Launched just over 50 years ago by Marin Karmitz and now headed by his sons, Nathanael and Elisha, Paris-based MK2 films accomplished a double deed at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. Not only does it have five movies playing in competition for the second consecutive year, it represents in international markets three of the four female-directed films competing, Mati Diop with “Atlantics,” Justine Triet’s “Sybil” and Celine Sciamma with “Portrait of a Young Lady on Fire.”
Nathanael Karmitz and Juliette Schrameck, the managing director of MK2, said the company was not following any quota or positive discrimination to ramp up their roster of female-directed films but were simply drawn to the originality and quality of the projects.
“Three of the four women directors in competition are French (including Mati Diop who is half Senegalese) so it’s clear that the future of French cinema is to a certain extent in the hands of women filmmakers,” said Schrameck.
“We’re working with these talented emerging filmmakers, many of whom are women, who dare to tackle serious, universal topics with a singular approach, and are exploring worlds which we haven’t seen before in films,” said Schrameck, who cited Mati Diop who portrays “Dakar today and using genre in a subtle way,” Celine Sciamma who is “showing us women painters in the 18th century,” and Danielle Lessovitz, whose film is set “in the the LGBT kiki ballroom scene of New York.”
“More than ever, younger audiences, or the so-called millennials, are craving for truly intelligent, reflective films exploring uncharted territories,” said Karmitz.
“We’ve been hearing non-stop lately that cinema is dead, that young people have deserted theaters and that Netflix is now ruling the film world; but the quality of this Cannes edition and the excitement around it goes to show that we can do well without Netflix and we’re seeing an inspiring new generation of auteurs who are breaking away from the heritage of the New Wave to come up with their own cinematic codes,” said Karmitz.
Karmitz also noted that MK2 has always championed female directors. “Marin Karmitz worked as Agnes Varda’s assistant when he was young and this experience left a strong imprint on the company’s philosophy,” said Karmitz. Indeed, MK2 went on to collaborate with Varda until her last years, notably with her last documentary film “Varda par Agnes.”
Besides the Karmitz brothers, the company’s top film executives are mainly women — Schrameck works closely with Fionnuala Jamison, head of international sales and Ola Byszuk, SVP of international sales.
On top of co-developing, co-producing and repping director-driven films in international markets, MK2 is also a prominent arthouse exhibitor in Paris and Spain, and has a theater in Canada. Although the company stopped its distribution activities a few years ago, it bowed a distribution banner in Canada in 2017. Being involved in production, distribution and exhibition gives MK2 a savvy outlook on movies which explains to some extent its strong track record.
“At MK2 we’ve never been so picky about the projects we choose and our movies have never worked so well critically and commercially,” said Karmitz.
Schrameck cited Pawel Pawlikowski ‘s Oscar-nominated “Cold War” (co-produced by MK2), and Tom Volf’s “Maria by Callas” as films that clicked with audiences and critics alike.
In recent years, MK2 has been boarding projects at an earlier stage to co-develop and/or co-produce select prestige projects, allowing some of them to get off the ground by taking up all rights at script stage, explained Schrameck.
Up next, MK2 has just come on board to co-produce and sell internationally Norwegian director Joachim Trier’s project “The Worst Person in the World, the closing chapter of Trier’s “Oslo Trilogy,” which includes his feature debut, “Reprise,” and “Oslo, August 31st.”
“MK2 has always aspired to cultivate relationships with the best filmmakers from around the world with a long term vision,” said Karmitz, who cited Abbas Kiarostami, Charlie Chaplin, Robert Bresson and François Truffaut.
The bottom line, said Karmitz, is that MK2 is a family business unlike most film companies today which backed by funds. He added that MK2 is also looking forward to working more independent American filmmakers going forward.
“American independent cinema needs Europe to finance daring auteur projects. The biggest American auteurs have always had a special bond with Europe,” said Kamitz. Schrameck gave the example of “Port Authority” which was developed by the French company Madeleine Films before it was boarded by RT Features and Sikelia Productions, Martin Scorsese’s banner.
The boom of streaming services is pushing the independent film market towards a crossroads but the basics are unchanged, said Schrameck. “Directors know that in order establish themselves as significant talents in the film industry, the key is to gain an international theatrical exposure; and working with independent distributors is the best way to get the recognition of local festivals, journalists, platforms and other media,” said the executive.