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Elwes, Highland Film Group Board Roth’s ‘The Stranger’

Amoedo’s vampire thriller won Sitges’ Blood Window Best Ibero-American Film Award

Producer Cassian Elwes (“The Butler,” Werner Herzog’s “Queen of the Desert”) has boarded Guillermo Amoedo’s “Eli Roth Presents The Stranger,” produced by Eli Roth, Nicolas López and Miguel Asensio, that has just won the first Blood Window Best Ibero-American Prize at Spain’s Sitges Festival, Europe’s biggest genre fest meet.

CAA and Elwes will represent U.S. rights to the “The Stranger”; Elwes will also take an executive producer credit on the supernatural thriller.

In another deal, Arianne Fraser’s L.A.-based Highland Film Group (HFG), which successfully sold Eugenio Dérbez’s “Instructions Not Included” around the world, has acquired international sales rights to the directorial debut of Uruguay-born but Chile-based Amoedo, a co-scribe on López’s “Aftershock” and Roth’s positively-received cannibal adventure “The Green Inferno” and upcoming “Knock Knock,” Roth’s first non-horror movie, with Keanu Reeves.

Blood Window, the genre mart of Latin America mart-meet Ventana Sur, created the plaudit to recognize the best genre movie of the year from Latin America, Spain and Portugal. Winning at Sitges, “The Stranger” beat out some high-profile Spanish contenders such as Jaume Balaguero’s “[REC] 4,” the last part of the cult contagion franchise, Gaby Ibañez futuristic “Automata,” with Antonio Banderas, and the Alex de la Iglesia-produced “Shrew’s Nest.”

An English-language mystery thriller, laced by flashbacks, and set in Canada’s North-West, “The Stranger” turns on the mysterious titular figure (Cristóbal Tapia Montt), who comes to a small quiet town where teen Peter (newcomer Nicolas Durán) lives with his mother Monica (Alessandra Guerzoni) seeking his wife Ana (Lorenza Izzo). He is led to the local cemetery. Attacked by local thugs led by Caleb (Ariel Levy), the son of a corrupt police lieutenant (Luis Gnecco), the stranger’s arrival plunge the community into a bloodbath.

“The Stranger” is an attempt to make a horror thriller that is “more grounded” than most vampire films, Amoedo has said, which is may in part explain critical reactions which have been across-the-board, including some highly enthusiastic reactions.

Closing Chile’s Sanfic Fest Oct. 26 – a mark of Roth and López’s recognition in Lopez’s native Chile – “The Stranger” world premiered at Austin’s Fantastic Fest, where Roth and López received the Fest’s first-ever La de Dios Award at the Latin American Genre Co-production Market.

“Armar la de Dios” means “to shake things up” in Spanish, which Roth and Lopez have certainly succeeded in doing creating Chilewood, a Santiago de Chile-based movie production hub for genre movies often shot and posted in Chile but made for the global market at a fraction of the price of studio movies and with, above all, a freedom – financing, creative, legal, bureaucratic – unthinkable in Hollywood.

Chilewood taps into Chilean talent – Lorenza Izzo, a star of Lopez’s “Que pena tu boda,” “Aftershock,” “Green Inferno,” and “Knock Knock” – plays the dead wife in “The Stranger”; Ariel Levy, who limns Caleb, has featured in López movies right back to his debut “Promedio rojo.”

However slight the budgets – “Aftershock” came in for under $2 million – via access to economical high-tech production, these do not preclude spectacular special effects by Latin American standards, such as “Aftershock’s” earthquake destroying the inside of a night-club and a glimpsed tsunami. Sales deals play off Roth’s eye-catching track-record of box office compared to movies’ budgets, and Roth and Lopez’s ability to deliver movies which work with genre aficionados and wider auds.

Chilewood titles also include Spanish-language “Nicolás López Presents Fuerzas Especiales.” Produced by Lopez and Asensio’s Sobras, and co-produced by Netflix, it is 2014’s No. 1 comedy in Chile, topping all Hollywood laffers. Uncork’d Ent. will release “Fuerzas” on iTunes/DVD in the U.S. next year; Netflix will make it available around the world, first semester 2015.

However revolutionary the concept – “Knock, Knock” shot with Keanu Reeves and Izzo in April with Chile standing in for L.A.’s Calabasas – Chilewood also follows through on basic market logic.

“I’ve had an amazing experience, both creatively and financially in Chile partnering with Nicolas Lopez and Miguel Asensio,” Roth said in statement when Fantastic Fest announced the La de Dios Award.

“Their whole approach to filmmaking is completely different from anywhere in the world, and I’ve found it to be far more creative as well as cost- effective. As the business changes and contracts and costs are cut filmmakers need to find ways to make their films without sacrificing quality or scope.”

Written by Jessica Chandler, López and Roth, and produced by Colleen Camp and Roth, Chandler’s feature debut, horror movie “Lake Mead,” is now in post-production. David O. Russell, Roth and López have also co-penned sci-fi project “The Hive.”

Cassian Elwes’ wide-ranging executive producer credits take in Mike Cahill’s “I Origins,” which won best film at Sitges.

HFG’s international sales slate highlights include ”Boswell for the Defence,” with Steve Coogan, and horror thriller “February,” with Emma Roberts and Kiernan Shipka.

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