Moving, socially relevant and suspicious of cult – The JETS 2021 Winners examined by Marc Hairapetian

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The winner takes it all? That may have been the case with the Swedish pop band ABBA in 1980. In love and in football to this day, too. But not with the JETS Initiative! Because here there are first and second winners. And even the applicants who did not make it to the podium of fame (and funding) with their film projects this time are not “out of mind”, as they can present their dream projects again next year and inform the jury members about the current state of development. And maybe then it will be them who will receive an award.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the event could only take place online this time and thus also the award ceremony, in which the judgments of the 17 jury members from eight countries were given by the guest of honour, the British-Australian actress, screenwriter and producer Caroline Goodall (HOOK, SCHINDLER’S LIST, THE BAY OF SILENCE). She announced the results with both empathy and enthusiasm. An after-show party like in 2020 in the Irish Embassy of Berlin had to be canceled this time. Nevertheless, there was applause for the winners from the total of 106 JETS participants who were connected via the Zoom video meeting. The contributions, which are so different in terms of content and style, were also taken into account in the concise jury reasons: From the small but moving story that should definitely be told on the big screen, to enthusiastic teams who presented their projects with real devotion, to the “high marketability” of independent and blockbuster materials was really a wide range. And now a brief highlight of the JETS winners for 2021:


1st place: SECTION Z, Director: Greg Jeffs, Producer: Kevin Wallis. JETS jury statement: “The script shows a lot of potential and marketability”.
When SECTION Z, the hottest show on television, is exposed as a scam, its biggest fan Clara is devastated until she realises she’s the only person who can actually save society from a true zombie invasion – an invasion that she unknowingly caused.
The genre comedy about a “natural born zombie killer” satirises sexism, capitalism and CGI technology. This self-irony makes the intentionally crude project even more appealing. Director Greg Jeffs (short film “Zombies and Indians”, 2019) and producer Kevin Wallis want to realise it with a total of 2 million Canadian dollars – including special effects and post-production.

2nd place: SALEM’S DIARY, Director: Leah Rifkin, Producer: Sonja Verpoort. JETS jury statement: ”More of an independent film quality”.
Ambrose Sanders has everything an 18-year old girl could want: money, a famous father and a place in a prestigious private school. And she has some – “explosive” – ​​secrets. While everything in her life seems perfect, it only takes one anonymous accuser for the beautiful facade to crumble into 1,000 pieces. To make matters worse, the prosecutor has an agenda that goes beyond bringing the truth to light. One of the worst allegations against Ambrose – a diary entry in which “she” confesses to being responsible for the death of another student – is a lie.
Director Leah Rifkin and her producer Sonja Verpoort proudly presented a “letter of interest” from Warner Bros. Entertainment. The two young women see the figure of Ambrose as “a woman who decides to fight, no matter what the consequences”.


1st place: KARLA, Director: Christina Tournatzés, Producer: Melanie Blocksdorf. JETS jury statement: “Fascinating script and very marketable”.
13-year-old Karla is a witness on trial. She is bringing charges against the person who should protect her most – her father. Judge Lamy believes her. Even so, he cannot obey the current legal rules because Karla is unable to talk about the details of the sexual abuses. The fight in court becomes the fight for her live. KARLA is based on a true story from 1962, in which a judge tried new and exemplary ways of using the law.
The pitch was very touching. You could feel that Christina Tournatzés is more than 100 percent behind this project. The filming of the court hearing, which should make history, is long overdue in times of #MeToo and is also of socio-political relevance. The message is: A brave young woman can change the world if someone stands behind her, in this case a man who literally stands up for justice as a compassionate lawyer. But everything would have been lost if the biological father had not been seen his guilt in front of court and confessed to what he did. A material of high, timeless explosiveness. Interesting for children and parents alike.

2nd: BUSH BOYS, Director: Rodney Charles, Producer: Yasmin Rams. JETS jury’s reasoning: “Highly commercial”.
Two estranged Nigerian brothers have to travel to New Mexico after the reported suicide of their third brother. When they realize that he has been brutally murdered, they are suddenly transported into a world of corrupt cops and secret societies in the southern United States. Together with an unruly gang of friends from London, Jamaica and France, the brothers have no choice but to create their own justice.
Rodney Charles has previously worked as an actor. Remember the action hit TEARS OF THE SUN (2003) by Antoine Fuqua. For his directorial debut, he chose none other than Sergio Leone. The presentation of BUSH BOYS gave the impression that the master of the spaghetti westerns will make a film with Quentin Tarantino and Guy Ritchie. For example, Charles could film in South Africa for a relatively inexpensive 1.5 million euros. Reflective reluctant heroes who incidentally do their bloody craft in the glaring sunlight to avenge their brother: That sounds like intelligently made action with a high entertainment factor and cult character!


1st place: THE SKWOIDS, Director: Ray Sullivan, Producer: Rob Davis. JETS jury’s reasoning: “Commercibility and a solid story“.
On the distant world of Hibernia, a small human colony eagerly awaits the arrival of their families, but 24 hours before the ship lands, a native species called THE SKWOIDS infiltrates the base and kills every human it can find. Only three survivors are left: the brilliant engineer Ruth Goodall (not to be confused with Caroline Goodall!), her pet Skwoid Tony, and a hard-nosed soldier named Rhodes. Only they can protect the incoming colony vessel. Only they can stop THE SKWOIDS!
PREDATOR meets GREMLINS. Based on the comic GOOD BUSINESS by Simon Roy, animation and science fiction specialist Ray Sullivan is now planning the full-length version of his four-minute short film from 2017 with Amy De Bhrún, Darryl Kinsella and loads of Skwoids. What begins so cruelly and sarcastically is said to end with a heartwarming coexistence between the humans and the indigenous people of Hibernia. Seasoned with a good pinch of British, pardon me, Irish humor, the numerous short films by Ray Sullivan on YouTube made a total of over 50 million viewers shudder and smile. Sullivan / Davis are looking for a co-production partner and three million euros for the lovingly designed Skwoid models and the post-production.

