Real life, real film project funding – Marc Hairapetian on JETS winners 2023

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“What a feeling!” sang Irene Cara in the 1983 music and dance film “Flashdance” directed by Adrian Lyne. Exactly 40 years later, one would like to join in the hymn that has become a worldwide hit when the winners of the seventh JETS initiative are announced. Finally, after three years of the Corona pandemic which feels like an eternity, the awards ceremony is taking place physically again. And how! The 73rd Berlinale is raging “next door”. JETS cannot and will not hold back. In the stylish ambience of the Canadian Embassy in the immediate vicinity of Potsdamer Platz and in the presence of guests of honour such as US actress Samantha Lockwood (“Hawaii Five-0”, “Shoot the Hero”), whose now 86-year-old father Gary Lockwood shot with Elvis Presley (“It Happened at the World Fair”), Elia Kazan (“Splendor in the Grass”) and Stanley Kramer (“R. P.M.”) and made film history as astronaut Frank Poole in Stanley Kubrick’s science fiction genius “2001: A Space Odyssey”, the winners are presented after two panels (“Why is the right cast still relevant for a film project?”, “Green shooting on an international level”) to great applause. 25 film projects with three times as many filmmakers from seven countries are at the start in 2023. After intensive jury discussions, there can only be one winner from each country. But as William Peschek, CEO of JETS and WEP Films, so aptly puts it? “At JETS there are only winners!” Accordingly, second places will also be awarded. And the rest who go home without a trophy this time may have already “landed” a co-production partner at the moderated come together with other film teams, world distributors and funding agencies. At this point, let’s turn our attention to the first-place winners!

The Wild West made in Germany! After the internationally successful Karl May films in the 1960s and the 2022 prequel “Der junge Häuptling Winnetou” (The Young Chief Winnetou), which thrilled children, young people and parents, director Andre Diwisch and producer Patrick Hoffmann set out to bring the Wild West atmosphere into the present day with “Cowboy Kids”. Their imaginative pitch, made with their own comic-like drawings, already received a lot of approval the day before: William is an introverted sixth-grader who prefers to spend his free time in front of the game console or the smartphone. But real life has much more to offer then linger as a couch potato: During the summer holidays, he meets the full-blooded cowgirl “Lasso Lilli” and her horde at the “Kidmen Ranch”, a run-down western theme park. And so the spoilt William becomes the daredevil gunslinger “Willy the Kid”. From now on he leads the “Cowboy Kids” to save the Western Park. A real western summer fairy tale, first love not excluded!

Germany’s neighbour Austria convinced the jury with a drama about the conflict over material inheritance, trauma experiences and the search for truth: In “Heirs” by Manuel Wetscher, Chris Dor and Bernhard Jarosch, the highly indebted financial speculator Marc can’t move fast enough to sell his inherited finca in Mallorca. His younger brother Thomas, however, has other things on his mind: in his mother’s orphaned room, surrounded by mementos, he is writing a novel about the family history. For the two brothers, this is the prelude to a journey into the autofictional past and at the same time a stronger confrontation with reality than either of them could have imagined at first. – Felix Austria has proven time and again in recent years (see the inexpensively produced films by Sebastian Brauneis “3freunde2feinde”, “1 Verabredung im Herbst”) that sophisticated cinema can be made in an entertaining way.

Trauma is also the subject of the Canadian project “Honey Bunch”, which Madeleine Sims-Fewer and Dusty Mancinelli want to direct, while Mancinelli also wants to produce together with Becky Yeboah: A bad car accident leaves Diana with a broken hip, other serious injuries and internal scars. Her supposedly loving husband Homer attends a four-day “Experiment Trauma Retreat” with her so she can fully recover. As the radical exercises become more intense, Diana discovers a dark secret and begins to question Homer’s true motives for bringing her to the clinic. A promising cinematic concept about the disturbing deconstruction of an imperfect relationship with gothic and science fiction elements, in which you don’t get rid of the ghosts that are called so quickly.

“Five Months Gone” from Ireland by screenwriter Marcus Lloyd, director Hildegard Ryan and producer Jason Forde also has great thriller potential. Respected doctor Steven Rivers is driving home with his pregnant wife after a Christmas party. He loses control of his car and crashes into a tree, causing the death of his unborn child. Three years later and now living alone, Steven cultivates a friendship with Amy, a homeless teenager in a hostel. He offers her a room in his house in return for housework, and she agrees. When she moves in, she quickly realises that Steven wants more from her than just housekeeping. Is he looking for a surrogate daughter or even a surrogate wife? The truth is much more sinister. For Amy discovers that another girl has disappeared before her. Not enough, she becomes pregnant and suddenly finds herself in a desperate struggle to save herself and her unborn child. A dark psycho-drama full of suspense. Alfred Hitchcock sends his regards!

