Winners and winners – Marc Hairapetian about the award winners of the JETS Initiative 2022

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In 1973, “The Exorcist”, based on William Peter Blatty’s novel, spread fear and terror in cinemas worldwide, with the tone being just as important as the sometimes more than drastic images: All the horror was practically the devilish tone of speaking – what he speaks and how he speaks. The reward for director William Friedkin and co.: box office records for the most commercially successful flick of the year and numerous awards, including two Oscars for “Best Screenplay” and “Best Sound”. There were also nominations in the categories “Best Production Design”, “Best Editing”, “Best Cinematography”, “Best Supporting Actor”, “Best Supporting Actress”, “Best Actress in a Leading Role”, “Best Director” and “Best Picture”. Yes, “The Exorcist” was the first horror film ever to be nominated for “Best Film”. Dracu – The Eleonore Case” has not yet reached that stage. After all, the horror story based on a true case about the exorcism of demons practised on a twelve-year-old girl from Romania by the young Viennese parasychologist Zoe Wassilko von Serecki in 1925 must first be financed and then realised. But the Capra Film project by director, screenwriter and co-producer Marc Schlegel and his co-producers Lola Basara and Peter Hengl has one thing ahead of “The Exorcist” even before shooting begins: Austria’s first place in the JETS Initiative 2022!

Felix Austria is participating for the first time in the joint effort of the film and television industry, the state film funding organisations and the private investment sector to create co-production opportunities for the international crowd of applicants. In cinematic terms, they have long ceased to be overshadowed by their big brother from Germany. In terms of acting quality, black humour – or more aptly: Viennese charm – and innovative storytelling, they have been ahead for a long time. The last two points were decisive for the jury – apart from marketability – for the second place of “Mission Granny” (director: Andreas Schmied, screenplay: Regine Anour, producers: Dunja Bernatzky / Loredana Rehekampff ) at the Junior Entertainment Talent Slate. The synopsis is whacky and offers entertainment for the whole family from 8 to 80: Kiki and Paul, the children of a divorced astronaut who has to go on an important mission to the International Space Station during the Christmas holidays, are shipped off to their grandmother in Vienna. To put it mildly, she is no picture-perfect grandmother: she has a biting dog and practices parenting methods that would have brought many US Marines to their knees. When the kids finally make friends with the powerful old lady, she is suddenly kidnapped by strangers. That’s when Kiki and Paul learn Grandma’s secret: Her grandmother was a top KGB agent turned defector! The makers want to demonstrate in a playful 3D manner that Austria, the world metropolis of theatre and (classical) music, is no longer a developing country in the field of animation: “Adabei”, as the Viennese say: Reminiscences of the “golden” post-war black-and-white era of cinema such as a chase in the sewers and the “Harry Lime Theme” played on the zither, which inspired Carol Reed’s immortal film noir classic “The Third Man” (1949, screenplay: Graham Greene! ) with Orson Welles as a charmingly unscrupulous penicilin pusher became the quintessential Vienna film. Despite all the local colour, co-production partners are of course very welcome here as in the other JETS projects!

The shortest distance between Austria and Canada is 7,166.83 km as the crow flies. And here, too, the second largest country in terms of area after Russia is increasingly stepping out of the shadow of the so-called “dream factory” from Hollywood. It has always produced highly talented actors such as William “Captain Kirk” Shatner or Christopher Plummer, who died last February. Directors such as Atom Egoyan or Dennis Villeneuve have helped Canadian cinema achieve world renown. Filmmaker Jim Donovan is also a true cineaste who, together with screenwriter Randy Duniz, producer Maryse Rouillard and producer Byron A. Martin, won first place in the JETS initiative for his home country: “Something Like Truth” could be a chamber drama that literally gets under your skin, with hints of crime and family drama. Protagonist Jacob Clarke is a homicide detective and a master at getting confessions. On most days, his workplace is one of the three barren interrogation rooms. But today he is pulled into all three rooms. In Interview Room One, his Internal Affairs colleague Angela Hughes is conducting her own investigation to find out what really happened the night Clarke’s partner, Detective Reyna Mercado, shot and killed a suspect. In Interview Room Two, Clarke’s daughter Rosie is waiting to talk to her father. She has found out that her mother had an affair and now she wants to know: What is her father going to do about it? If that’s not enough, there’s still interview room three…

