski’s film at least honors its subject’s work in some key respects: It’s handsome, smoothly executed and eager to entertain.

Film Review: 'Tom of Finland'

Reviewed at Soho Screening Rooms, London, Feb. 6, 2017. (In Gothenberg Film Festival — opener.) Running time: 116 MIN.


(Finland-Sweden-Denmark-Germany) A Helsinki-filmi Oy production in coproduction with Anagram Väst, Fridthjof Film, Neutrinos Prods. in association with Film and Music Entertainment, Backup Media. (International sales: Protagonist Pictures, London.) Produced by Aleksi Bardy, Miia Haavisto, Annika Sucksdorff. Executive producers, Dome Karukoski, Mike Downey, Sam Taylor, Ronnie Fridthjof. Co-producers, Malin Söderlund, Gunnar Carlsson, Miriam Nørgaard, Caroline Eybye, Ingvar Pórðarson, Sophie Mahlo, Johann Frank, Simon Perry.


Directed by Dome Karukoski. Screenplay, Aleksi Bardy, based on a story by Bardy, Karukoski. Camera (color, widescreen), Lasse Frank. Editor, Harri Ylönen.


Pekka Strang, Lauri Tilkanen, Jessica Grabowsky, Taisto Oksanen, Seumas Sargent, Niklas Hogner, Jakob Oftebro, Kari Hietalahti. (Finnish, English, German dialogue)

Demonstrating the attractiveness of Latino animation for big movie distributors, Lionsgate’s Grindstone Entertainment Group has acquired all North American rights to the Edward James Olmos executive-produced toon feature “El Americano, the Movie 3D.”

Sold by FilmSharks Intl. and written by Richard Pursel (“Sponge Bob,” “Ren & Stimpy”) and veteran animator Phil Roman, it is voiced by Lisa Kudrow and directed by Mexico’s Ricardo Arnaiz, one of the leading names in Latin American animation. Pic also stars Olmos, Cheech Marin, Rico Rodriguez (“Modern Family”) and Kate del Castillo.

“El Americano” will be distributed by Lionsgate Home Entertainment across all media.

In a separate deal, Netflix has taken U.S. SVOD rights to the film, which is co-directed by Mike Kunkel, an animator on Disney’s “Tarzan.” In 2016, Sony Pictures Television acquired the film for Latin America in a multi-territory deal.

The story follows Cuco, a young Mexican parrot, who embarks on an epic quest to persuade an American crime-fighting TV celeb to defend his family from bullies.

The fourth feature and first CG movie from Puebla, Mexico’s Animex Studios, headed by Arnaiz, it comes as Latin America haltingly builds an animation industry.



Brussels-based company Umedia is set to pursue its strategic expansion plan through a partnership with German banner Egoli Tossell Pictures.

Moves complements Umedia’s acquisition of independent production outfits Be-Films and Nexus Factory, and its opening an office in Vancouver.

The new deal, inked at the Berlinale, will allow Umedia to co-finance Egoli Tossell’s film development slate and have first-look rights to co-produce developed projects.

A Berlin-based production outfit founded by Jens Meurer and Judy Tossell in 2001, Egoli Tossell Pictures has produced such films as David Leveaux’s “The Exception,” Ron Howard’s “Rush,” Alexander Sukorov’s “Russian Ark,” Jalmari Helander’s “Big Game,” and Olivier Assayas’ “Carlos.”

“This is a key part of our group’s growth strategy, and an important step forward as we continue to expand our catalog and production capability. Umedia and Egoli Tossell have worked together on a number of projects, most recently ‘The Exception,’ with Lily James and Christopher Plummer, and this deal is a natural extension of our ongoing collaboration,” said Adrian Politowski, CEO of Umedia.

Tossell, meanwhile, said their “partnership is tried and tested and gives Egoli Tossell Pictures a strong European base for increasing (its) development capabilities while pooling (its) talent.”

With offices in London, Brussels, Paris, Vancouver, and Los Angeles, Umedia ranks as one of Europe’s leading production groups. The company is involved in development, production, financing, visual effects. Since bowing in 2004, Umedia has invested more than $500 million (via its Belgian tax shelter, equity and development funds) in 320 films.