In “The Legend of Magnus the Good” things are much more cheerful despite the tragic situations. In the Norwegian anime by screenwriter Rob Sprackling and co-producer Barbie Heusinger, we travel back to the year 1030: on the eve of the Battle of Stiklestad, we meet the eleven-year-old Prince Magnus and his dear but somewhat cowardly wolf Skoll. Magnus, on the other hand, is strong-willed and fearless. He believes that he must adopt the traditional Viking values of cold-blooded ruthlessness that his father always preaches if he is to be a good king one day. When King Olaf dies in battle, Magnus is betrayed by his ambitious uncle Harold, who plots his assassination. Magnus is fortunately saved by Odin’s magical ‘Sword of the Valkyries’ and transported through time and space to modern Oslo, pursued by Harold’s fearsome warriors. Magnus arrives at ‘Valhalla’, a gay bar in downtown Oslo, where he lands in the middle of an ‘It’s Raining Men’ performance put on not by The Weather Girls but by the ‘Valkyries’, a girl-group drag act of varying talent. He believes the drag queens are the real Valkyries from legend and asks them to help him take back the throne from his uncle. The Valkyries think Magnus is just a fanciful, yet hyperactive child, but their kind-hearted leader Divine convinces her two friends, pardon: girlfriends: Coco, a cheeky Somali refugee, and Zsazsa, an ageing former Norma Desmond-style starlet, to take Magnus under their wing. Happy ending not excluded! A furious play about history (and stories) including coming-of-age and gender elements for BIG and small!

The British-Canadian actress and director Shelagh McLeod has often demonstrated her great artistic potential. She has shared the stage with the exceptional Irish actor Peter O’Toole (“Lawrence of Arabia”, “Lord Jim”) and directed “Astronaut”, the JETS winning film of 2017, with Steven Spielberg’s favourite actor Richard Dreyfuss (“Jaws”, “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”), which had its international release in the Corona year 2020. She knows how to conjure up personal stories about unfulfilled dreams with utmost sensitivity on the big screen. In “Ada” she has found a congenial partner in screenwriter Ann Hawker: When 75-year-old Ada is diagnosed with dementia, she knows that her razor-sharp mind will be lost forever. But she doesn’t give up – NEVER! She decides to travel to an assisted suicide clinic in the Alps to end her life before she completely loses her mind. Only in her confusion she sets off for the wrong country – instead of Austria she travels to Switzerland – where she is rescued by her daughter Zoe. Ada refuses to return home. And so mother and daughter set off on a road trip in the mountains. Travelling together changes Zoe’s strained relationship with her mother. She has spent years seeking her approval; finally they have a chance to reconcile. As Ada struggles with increasingly frightening and dark memories, Zoe realises she must help her. Together they travel across the sparkling mountain peaks, trying to find the peace Ada desperately seeks. – The story, based on personal experience – Ann Hawker’s mother had dementia – promises great acting cinema. For the title role, McLeod and Hawker have already put out feelers for arguably the most important living British actress: the now 88-year-old Oscar winner Dame Judith “Judi” Olivia Dench (Elizabeth I in “Shakespeare in Love”), also famous as “M” from numerous “James Bond 007” films from “Golden Eye” (1995) to “Spectre” (2015), is their first choice. Let’s keep our fingers crossed that the financing will work out. But that shouldn’t be a problem with this story and the envisaged title heroine. The only question is who will play Zoe… Anyway: Rule Britania!

JETS promotes talent and brings them together with big stars. This may also be true for this year’s second place winners, as there are: Jennifer Westcott and Victoria Westscott (“Throwback Thursday”, Canada), Lukas Rinker & Tonio Kellner (“Paws”, Germany),

Rioghnach Ni Ghrioghair and Claire Mc Cabe (“The Hive”, Ireland), Ida Eldøen and Bente Maalen (“Recycled”, Norway) and Luca Nappa and Lionelle Galloppa (“Deep South”, UK). There is also a lot to tell about them and their projects, but that is a story for another time…

Marc Hairapetian is a freelance journalist (Frankfurter Rundschau, Berliner Zeitung, among others) and has been the editor of the cultural magazine Spirit – Ein Lächeln im Sturm (A Smile in the Storm), which he founded, since the age of 16.