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Artscope Goes to ‘Court’ With Chaitanya Tamhane’s Venice Player (EXCLUSIVE)

Artscope, the art film sales label of Paris-based producer-distributor-sales agent Memento Films, has acquired sales rights to Indian writer-director Chaitanya Tamhane’s “Court” before its world preem at Venice.

It’s the first acquisition by Sata Cissokho, a former theatrical releases assistant at New York’s Zeitgeist Films, who has been tapped to head Artscope with a mandate to forge new distribution channels for films from around the world.

Produced by Vivek Gomber’s Zoo Films in India, and mostly casting non-pros, Tamhane’s Mumbai-set feature debut kicks in with the body of a sewage worker being found in a manhole. An aging folksinger is accused of performing an inflammatory song that might have pushed the man to suicide and is put on trial. But as the trial unfolds, the hopes and dreams of the city’s people play out, mixed with the private lives of the case’s lawyer and judge.

A subversion of the classic courtroom drama, per Tamhane, “Court” was inspired by real Mumbai trials. “When I attended a nondescript lower court in suburban Mumbai, the sheer lack of drama, and the casualness with which life and death decisions were being made, was what sparked my imagination,” Tamhane said.

“ ‘Court’ explores the invisible fabric of a collective. The characters are constantly acting upon the invisible triggers of caste and class politics, patriarchy and feudalism.”

Cissoko said: “The strength of this film lies in its subtle rhythm that grows on you. As the trial evolves, we are confronted with the complexity of the variety of Indian cultures: What we thought we knew and were expecting at first appears more complicated that it seemed.”

Launched with Raya Martin’s “Independencia,” Artscope is Memento’s way of discovering and bringing emerging directors to a toughening art film market. Recent Artscope acquisitions include Warwick Thornton’s Berlin Forum docu-drama “The Darkside” and Nana Ekvtimishvili and Simon Gross’ “In Bloom,” a coming-of-age tale that has helped put Georgia on the filmmaking map.

Label also reps R&D, an incubator that looks for new talents. ‘We accompany them and hopefully do their next film,” said Memento Films Intl.’s Nicholas Kaiser.

Artscope also publishes a market catalog and online newsletter, pursues extensive work with festivals, and, in territories where films don’t sell, works with cultural institutions, schools and universities, maximizing directors and films’ exposure, Cissokho said. It is now approaching the contempo art centers/gallery circuit.

“Court’s” commercial exposure begins Friday with an invitation-only Venice Film Market screening.

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