BERLIN– “Drib,” Kristoffer Borgli’s stylish, comedy-filled feature set to world premiere at SXSW, is a hot title on TrustNordisk’s EFM slate. Weaving fiction and documentary, the pic turns on Amir Asgharnejad, an Oslo-based comedian and prankster who almost became the face of an energy drink.
Shot in Oslo and Los Angeles with Brett Gelman (“Joshy”), Adam Pearson (“Under the Skin”), “Drib” marks the feature debut of Borgli, a Norwegian filmmaker who gained critical acclaim with his short “Whateverest.” Ahead of SXSW, Borgli spoke to Variety about the themes at stake in “Drib,” from media manipulation and to the art business.

Variety: What made you want to tell the story of your friend Amir Asgharnejad?

When real life serves you up a story this good you sort of have to.

How relevant do you think this story is in today’s world?

Media manipulation, rage profiteering and trolling felt like a niche interest at the time of writing, but definitely has forced itself in to the mainstream the last year alone, so I would say extremely relevant in todays world.

Why was it important for you to include real footage of Amir in the film?

Are you thinking of the archival stuff? Instead of dramatizing the backstory, it felt both easier and more true to the nature of the project to include actual news footage from Amir’s appearances in the news. You can google a lot of the events that takes place in the film and see the footage – the film is in a lot of ways appropriation of real life and real people.

What kind of legal challenges did you face to make “Drib”?

Information wants to be free, that’s why we have NDA’s. We ended up changing so much factual information, from brand names to «sensitive» information about people and places that I can’t differentiate between the facts and the fiction any longer.

What are you denouncing in “Drib”? Do you think the same story would have happened elsewhere?

To some extent the film tracks how something culturally new and different gets absorbed, branded and turned in to commerce; and how fast that happens now. It’s not exclusive to advertising, TV networks, film studios or publishing houses all search for the next cool thing. Elaborate pranking/trolling, like that of Orson Welles or Andy Kaufman, can be seen as a sort of revenge for that.

The film is very stylized. What is the idea behind this visual style?

We follow an advertising process, and the visual aspect are often set by their premises; flashy and stylized by manipulative or even just shallow motives – and I loved shooting heavily lit studio product shots, or close ups of a “Drib” jacket in slow motion.

What’s the common thread between your short “Whateverest” and “Drib”?

I guess a key commonality with “Whateverest” and “Drib” is that I appropriate the personality and life of a person close to me, and turn them into my film characters, only changing certain things.

What do you want to direct next? Another English-language movie or a more local story?

I want to keep telling personal stories, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be local. Serialized formats are interesting too!


In 1992, Catherine Gund met legendary Mexican singer Chavela Vargas and filmed her with a simple video camera; after Chavela’s death at the age of 93 in 2012, she unearthed the footage and discovered she had an invaluable record of the great artist candidly responding to questions ranging from career details to her philosophy on life. This fuzzy material forms the core of “Chavela,” a justifiably laudatory love letter to a woman whose voice drew forth a song’s every emotion, and whose life as a trouser-wearing lesbian celebrity became an inspiration throughout the Spanish-speaking world. Loaded with concert footage, interviews with friends, and terrific photos, this well-balanced documentary directed by Gund and Daresha Kyi celebrates the woman and the legend, and if the stock archival material doesn’t always fit, few will mind. Festival play is assured, but pubcasters and specialty art houses should also take note.

After watching the film, it’s hard to separate the image of the woman from the sounds she made. She had two zeniths: During the first, she already wore her scandalous pants and signature poncho, her hair pulled back to emphasize her smooth, confident face. This was the time when she was the lover of Frida Kahlo, among many others. Decades later, following a 12-year hiatus spent in an alcoholic spiral, she returned with short white hair and lined features, even more determined than before to conquer the world.

Gund’s method of conquest was her voice. Fellow singer Eugenia León talks about how Chavela tossed aside the trappings and embellishments of traditional Mexican song (and presentation), zeroing in on the wounded soul called forth by “ranchera” music. Gund (“Born to Fly”) and Kyi open with a 1991 Mexico City concert in which the 72-year-old sings with an emotion that, despite the exaggeration of performance, draws forth the wellspring of pain that comes from “soledad,” or “solitude.” Even as her voice became less supple, she was able to pour into her songs the intensity of loves that caused unwelcome anguish yet unrenounceable sorrow.

