Where do you meet an angry polar bear mother who wants to protect her cub from the participants of an Arctic expedition, but also a daughter who has been underfed for a long time and wants to spend one last holiday abroad with her dementia-stricken mother? At JETS, of course! “Paws” from Germany (director: Lukas Rinker, producer: Tonio Kellner) and “An Austrian Holiday” from the United Kingdom (director: Ann Hawker, producer: Shelagh McLeod) are promising film projects that could not be more different. While on the one hand genre specialists with a penchant for lots of blood on the big screen will certainly get their money’s worth, on the other hand arthouse cinema of the highest order is guaranteed. Let’s take a look at six very special JETS projects from six different countries.
Austria is now participating in JETS for the second time. “Heirs” by Manuel Wetscher (director) and Bernhard Holzhammer (producer) is a conflict between brothers about material inheritance, the search for truth and the embodiment of trauma experiences. How do the two want to shape the film visually, especially the journey into the protagonist’s fictional past? “For us it is important that the story has no hero: It is about comparing two different ways of dealing with a traumatic experience,” says Bernhard Holzhammer and continues: “Through the two narrative levels, ‘reality’ and ‘autofiction’, we see a great opportunity to touch the essence of memories: their constructedness. The house plays a central role here, because it embodies the different layers of the past and gradually releases the brothers’ experiences.” Manuel Wetscher adds, “The switch between the ‘worlds’ works through literature. Through the older brother, who finds the draft novel on his brother’s laptop, we dive into his world. It takes place on the same plot and at the same time, but here the trauma that has been wafting under the surface is quite present: it is the mysterious death of a girl that happened in her youth.” The dramaturgy sounds exciting, but what about the visual design? Manuel Welscher explains: “The fictional past will stand out from the ‘real’ narrative through psychologically inspired colour design and lighting as well as the targeted use of depth of field. Instead of hard contrasts that suggest a clear separation between the levels, we want to create flowing transitions. Because we are interested in the grey areas where it is not clear whether we are dealing with ‘truth’ or ‘fiction’. Overall, the mood of the narrative is carried by the low Mallorcan sun in late autumn. A parched landscape and approaching autumn thunderstorms will form the backdrop for our mystery drama.” And where will the filming take place? Bernhard Holzhammer: “We want to shoot exclusively on Mallorca, i.e. in the country of co-production partners yet to be found.” The question remains as to how JETS can be of use in the realisation of the film project? “JETS could help us find the two co-production partners we are looking for in Germany and Spain, as well as international distributors and a world distributor. The two days in Berlin were already very exciting and we hope that the talks with the jurors will continue to develop well.
The Legend of Magnus the Good” (director/producer: Frank Mosvold, screenplay: Robert Spackling, co-producer: Barbie Heusinger) brings together the sometimes bloody history of Norway and drag queens of today, who want to protect a teenage prince who has escaped through time travel and is supposed to become king after his father’s murder in a battle, from his martial enemies. It looks as if “The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert” will be put through the CGI meat grinder. “It will resemble the style of Pixar,” says Frank Mosvold and illustrates this with a really voluminously funny computer animation of the drag queen Divine. But he also has wonderful drawings at the ready, with Magnus’ somewhat shy Wolf Skoll and his heart’s beloved, a top-styled King Poodle lady, looking especially cute. The soundtrack for this fun film for the whole family including the queer community is also close to his heart: “The soundtrack with lots of funk and disco from the 1970s will be fabulous!” he enthuses, “The film starts with traditional Viking music from the year 1030 before Magnus lands in the present day to the sounds of “It’s Raining Men” and the music fades into disco. The soundtrack will be an integral part of the film. It will be legendary!” He is also full of praise about participating in JETS: “It’s a wonderful experience. The recognition is very important when applying for further private and public funding. At JETS, we have received a lot of interest from potential partners, especially distributors. We also met with potential collaborators who we plan to contact in the next few days. After JETS, we travelled to the Cartoon Movie fair in Bordeaux for another presentation, so we haven’t had time to follow up on all the great leads from Berlin.” What isn’t can still be!