2nd place: THE LAST WATCH, Director: Sam Uhlemann, Producer: Juliane Wothe, JETS jury’s statement: “Very marketable, commercibility ”.
It’s the last 48 hours at the small, isolated Mount Rose Police Station. The office is closing down due to the government’s cutbacks. With the false arrest of an innocent young man and his death in police custody, mistakes are made that will force the remaining officers to break the law they swore to uphold. THE LAST WATCH is a story about what can happen when our survival is threatened and we violate our most basic moral beliefs by breaking the laws that keep us alive.
References to the transnational movement Black Lives Matter (BLM), founded in 2013, are unmistakable. After the African American George Floyd was killed in the course of a violent arrest on May 25, 2020 in Minneapolis, and the following day extensive demonstrations against police violence and racism started in numerous other cities in the USA, the Irish film project is more topical than ever. It takes 2.5 million euros to make it happen.


1st place: DARKEST FORREST, Producer Lillian Løvseth, Screenwriter: Trond Morten Kristensen Venaasen. JETS jury’s reasoning: “Early stages of development with good potential”.
Astrid wants to improve her mundane life, climbing the company ladder. She makes an unforgivable mistake and because of it, her eldest daughter is kidnapped. Driven by tremendous guilt and grief, Astrid sacrifices everything searching for her daughter, in the darkest forest. The only one who seems to understand her agony is Aleksander from the Red Cross. But Astrid will soon understand that Aleksander is not at all the savior he claims to be.
The dark forest as a metaphor for the depths of the human soul. According to Lillian Løvseth and Trond Morten Kristensen Venaasen, the allegorical thriller does not have to take place in Norway, even if the incomparable landscape setting, rich in myths and legends, would allow it. They look for a co-production partner here and calculate with 1 million euros. A sales agent is also being sought.

South Africa
1st place: THE TREK, Director Sandulela Asanda, Producer James C. Williamson. JETS jury’s reasoning: “Solid team, very marketable story”.
THE TREK is a horror western that follows an indigenous family and their British companion on their dangerous journey through the Kalahari Desert in the late 19th century. Unknown to them, the land is guarded by two malevolent ghosts who make a bet on their lives. Accompanied by a mysterious Khoisan stranger, the group suffers from hunger and desperation in the rough desert. But that’s not enough – they are pursued by a terrible, invisible enemy.
The pitch showed stills from Paul Thomas Anderson’s THERE WILL BE BLOOD. In the fatalistic story, which takes up South African horror myths as well as sexism and racism, all travelers are supposed to perish in the end. The ambitious director Sandulela Asanda would like to create the horror with light and shadow plays, a sophisticated sound design and well-dosed special effects. With 800,000 euros, Sadulela Asanda and her producer calculate very economically. They would also be grateful for a good casting agent.

2nd place: ROCKET BOY, Producers: Wandile Molebatsi, Lwazi Mvusi, Director: Natasja De Lange. JETS jury statement: “Very moving story, very marketable”.
ROCKET BOY is the story of a mathematical genius destined to work in the coal mines. However, Menzi has a truly fiery passion for rockets and dreams of becoming a rocket scientist – much to his father’s dislike. He fights hard against fate and for the tiny chance he has. And so in the process he discovered a new form of rocket fuel. Menzi breaks all the chains that were put on him in the small mining community and finally has the freedom to go to the stars.
A South African “coming of age” story in the style of GOOD WILL HUNTING (think of the grandiose interaction between Matt Damon and Robin Williams!) is envisioned by the filmmakers. In the early stages of the project, they only need 172,000 euros.

United Kingdom

1st place: SNOWFLAKES, Director: Faye Jackson, Producer: Barrington Paul Robinson. JETS JURY justification: “Based on a short form of very viable internationality”.
Esther and Miriam are forcibly deported from the UK to Jamaica when there’s an outbreak of a deadly virus that makes you feel good and only kills white people. Of course, Esther and Miriam are black, so in the middle of an impossible situation they suddenly have an advantage, and the director of the company that is deporting them wants to make a deal: If they retrieve the anti-virus for him, they can win back their freedom.
The film project of the hour about the global lockdown! It couldn’t be more current: Black Lives Matter versus COVID-19! Also relevant for the LGTB community, as one of the protagonists is lesbian. The other is said to have stolen drugs. Two underdogs save mankind: sounds very exciting.

2nd place: YEAR OF THE HEART, Director: Kelly Holmes, Producer: David Brown, Eoin O’Faolain. JETS jury statement: “Potential for international appeal”.
Welwyn Garden City, 1968. Where neighbors mow their lawns and curtains twitch … With her husband on business almost all the time, a lonely suburban housewife indulges in an adulterous affair with her young Italian gardener while her body goes through “the change”. She rebels against middle-class rules and develops an obsession with organ transplantations, leading to her menopause symptoms worsening until she hallucinates that someone stole her kidney at night … but is she hallucinating if her lover can see her scars too?
Very promising for genre and art house fans. Kelly Holmes wants to capture or undress a mature woman with a voyeuristic camera, including soul striptease.

As you can read, there is truly something for everyone! It is also very gratifying that, at least in the JETS initiative, women are no longer in the minority as filmmakers. The show must go on: For 2022, we can only hope that the award ceremony will take place physically again, because then all winners, whether first, second or upcoming, can celebrate together again!

Marc Hairapetian, founder and publisher of the culture magazine SPIRIT – A SMILE IN THE STORM