Chavela’s pain began early in life, when her parents withheld affection and everyone denigrated her boyish manner. Full of rage and realizing that her birthplace, Costa Rica, was too provincial for her tastes, she went to Mexico where she was taken up by the cabaret world. At first she played the game, wearing gowns and high heels, but her career properly took off when she found her true style and became the bohemian darling of the café crowd. That’s also when the drinking began, well-partnered by master ranchera singer-songwriter José Alfredo Jiménez.

When the alcoholism became chronic, her career took a nosedive. Broke and alone, she seems to have lived in a haze, rescued by her relationship with lawyer Alicia Pérez Duarte. When that ended, nursing a major new sorrow, she resurrected herself, this time in Spain where Pedro Almodóvar did much to spread the word. Filled with a new hunger and lapping up the adulatory audiences, Chavela finally transitioned from cabaret houses to leading concert halls, performing until practically her last breath.

The documentary packs in a lot of information but doesn’t feel crowded, and the concert footage will help recruit legions of new fans. Many undoubtedly will first be drawn to the woman’s bravery, her insistence on living life her way, and though she didn’t publicly acknowledge her sexuality until she was 81, she presented herself in a manner that left little ambiguity on that score. What makes Chavela so special though is the way she exposed her soul in song: as a lesbian unwilling and unable to hide, and also as a wounded woman who recalls lost loves with pain but without regret.

Gund and Kyi load up on evocative photos and insightful interviews, though Gund’s own recordings from 1992 are the most revelatory in demonstrating Chavela’s mix of confidence with injured pride and a flirtatious desire to control her own legend. The only place the directors trip up is in the generic archive footage used to set each place in time and space: The period is often wrong, and the blandness of the images never really illustrates the cities where Chavela’s outsized presence was felt.

Berlin Film Review: 'Chavela'

Reviewed at Berlin Film Festival (Panorama Documentary), Feb. 10, 2017. Running time: 91 MIN.


(Documentary) An Aubin Pictures production. (International sales: Latido Films, Madrid.) Producers: Catherine Gund, Daresha Kyi. Executive producers: Lynda Weinman, Bruce Heavin.


Director, writer: Catherine Gund, Daresha Kyi. Camera (color): Gund, Natalia Cuevas, Paula Gutiérrez Orío. Editor: Carla Gutierrez.


Chavela Vargas, Eugenia León, Jesusa Rodríguez, Tania Libertad, Marcela Rodríguez, José Alfredo Jiménez, Jr., Alicia Pérez Duarte, Betty Carol Sellen, Patria Jiménez, Diana Ortega, Tlany Ortega, Liliana Felipe, Laura García-Lorca, Elena Benarroch, Pedro Almodóvar, Miguel Bosé, Martirio, Mariana Gyalui. (Spanish, English dialogue)

Italian actress Matilda Lutz (“Rings”) is set to topline Coralie Fargeat’s directorial debut “Revenge,” a female-powered thriller.

“Revenge,” which will be in both French and English, toplines Lutz as woman seeking revenge after being abused by three men and left for dead in the desert.

The film is produced by Marc-Etienne Schwartz’s M.E.S. Prods. and Marc Stanimirovic’s Monkey Pack Films. Charades, the outfit recently launched by Carole Baraton, Yohann Comte, Pierre Mazars, and Constantin Briest, is co-producing and handling international sales. Logical Pictures and Nexus Factory are also co-producing.

Schwartz, whose production credits include Vianney Lebasque’s “The Dream Kids” – which was released in France by EuropaCorp — said he discovered Fargeat when her sci-fi short “Reality +” played at Tribeca.

Schwartz added that “Revenge” will have a stylish look thanks to Fargeat’s taste for genre, as well as its creative team which brings together cinematographer Robrecht Heyvaert (“The Ardennes”) and original score by Robin Coudert (“Horns”).

“At the beginning ‘Revenge’ plays with this superficial representation [of a young woman] and then reverses it: The female character becomes the strong heroin of the movie and the one who drives the action,” explained Fargeat.

