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For eight years now, the Berlinale has had a small but formidable rival during the Berlinale in Berlin of all places: the JETS Initiative has long been a two-day international film festival that brings talented producers and directors together with funding organisations, sales agents and financing and distribution companies from the partner countries Germany, Austria, Canada, Ireland, South Africa, Norway, the UK and the USA for their debut, second or third film. As is well known, the awards recognise feature film projects that have enormous artistic and/or commercial potential.

In addition to new faces, renowned artists such as Caroline Goodall, who starred in two Steven Spielberg milestones (“Hook”, 1991; “Schindler’s List”, 1993), and Shelagh McLeod, who has worked with the acting genius Peter O’Toole on several occasions, also presented at JETS. And the ambitious plans of the two screen heroines were then realised by them as producer and screenwriter and director and screenwriter respectively: The thriller “Bay of Silence”, starring Olga Kurylenko, Claes Bang and Brian Cox, and the heart-warming but never cheesy family drama “Astronaut” with Richard Dreyfuss, another Spielberg acting legend (“Jaws”, 1975; “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”, 1977), in the title role, caused a sensation in 2020 as arthouse films during the coronavirus pandemic of all times.

Now that this seems to be over, it will be interesting to see which of the JETS 2024 winners will see the light of day in cinemas, TV channels and streaming portals in the not too distant future. This time, the jury honoured six promising pitches from six different countries out of a total of 20 film projects: The neighbouring countries of Germany and Austria are all about sagas and legends. In “Fulgidusen” by producer Markus Frings and director Alexander Feichter, the eponymous creatures lived peacefully with humans in the not-so-distant past. But they have long since retreated into the woods. One day, ten-year-old Felix meets them by chance and asks them to heal his sick aunt, who is married to an apothecary. But they have not reckoned with an unscrupulous pharmaceutical entrepreneur… 

The suspenseful and witty animated film with its criticism of today’s healthcare industry was particularly popular with actor star Dieter Landuris (“Linie 1”, “23 – Nichts ist so wie es scheint”, “Skin Creepers”), who announced this year’s winner as guest of honour on the second JETS day at the Canadian Embassy on Potsdamer Platz. He described the project as “heart-warmingly over-the-top, without losing sight of its important message”, “for cineastes young and old”. He himself has repeatedly acted in unusual films and has also dubbed the German version of numerous Hollywood films. And who knows, perhaps he will soon be lending his versatile voice to one of the Fulgiduses or even the evil pharmaceutical company. With the calculated budget of 3.9 million euros, that should be possible. In any case, initial contact has already been made between him and the film team.

“A Cutter’s Coffers” (producer: Viktor Perdula, director: G.S. Leitgeb, budget: 2.8 million euros) tells of another legend in a very unique “Ghostbusters” version. In a hidden mine in Austria, where a terrible explosion has buried all the mine workers, including the foreman’s family, under the rubble, their ghosts are up to mischief in the Alps. Thirteen-year-old Klara gets to the bottom of the matter with two American ghost hunters. The Austrian duo Perdula and Leitgeb have not yet decided whether Bill Murray will make a guest appearance… Joking aside: the fact that grotesquely creepy scenarios in the Alps have a great chance of success with audiences was proven at this year’s Berlinale in the “Special Gala” section with the sci-fi horror thriller “Cuckoo”. Leipzig newcomer Tilman Singer has assembled an illustrious ensemble of actors from LGBT icon Hunter Schafer to “Game of Thrones” and “Matrix Resurrections” star Jessica Henwick for the eerie events in a mountain hotel reminiscent of Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining” (1980). So why shouldn’t the makers of “A Cutter’s Coffers” succeed in signing ghost hunter Murray after all?

Ridley Scott’s “Thelma & Louise”, another modern film classic, sends its best regards to “The Sleeper” (producer: Sara Gibbings, director: Jo Southwell, budget: 4.1 million Euros). The story of a friendship between two women who couldn’t be more different and become entangled in a criminal case leads from Great Britain to Mexico and back. “Gina Davis and Susan Sarandon on speed” have the potential to be a real cinema hit in this “made in Britain” road movie. “Doctors” director Jo Southwell is always a welcome guest at JETS. Concentrated lady power, attractive locations and a twisty story with psychological undertones could guarantee quick financing.

The film from Ireland, which borders the UK, is more for genre lovers: “The Others” (producer: Emmer Durcan, director: Jason Branagan, budget: EUR 1.2 million), not to be confused with Alejandro Amenábar’s 2001 mystery thriller of the same name, in which Nicole Kidman shone, is a complex, visually wacky sci-fi horror film about an “other worm” that crawls out of the ear of a shot victim, is the brief content of which cannot be given without spoiling anything. Surprisingly, the ambitious endeavour, which was inspired by H. P. Lovecraft (1890 – 1937), the master of fantastic literature, as well as Canadian director David Cronenberg (“Videdrome”, 1983, “Crimes of the Future”, 2022), has a relatively low budget. We – like all other JETS participants – are keeping our fingers crossed!

Speaking of Canada: the second-largest country after Russia is looking for a co-production partner for “A Nose for Trouble” (producer: Stephanie Sonny Hooker, director: Natty Zavitz, budget: 5 million Euros). In the comedy, ageing detective Ossler B. Mundsey tracks down a missing hunter in northern Italy. Based on his own short stories, Zavitz wants to focus on fast-paced chases between villas and vineyards in his production, although the quirky humour will of course not be neglected. North American film noir meets European cinematic art!

“Slay” (producer: Daniel Perlman, director: Kelsey Egan, budget: 1.4 million euros) is an action-packed thriller about revenge and survival set in vibrant Cape Town. The protagonist Tamsin Sleigh is deeply entangled in the machinations of the violent “Lost Boys”, the most feared street gang in the metropolis. When she diverts cocaine for herself to sell, the ruthless leader Emil Mraz kills her mother, a prostitute. Tansim seeks retribution. Diverse character studies contrast with the merciless harshness of an (under)world where everyone fights everyone else. “Slay” is a “hard boiled” thriller that is also a morality tale and a coming-of-age story.

Opposites attract once again at JETS, which stands for Junior Entertainment Talent Slate. The initiative, organised by WEP Productions and JETS Filmverleih & Vertrieb and funded by HessenFilm und Medien, nordmedia, ÖFI Austria, Telefilm Canada, NFVF South Africa and FFF-Bayern, is a multicultural meeting place where the word FILMKUNST is not written in small letters, but in capital letters. And who knows: perhaps one or the other project will soon be shown at the Berlinale, JETS’ big sister, once it has been realised.

Marc Hairapetian is a freelance journalist (e.g. Frankfurter Rundschau, Berliner Zeitung) and has been the editor of the cultural magazine Spirit – A Smile in the Storm, which he founded at the age of 16