Second place for Canada went to “Superluminal” (director and screenplay: Kristina Wagenbauer, producer: Jeanne-Marie Poulain, Line Sander Egede) about a daughter-mother conflict of a special kind: Belle is a 14-year-old girl, physically burdened with the typical puberty problems. Mentally, however, she is far superior to most adults. That is why she is bored with school. However, she sees a challenge in Dr. Weber’s particle physics seminar. To enrol in the local university, however, she has to be 21. So it’s up to the make-up pot of Mama Ksenia, who is an online sex worker! And so the secret life of a college student begins for her as “Gigi”! Mum finally gets wind of her daughter’s intellectual excursions and tries to lock her up at home. But nothing and no one can stop Belle.

In 1970, director Tom Toelle followed in the footsteps of Orson Welles’ groundbreaking radio programme “War of the Worlds” (1938) in the legendary TV film “The Million Dollar Game”. The screenplay was written by Wolfgang Menge, who adapted the short story “The Prize of Peril” by the US writer Robert Sheckley. The mockumentary, set to psychedelic music by Can co-founder Irmin Schmidt, is about a television show in which a contestant (impressively played by Jörg Pleva) has to flee for a week from contract killers (including the later “Nonstop Nonsense” comedian Dieter Hallervorden!). The population is expressly called upon to either help him or let him get busted. The show, trimmed for authenticity with staged exterior shots and cleverly interspersed “documentaries” and commercial breaks, looked so real that some television viewers thought they were watching a real manhunt when it was first broadcast on 18 October 1970 on ARD. Their reaction was also interesting: although indignation prevailed, some people called the station’s fictitious telephone number and wanted to sign up as a candidate in the role of the hunted or also as a hunter. This is what the German number one “The Deadline” (director: Mark Waters, script: Cory Hughes, Adrian Speckert, producers: Konstantin Korenchuk / Simon Pilarski): In a world where you have to show a salary of $100,000 by the age of 40, Larry Spitzfart just can’t make it. He is sent to a boot camp where he has two weeks to develop a business concept to present to “the entrepreneurs”. This is supposed to guarantee his freedom. When he fails, he is brutally murdered by the rich in a hunt-style manhunt. – Capitalism critique ultra hard boiled!

Fantasy and Christmas horror for BIG and small is offered by “Lyra’s Wish” by director Juliane Block and scriptwriter Wolf-Peter Arand, who also both want to produce: It’s the day before Christmas Eve and despite all the warnings not to upset the ghosts of Midwinter, defiant 12-year-old Lyra rebels. She argues with her mother, blames her for her family’s precarious financial situation and wishes she had never been born. Later that night, Santa’s creepy sidekick Krampus kidnaps the girl and throws her into a mysterious dungeon, which is in his magic bag. Here Lyra meets three of her classmates, Noah, Elli and Winston. They all have to pass exams together or burn in the dungeon forever… Second place for Germany!

A three-person psychological thriller took the top spot for Ireland: In “Duck Duck Goose” (director: Claire Frances Byrne, screenplay: Emma Wall, production: Jo Halpin), the horror comes in quietly. Greg surprises his girlfriend Holly on the first anniversary of their relationship with a weekend getaway at his parents’ holiday home – a luxurious farmhouse in a remote wooded area. He is unlike anyone Holly has ever met, and although she loves him, she sometimes struggles to understand his intentions. Greg has always had a charm that makes women fall at his feet and prevents them from seeing the narcissism hidden in his romantic gestures. The two are awakened at night by a rattling on the ground floor. Frightened, they walk towards the noise and find a young woman shivering in the hallway – it is Greg’s ex-girlfriend Sarah. Greg is an expert manipulator. He unleashes his perfidious ability to play the girls off against each other and entangle Holly in a whirlpool of mind games, while Sarah secretly struggles to get Holly on her side. Separating the truth from the lies becomes increasingly difficult as more questions pop into Holly’s head. A fatal ending seems inevitable, but who will be the victim? – I’m sure Alfred Hitchcock would have loved to make a film of this, if he were still alive.