Kevin Janssens, Vincent Colombe and Guillaume Bouchède complete the cast of the movie, which just started shooting this week in Morocco. Rézo Films has acquired French distribution rights. Canal Plus and Cine Plus have pre-bought the movie.


Stand-up comedian and former “The Daily Show” producer Jena Friedman is to make her directorial debut with comedy “Serial Dater,” which stars Imogen Poots (“Green Room,” “Knight of Cups”), Timothy Simons (HBO’s “Veep”) and John Cho (“Star Trek” and “Harold and Kumar” franchises). WestEnd Films has started international sales in Berlin.

The movie, which shoots this summer, follows Jane, a career-driven 30-year-old surviving singledom in New York City. “Enter Ted, a.k.a. the perfect guy: he’s handsome, he’s fun, he’s smart. Oh, and he might also be a serial killer,” according to a statement. “And if he is… is being in a loving relationship with a serial killer worse than going back to being a single woman in her 30s?”

“’Serial Dater’ is a dark romantic comedy about love and relationships, and the compromises we make to sustain them,” Friedman said. “The goal is let those who watch ‘Serial Dater’ laugh at the compromises they make for love as well as serve as a morbid little lullaby for those struggling to find bedmates in a city that never sleeps.”

The film is produced by Molly Conners (“Birdman,” “Tulip Fever”), Anders Bard (“I Love You Man,” “Along Came Polly”), Amanda Bowers (“Wish I Was Here”), Jane Oster (“The Birth of a Nation”) and Friedman. It falls under WestEnd’s recently launched female-audience brand WeLove, in addition to the recently announced “The Sweet Life.”


A lonely factory worker traveling to his rural homeland in the mountains of South Africa’s Eastern Cape marks the entry point into the astonishing world of “The Wound,” John Trengove’s powerful debut feature, which opens the Panorama section of the 67th Berlin Film Festival following its world premiere in Sundance.

The film centers on Xolani, one of the mentors tasked with looking after a group of teenage boys taking part in the traditional Xhosa rite of passage. Through his relationship with Kwanda, a coddled initiate from the big city, and Vija, a childhood friend who struggles to reciprocate Xolani’s love, “The Wound” offers an unflinching examination of sexuality, masculinity and cultural identity.

With the movie’s spotlight at the Panorama, which has historically had a focus on gay, lesbian and transgender films, “The Wound” offers audiences a captivating portrait of what Trengove describes as “alternative forms of African masculinity.”

“If you look at African cinema in general…the depictions of black masculinity are so incredibly narrow and very one-dimensional,” he says. “There was a real absence of complex and alternative male characters, and an absence of queer imagery in South African film.”

“The Wound” was co-written by Trengove, Thando Mgqolozana and Malusi Bengu, and stars Nakhane Touré, an acclaimed musician and novelist making his acting debut, along with Bongile Mantsai and Niza Jay Ncoyini.

Produced by Urucu Media, the film is a South Africa/Germany/Netherlands/France co-production, and will be represented at Berlin’s European Film Market by global sales agent Pyramide.

The film offers a daring exploration of a taboo world. The Xhosa initiation ceremonies typically take place in remote areas and are off-limits to outsiders, the often perilous conditions making them the focus of intense public scrutiny in South Africa each year. According to local media, at least 23 young men died during initiation rites in December.

Yet Trengove says he didn’t want to “hijack the film” by presenting a sensationalized tabloid version of rites that are often misunderstood by critics. “The ritual is vast,” he says. “But most of it is really not my space to talk about.”

As a queer filmmaker, he says he was able instead to “make a certain type of contribution and disruption” by focusing on same-sex desire.

“I was interested in what happens in the company of men when they organize themselves outside of the codes of their everyday lives,” he says. “There’s a very rich and dynamic range of experience, from violence to power struggles, right through to intimacy and sexuality.”

At the movie’s emotional core is Xolani, a conflicted arrival from the city who according to Trengove embodies his own middle-class value system, with “liberal ideas about individual freedom.” Thrust against the traditional values of his Xhosa community, though, Xolani is forced to make difficult choices that put those liberal ideas to the test.

Once he recognized that the film’s hero is, in fact, an antagonist to his own community, Trengove was able to unlock his own complicated role as an outsider bringing this story to the screen.