In your film project “Manna”, Benjamin Mayer and Caroline Doherty from South Africa play with elements from “Lord of the Flies”, where children are left to fend for themselves on an uninhabited South Sea island after an evacuation operation due to a nuclear war because the plane that was transporting them crashed, but also with South African myths such as the creature Impudulu. In which genre do you see the Two themselves situated? “‘Manna’ is a cautionary tale within the horror genre,” describes “Benji” Mayer, “Like the first Brothers Grimm fairy tales, ‘Manna’ serves as a warning against being too quick to accept help from strangers who suggest that something is too good to be true. Our target market would be the 18 to 35 age group and of course those interested in African mythology and lovers of the horror genre.” Unlike the “Heirs” team, the two want to film in their home country: “We want to shoot in South Africa, in KwaZulu-Natal, the province on the east coast, to be exact. Firstly, we want to keep the story as authentic as possible, and secondly, the production costs here are very competitive compared to the rest of the world. In addition to competitive prices, we have an excellent crew. Where we would see potential for co-production would be in post-production and VFX.” These are already very detailed ideas, one would like to add. And what are the cinematic role models of “Benji” Mayer and Caroline Doherty? “We would say Guillermo del Toro is a big influence with his ability to create fantastical yet moving creatures, as well as telling fairy tale inspired stories on screen. Another influence would be David Fincher for his ability to create gripping psychological thrillers, and Jean-Pierre Jeunet for his ability to make the ordinary extraordinary.” And then follows a detailed statement about JETS: “Our experience at JETS was an eye-opener. Being in a room with so many talented filmmakers inspired us to work as hard as we could to get ‘Manna’ made. The opportunity to talk to mentors who are established in the industry is also invaluable. These are men and women who have seen all sorts of pitfalls along the way. This knowledge is worth its weight in gold if, like us, you want to start with your first feature-length film, which you then want to sell internationally.”
Handmade horror from three real film enthusiasts who know their way around cinema history promises “The Ravening” from Ireland. The story by brothers Brian and Robert Kelly, who both also want to direct, while Sinead Maria Ni Mhurchu is to produce,
is as simple as it is gripping: Malcolm Lawless’ girlfriend has just left him. He has lost everything and is left alone in rural Ireland; not a psychologically healthy place for a single man with a broken heart. During the separation, Malcolm is attacked and infected by a werewolf. Not only does Malcolm change physically during the full moon, but his personality also changes, making him cruel, calculating and predatory. He will now do everything in his power to get Zemyna back, or die trying… Of course, the question now literally forces itself as to what form the Fantastic Three want to bring the werewolf to life. They are certainly not friends of CGI: “In terms of building the werewolf, we are currently exploring our options,” explains Brian Kelly, “We will bring it to life with practical effects. We have contacted an Irish company that has worked on productions such as ‘Penny Dreadful’ and ‘Hellraiser’. As with ‘Alien’ and ‘American Werewolf’, we need several variations of the werewolf. These include heads, torsos, limbs and digits for different scenes and stages of filming. This requires a mix of animatronics, puppetry and actors to bring the werewolf to life. At our discussion session at JETS, we were delighted to learn that one of the mentors has a close relationship with a creature effects studio. He offered to put us in touch with a company in Canada. We’ve also spoken to two possible co-production partners from South Africa who also have contacts with South African creature effects studios.” So the deal is on! Were they sad not to be among the first and second winners? “Of course we were disappointed that we didn’t win, but the winners thoroughly deserved their wins,” Brian Kelly is extremely fair, “Being a finalist for the JETS initiative was a win in itself for us! Based on the positive feedback from executives who approached us and the contacts and knowledge we gained from networking at JETS, we already feel like winners.” The gratitude seems genuine: “As a result of our participation in JETS, we have gained invaluable knowledge and insights. We feel that with the expertise of the JURY executives and the alliances with co-producing companies around the world, we can move our project forward much faster than previously thought.” At this point, the author would also like to thank everyone for the invitation at our first interview at the Grand Hyatt Hotel Berlin, which was also filmed, by the way, for the subsequent invitation to the Hyatt Bar. Here, the “The Ravening” team proved that Irishmen (and Irishwomen) can party like probably no other nation! The fact that Brian Kelly in particular, who presented his first ever pitch in his life at JETS – believe it or not – is a real film fan, was also evident at the awards ceremony in the Canadian Embassy. The author of these lines was accompanied by Samantha Lockwood, the beautiful daughter of legendary actor Gary Lockwood, the astronaut Frank Poole from Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece “2001: A Space Odyssey”. She in turn has already filmed for “CSI: NewYork” and “Hawaii Five-O”. Brian Kelly, who will most likely make a splash in the director’s chair himself, did not miss the opportunity to have his picture taken with us.