Second place for Green Island went to “Hit Where It Hurts” (director/screenwriter: Roisin Agnew, producer: Róisín Geraghty) about a birdwatcher and chemistry lecturer who suffers from compulsive behaviour: When a sense of doomsday takes hold of her, she becomes involved with an environmental group called The R, and her growing despair begins to spill over into her personal life. She harms her journalist boyfriend Max with micro-poisonings, harasses a colleague by repeatedly eating his lunch, and shoots neighbourhood cats that endanger songbirds. After a controversy with a student leads to her being suspended from the university and she also finds out that Max has been unfaithful, Lucia decides that the time has come for extreme measures… No light fare, but a psychogram about a disturbed woman who must learn to repent and live “next to disaster”, so to speak.

South Africa is not only the filming location for many international productions for cost reasons, but also a hotbed of talent for young, aspiring filmmakers: Brad Katzen, who also developed the story for the very special “Hansel and Gretel” variant “Inyanga (“The Healer”) (see article on the WEP Films page under “News”, wants to direct “King Dog”. It goes without saying that he has written the script for it. His producer here is actor and dubbing artist Tumisho Masha. Their joint project is to be set in the exciting world of underground street fighting in South Africa and tells a powerfully gripping story of Khotso, a washed-up fighter with a troubled past. After witnessing his mother’s murder as a teenager without being able to intervene, he lives a life without much direction. He spends his nights organising illegal brawls. Not exactly the nicest job to earn a living. Then one day he meets Letoya, who is struggling with her own tragic circumstances. Khotso falls in love with her, but soon discovers that his girlfriend is in debt to the dangerous gangster Kong. He sees the only way to protect her is to “pay” her debt himself. For all its African flair, “King Dog” asks a question of universal proportions: can he save himself by saving her?

“Extravagant Ways to Say Goodbye” (director and screenplay: Liese Kuhn, production: Carolyn Carew) was worth second place for South Africa to the jury: The charming filmmaker Liese Kuhn manages the balancing act between laughing and crying, extroversion and introversion in her design. In a time of rapid technological growth, online personalities and calls for ecological heroism, Sam is approaching her 25th birthday and has an inordinate fear of her own death, the dying of those around her and perhaps even the collapse of the world itself. With the sudden return of her mother’s cancer, her world begins to come apart at the seams. She puts together a playlist for her own funeral, installs several calming apps and avoids open windows. After all, you could trip. Despite the burgeoning sense of instability, Sam tries to lead a seemingly normal life by going on dates, attending friends’ baby showers, going on job interviews and fulfilling her responsibilities as an au pair. “Extravagant Ways To Ray Goodbye” is a thoroughly comedic look at a frightening subject of a young woman in the 21st century and how she navigates grief and a kaleidoscope of dysfunctional relationships as she moves forward. 

The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is a classic film country that has consistently produced masterpieces since the inception of cinematography. Following in the footsteps of David Lean and Michael Powell/Emeric Pressburger, Jo Southwell (director) and Rachel Gold (producer) aim to make “Loyalty”, which came in at number one: Kat Mackenzie is an ambitious, dedicated and universally respected PE teacher in her community. However, she has a secret: Kat comes from an organised crime family, which she had to leave at a young age when her father took a murder she committed upon himself to protect her. At his request, Kat built a new life for herself – a life without crime. But her past still catches up with her when her naive younger brother Ross tracks her down and asks for her help to defeat the notorious gangster Khan who killed her older brother. Crime at is best made in Britain! And certainly a challenge for an ambitious character actress!

A successful mix of adventure film and heart-warming story is promised by the second place for UK: During the dangerous sailing voyage of “Proper Charlie” (director and screenplay: Veronica McKenzie, production: Natalie Edwards/Yolanda Torres) and his stowaway, granddaughter Denny, the pensioner realises that he can never return to the Trinidad of his youth and that after the death of his wife he has to look into a future and take one last chance to love and find a home. For all JETS winners and even those who applied this time but have not yet landed on the winner’s podium, the following again applies: It was not their last chance, but their first chance, and they also made use of it with their so different pitches. Because at JETS, EVERYONE is a winner!

Marc Hairapetian, Founder and publisher of the culture magazine SPIRIT – EIN LÄCHELN IM STURM