“It’s been a very uncomfortable and somewhat problematic relationship, and it’s something that I, throughout the process of making the film, had to remain conscious of,” he says.

Crafting the movie around the initiation ritual posed other problems. While South Africa boasts a number of accomplished Xhosa actors in film and theater, most were wary of depicting the ritual onscreen—a taboo, says Trengove, that was considered even more transgressive than the same-sex love scenes in the movie.

But throughout the long process of researching the film, which included hundreds of interviews with Xhosa men, Trengove noticed a shift in attitudes. “While there was a resistance from the more conservative traditionalists, there was also a very strong desire amongst a new generation of Xhosa men to speak about the ritual,” he says.

Integral to the creative process was the collaboration with co-writer Thando Mgqolozana, a Xhosa novelist who depicted the world of initiations in his book “A Man Who is Not a Man.”

Hoping to avoid making what he describes as “a generic, half-baked piece of cultural appropriation,” Trengove also turned to the local Xhosa community where the movie was lensed, who he credits with “breath[ing] a degree of authenticity into the film.”

While some were at first skeptical of the project, he was surprised to find “there was absolutely no resistance” once shooting was underway. Each member of the all-male cast had experienced the initiation ritual firsthand, and the script was often revised on the fly as they added their own memories and interpretations to the story.

“It was kind of a point of pride,” says Trengove, of the community’s reaction to the film, “[that] if we’re going to do this, then we’re going to do it right.”


If Michael Winterbottom was hoping the title “On the Road” would lend an associative shot of Kerouacian cred to his roving kinda-rock-doc, the finished film does little to live up to it. A less in-your-face retread of his 2004 vérité-style music romance “9 Songs,” the prolific director’s latest finds him treading water artistically, bringing few new ideas to the table in a supposedly unscripted project that’s half a visual tour diary for the British alternative band Wolf Alice and half a fictional backstage romance between two of their crew members. Neither component ever fully comes into its own, despite an appreciably roomy two-hour running time, and even its most audacious device — the undifferentiated braiding of pure documentary and narrative footage — feels a tad old hat relative to newer hybrid forms in nonfiction filmmaking.

Opening the Berlinale’s Generation 14plus program following a low-key premiere at last year’s London Film Festival, this amiable misfire will be of interest chiefly to Winterbottom completists and the Grammy-nominated band’s growing fanbase — distributors might not see much theatrical potential in that particular Venn diagram, but pushing its musical aspects could reap some rewards in ancillary. For Winterbottom, meanwhile, “On the Road” is merely another pitstop in a career that continues to meander all over the map in terms of genre and style. Whether or not the film is quite as dashed-off as its on-the-fly aesthetic would have you think, it’s the latest in a string of the director’s less completely formed works to suggest that his restless work ethic is a double-edged virtue.

Die-hard devotees of Wolf Alice — a London four-piece whose shoegaze-influenced neo-grunge contains just enough dark fantasy to honor the Angela Carter reference in their name — may be surprised to find that the band isn’t really the star of “On the Road,” even as all the film’s activity fundamentally revolves around them. As the title promises, this is essentially a road movie, connecting a string of the band’s U.K. gigs beginning with Belfast and ending in London. Though frontwoman Ellie Roswell and her three male cohorts exude dreamy onstage charisma in the film’s handful of clammily atmospheric concert sequences, they’re collectively a remote, even sullen, presence away from the bright lights.

It swiftly becomes clear that this isn’t going to be one of those “get to know the band” fan-service documentaries. Indeed, Winterbottom perhaps even has a little fun at their expense. The camera never addresses the quartet directly, but does passively observe their ill grace in a variety of uninspiring interview setups — most amusingly, a BBC Nottingham radio spot where they’re second on the docket after a dreary report on ash tree disease.

It’s frankly a relief when the film regularly drifts away from them to focus on the warmer dynamic between Londoner Estelle (Leah Harvey), a 21-year-old record-label rep and aspiring singer-songwriter, and Scotsman Joe (James McArdle), an affable, slightly older roadie. Meeting at the outset of the tour, they forge a casual connection that, through the sheer grinding proximity of tour-bus living, eventually morphs into something more. Seemingly improvised between the actors — the film credits no screenwriter — this isn’t exactly a love story for the ages so much as a portrait of two bored, somewhat lonely people making the best of what’s available.

