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Michael Barker Receives Honorary Award at Jerusalem’s Sam Spiegel Lab

Michael Barker, the lauded co-president and co-founder of Sony Pictures Classics, was celebrated with an honorary career tribute in Jerusalem as part of the Sam Spiegel International Film Lab.

Barker, who made his first trip to Israel to attend the event, received the Force-of-Nature in Filmmaking Award. Founded by Renen Schorr and run by producer Lior Sasson, the Sam Spiegel International Film Lab praised Barker as a “major cinematic master-builder” for the pivotal role he played in distributing Israeli films such as “Waltz With Bashir,” “The Band’s Visit,” “Footnote” and “The Gate Keepers,” and leading them to the Academy Awards.

Barker has also distributed critically acclaimed international films such as “Call Me by Your Name,” “Whiplash,” “Talk to Her” and “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.”

Aside from the tribute to Barker, the film lab gave the top award of its eighth edition to “Gentle Monster,” a project from the Hungarian writer-directors Anna Nemes and Laszlo Csuja. The lab’s alumni include the Oscar-winning director Laszlo Nemes (“Son of Saul”).

“Gentle Monster” is one of 12 projects pitched by filmmakers from Brazil, Ghana, Hungary, Ireland, Poland, Georgia and Israel after participating in a seven-month workshop with leading script mentors. The presentations were attended by high-profile international industry professionals.

The award to “Gentle Monster” was given by a jury chaired by Kim Yutani, the director of programming at the Sundance Film Festival; Jan Mojto, the CEO of Beta Film; Nadav Lapid, the director of the Golden Bear-winning film “Synonyme”; Sharon Harel from the U.K. sales outfit outfit Westend Films; Koby Gal Raday, the CCO of YES Satellite; Thomas Pibarot from the Paris-based distribution company Le Pacte; Janine Jackowski, producer at Germany’s Komplizen Film; and Nashen Moodley, the director of the Sydney Film Festival.

“Reading this script about female body-building was a physical experience, affecting our biceps and other muscles, eventually moving to our minds and imagination,” said the jury, adding that the film delivers an “uncompromising, compassionate, and bold script and pitching.”

The second prize of the film lab went to two projects: “This Is the Country” from Irish director Mark Noonan and his producer Jessie Fisk, and “Postcard,” a project from Belgium/Ghana which is being directed by Anthony Nti, co-written by Chingiz Karibekov and produced by Dimitri Verbeeck.

The jury said “This Is the Country” tells the larger story of Ireland “in the form of a passionate love story that juxtaposes an ingrained tradition of lyricism and violence, and leaves a bittersweet taste in your mouth – much like a burst of Guinness.”

“Postcard,” meanwhile, “immerses us in a world of prostitution not often seen, and finding moments of joy and grace amidst great harshness, and with a narratively and visually fresh approach to social drama,” the jury said.

In total, $70,000 was awarded to the three projects by the Beracha Foundation, including $50,000 which went to “Gentle Monster.”

The Film Lab also handed out a prize to “Brighton 4,” one of the projects presented as part of the work-in-progress section. Pitched by Georgian director Levan Koguashvili and his producer Olena Yershova from Ukraine, “Brighton 4” won both the $25,000 Lab Wip award and the $25,000 ARP Selection award.

“Pinhas,” a project from the director Pini Tavger and producer Haim Meckelberg, won the first prize from a newly launched platform initiated by the L.A.-based company New Mandate Films and dedicated to projects that take on Jewish and Israeli themes. The award came along with a cash prize of $50,000. “Pinhas” will begin shooting next month.

The film lab also launched the Almost 40 Award in memory of financier John Heyman. The award, which is meant to honor a daring and innovative film professional, went to Jovan Marjanović, the head of the industry at the Sarajevo Film Festival, for turning the fest into a “central lighthouse of European industry,” said the Sam Spiegel International Film Lab.

“With a passion for cinema and emotional continuity, he is an agent of change for Bosnian, Balkan and European cinema,” the film lab said.

The lab is supported by the Beracha Foundation, the Jerusalem Film and Television Fund at the Jerusalem Development Authority, Mifayal Hapayis, the Sam Spiegel Foundation, the Jerusalem Foundation, New Mandate Films Los Angeles and ARP Selection France.

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