As described at the beginning, “Paws” from Germany is also about an animal monster. Director Lukas Rinker and producer Tonio Kellner have an ecological message for all the black-humoured gore elements, or is that too ambitious? “First and foremost, ‘Paws’ – that’s the working title – will indulge its great role models, namely highly entertaining creature-horror flicks, but of course you’re right – and a certain relevance can’t be denied when we send an endangered and starved polar bear into the ring against climate researchers and oil millionaires.” Similar to “The Ravening”, they want to rely on hand-made effects: “Since we believe that really believable animals/monsters that also have a soul cannot be solved via CGI, the Paws polar bear will be a high-end animatronic. So there’s a scary ‘play partner’ for our cast on the side!” And maybe even “Eisbar”, the immortal hit of the Neue Deutsche Welle by the Swiss (!) band Grauzone, will be heard: “I’d like to be a polar bear in the cold polar. Then I wouldn’t have to scream any more. Everything would be so clear. Polar bears never have to cry.”
Tears of emotion will probably also flow at “An Austrian Holiday”, the British project by Ann Hawker (director and screenplay) and “Astronaut” director Shelagh McLeod, from the UK, who “only” wants to produce this time. But as the great German actor Will Quadflieg once said? “Sentimentality is the mortal enemy of real feeling.” It is guaranteed not to be kitschy in “An Austrian Holiday”. It is rather a chamber play for character actors and something for cinema-goers who read the works of the writers Stefan Zweig or Arthur Schnitzler with pleasure and profit. When 75-year-old Ada is diagnosed with dementia, she knows that her razor-sharp mind will be lost forever, but she will not admit defeat. She decides to travel to an assisted suicide clinic in the Alps to end her life before she loses her mind completely. Only in her confusion does she set off for the wrong country, where she is rescued by her daughter Zoe. Ada refuses to return home and mother and daughter end up on a road trip through the mountains. Whether Switzerland or Austria is the final destination is not so important. The film also wants to take a journey into the soul of mother and daughter. For the first part, the now 88-year-old Judi Dench, undoubtedly the grande dame of British cinema, is their first choice. But who will play the daughter? “Ann and I think the role of the daughter has a strong arc and needs an actress who can express the emotional and internal journey that Zoe has to go through,” feels Shelagh McLeod, “As Ann and I have both lost our mothers, we talked very hard about the complex dancing daughters trying to cope with the massive changes in physical and mental health that our parents went through and the changing dynamics that we had to deal with. We would love an actress like Kate Winslet to consider the role. I also love Emma Thompson! In truth, there are so many brilliant actresses who could play the part.” As a director, does actress Shelagh Mc Leod, who has worked with the unforgettable Peter O’Toole on several occasions, treat her actors like gardeners? “I love your choice of the word ‘gardener’ – it’s very apt! As an actress, I’ve worked with many directors over the years – the ones I’ve responded to the most have been the collaborative ones; the ones who understood that technicians come to the set with their technical skills and expertise – and an actor who walks on set with them shows up with their emotions too.” Why is she letting Ann Hawker take the lead on directing this time? “I love working with Ann as she is a very collaborative person and super with actors. She’ll do a wonderful job directing ‘An Austrian Holiday’ – and I’m looking forward to working with her and watching her as we all learn by looking over the shoulders of other directors at work.” Her presentation left an excellent impression: “We had a good reaction to winning JETS. We were very happy to have won as there were so many strong projects. Thanks to JETS, we are now talking to European partners. We are also pushing ahead with our financial planning. So fingers crossed!” We are! And of course to all the other JETS participants!
Marc Hairapetian is a freelance journalist (Frankfurter Rundschau, Berliner Zeitung, among others) and has been the editor of Spirit – Ein Lächeln im Sturm (A Smile in the Storm), the cultural magazine he founded, since the age of 16 https://spirit-fanzine.de