That modesty is at once disarming and aggravating: Estelle and Joe’s low-stakes friendship with benefits is certainly credible, but it’s hard to see why audiences should invest much in these attractively indifferent characters. It’s certainly not for a series of tame hotel-room sex scenes that lack even the ballyhoo factor of similar action in “9 Songs,” nor for the sliver of a more troubled, compelling inner life that is fleetingly teased when James meets his mother (Winterbottom loyalist Shirley Henderson) for a faintly tense drink in a Glasgow pub. McArdle (whom the most eagle-eyed of “Star Wars” fans may recognize from a minor role in “The Force Awakens”) and Harvey are both promisingly likeable, lively-eyed performers, while the latter’s off-duty strumming and crooning is sweet enough to merit a gig spotlight of her own, but even their combined charms can’t sustain two hours of such noncommittal noodling.

Technically, “On the Road” is distinguished by Winterbottom’s usual brand of lightly scuffed polish, with cinematographer James Clarke (who also shot “Everyday” and “The Trip to Italy” for the helmer) honoring the project’s semi-pretense of documentary spontaneity while bringing a cultivated, khaki-hued sense of weather to proceedings. Sound design during the concert sequences is deliberately distorted, as it would be for those on ground — which only serves to emphasize the crystalline prettiness of Wolf Alice’s acoustic broadcast rendition of the single “Fluffy.” Finally, “On the Road” showcases the strengths of a band to which you’d rather listen than speak.

Film Review: 'On the Road'

Reviewed at London Film Festival (Sonic), Oct. 9, 2016. (Also in Berlin Film Festival — Generation 14plus opener.) Running time: 121 MIN.


(U.K.) A Lorton Entertainment presentation of a Revolution Films production. (Sales: Independent Film Company, London.) Produced by Melissa Parmenter, Anthony Wilcox. Executive producers, Julian Bird, Abi Gadsby, Declan Reddington.


Directed by Michael Winterbottom. Camera (color, widescreen), James Clarke. Editor, Marc Richardson.


Leah Harvey, James McArdle, Ellie Rowsell, Joff Oddie, Joel Amey, Theo Ellis, Paul Popplewell, Shirley Henderson.

Open Road Films has acquired all U.S. distribution rights to Mark Steven Johnson’s “Finding Steve McQueen.” The heist movie, which Open Road plans to release wide in 2018, stars Travis Fimmel, Forest Whitaker, William Fichtner and Rachael Taylor. The film was introduced to buyers at the European Film Market in Berlin by AMBI Distribution, the worldwide sales arm of AMBI Group.

“‘Finding Steve McQueen’ is an explosive, character-driven film, smartly told in a way that will keep audiences guessing throughout,” said AMBI’s Andrea Iervolino, who negotiated the deal with Open Road alongside AMBI’s Silvio Muraglia and Joseph Cohen of Paradox Studios. “Open Road has outlined a masterful marketing and distribution plan that will allow this film to perform very well.”

Taking place in 1972 it tells the true story of the biggest bank heist in U.S. history when a gang of thieves from Youngstown, Ohio, attempted to steal $30 million in illegal contributions and blackmail money from President Richard Nixon’s secret fund. The script was written by Ken Hixon and Keith Sharon.

“Finding Steve McQueen” is an Identity Films/Paradox Studios/AMBI Media Group production. Anthony Mastromauro, Silvio Muraglia, Andrea Iervolino, Monika Bacardi and Alexandra Klim serve as producers. Mikael Wiren serves as executive producer.

The deal was negotiated on behalf of Open Road Films by CEO Tom Ortenberg, Chief Operating Officer and General Counsel, Elliott Kleinberg and SVP Acquisitions, Lejo Pet.


Fortissimo Films, the Amsterdam- and Hong Kong-based sales company that filed for bankruptcy in August last year, may be refloated.

For the past few months, the company has been controlled by a court-appointed administrator in the Netherlands.

Now it appears that a small consortium, including Chinese production and investment firm Hehe Pictures, are preparing to revive the firm as a sales and production combine.

Former chairman, Michael J. Werner is not involved in the initiative. Nor is London-based former executive Nicole Mackey. She has taken a position as head of sales at Hanway Films.