Cinematic diversity in every respect – Marc Hairapetian on the runners-up in each country’s category at JETS 2023

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As is well known, the JETS initiative knows no losers. All participants who present their film projects are winners. And so the runners-up in the pitches in particular are now traditionally accorded great importance. The title “Second Winner” not only looks good on the certificate, but also sounds attractive to co-production partners, world distributors and funding agencies. 

This time, the award ceremony took place at the Canadian Embassy on Berlin’s Potsdamer Platz. So let’s let “Throwback Thursday”, the promising film project from the world’s second-largest country by area after Russia, take the lead in our consideration of the “Runners-Up.” Director Jennifer Westcott and producer Victoria Westwood would like to conjure up a charming mixture of the high school persiflage “17 Again” and the computer animation fun “Zoomania” on the screen: After letting his little sister down one too many times, a – magical – punishment follows on the heels for a teenage cheetah who is popular in his own right. He is (re)transformed into the loser he once was in middle school. To make matters worse, he has only one week left before he’s supposed to lead the basketball team to victory at the city championships and be crowned prom king. He must find a way to break the spell as soon as possible. Otherwise, he will remain an idiot forever… The motto here is: Laughter is allowed – for young and old!

Humorous but at its blackest and most satirical, the Irish pitch for “The Hive” from director Rioghnach Ni Ghrioghair and producer Claire Mc Cabe presents itself: Influencer Melanie, who is hip in every sense of the word, has arrived at the Hive HQ campus in Dublin Docklands to record a lucrative livestream celebration for her one-year anniversary. “Hive” is the name of a new social media. It suggests endless pleasure to its users and promises a safe and positive exchange of ideas via virtual interaction in real time. The “24-hour online party” is proclaimed by CEO Patrick Solveig, who is more than convinced of himself: Long live hedonism! In the course of the evening, however, it becomes clear that Hive is the target of a sinister terrorist cell made up of the “incels” Sebastian, Peter and Jaspar. When their kidnapping plans go horribly awry, they find themselves in a siege situation with Melanie, Patrick and a group of hostages. In the live stream tour de force, the hostages are literally forced to take part in a sick game designed to reveal who they really are for no other reason than so they can attack their incompetent attackers themselves! The inferno erupts as the hunters become the hunted in a bloody allegory of an internet dispute. The wild ride through the genres from dark comedy to horror thriller to media scolding is reminiscent of “Bodies Bodies Bodies”, “The Social Network” as well as the visionary German TV film “Das Millionenspiel” based on Robert Sheckley’s short story “The Prize of Peril”. On the day of its first broadcast, it was 18 October 1970, many viewers called ARD and applied for the same, thinking they had just seen real proceedings and not staged ones.

The British project “Deep South” by director Luca Nappa and producer Lionelle Galloppa is about a different kind of struggle, namely a culture clash. When Lello moved to London years ago, he finally left his difficult childhood behind. But when two childhood friends from Naples visit him, he realises that he can no longer escape his past. The two have still not outgrown the narrow-mindedness and toxic culture of their childhood. And then they also seem to be obsessed with “reviving” the “old Lello” of their youthful days, whether he likes it or not. The situation escalates when a gang of British boys at a party makes fun of the Italians’ broken English. They demand retribution for the discrimination. Faced with mounting pressure, will Lello fall into his old habits to survive the night? This is explosive material in which xenophobia, assimilation skills and self-reflection collide to create a thriller for discerning viewers.

An intense chamber play that is not only interesting for the LGBT community promises “Recycled” from Norway by Ida Eldøen (director) and Bente Maalen (producter): Mona Lisa (!), once an outgoing, cheerful woman, is now drowning in work and red wine, trying in vain to come to terms with the break-up with her girlfriend. As life (and the script) would have it, she rescues a woman from a clothes collection box on her way home from work at night. Mona Lisa immediately falls in love with the mysterious Emira. But she forgets to ask the beautiful stranger for her phone number. While looking for her, she sets herself up on a blind date with Trine. Will Mona Lisa find Emira, will she succumb to Trine’s charm – or even both? “Chance is the intersection of several necessities,” the Polish aphorist Stanisław Jerzy Lec once wrote. In “Recycled” this sentence hits the mark!

Germany, the host country of the JETS initiative for more than seven years now, has a project with “Paws” that also hits the bull’s-eye, right into the target of black humour. Lukas Rinker (director) and Tonio Kellner (producer) are working on an animal monster film with some raunchy gore elements around the young Inuit climate researcher Nook, who leads an expedition to the Arctic with her financier. Her science ship has broken down deep in the ice and her team is about to double-cross her and her cause to dig for oil. Then, when a hungry mother polar bear attacks the strangling crew and there’s no help in sight far and wide, their chances of survival plummet. Will Nook manage to keep the monstrous North Pole queen at bay and at the same time protect her habitat from destructive oil production? Trash elements and an ecological message are not mutually exclusive, and when it comes to animal monsters, it doesn’t always have to be “Jaws” by Steven Spielberg, who won this year’s Berlinale Honorary Bear Award and granted the author of these lines an interview.

On behalf of all the runners-up (and also the first winners), Lukas Rinker answers the question of whether participation in the JETS initiative has already paid off for them: “We are currently in talks with potential co-production partners. So far we’ve received a lot of good feedback and are getting offers for possible co-developments.” So now it’s a case of keeping your fingers firmly crossed!

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.