Zoé Wittock’s debut feature, “Jumbo,” screening in Sundance’s World Cinema Dramatic Competition, is also the first feature film produced by up-and-coming French producer Anais Bertrand, of Insolence Productions, who has cut her teeth on award-winning shorts, including winning the Procirep Short Film Producer Award last year.
“Jumbo” is about a young woman, played by Noémie Merlant, who falls in love with a machine – the Tilt-A-Whirl ride in a theme park.
The €2.9 million ($3.2 million) France-Belgium-Luxembourg coproduction is repped by French sales agent WTFilms, and has been pre-sold to several territories in Asia, including Japan and Taiwan.
Rezo Films will release the pic in France on March 18.
Bertrand talked to Variety about “Jumbo” and her other projects.
How did this project come about?
I first met Zoé in 2013 in the Court Métrange festival in Rennes, where I was on the jury. I loved her short film, “This Is Not an Umbrella,” that was shot in the desert on 35mm while she was studying at the AFI. We decided we should make our first feature film together. She showed me the first draft of “Jumbo” in 2014, which had a lot of fantasy and visual texture, but I explained that we needed more narrative explanation and psychological drama to get funding in France. We worked on the script for two years before looking for funding.
You also produced Zoe’s 2014 short film “À demi-mot.”
She had a camera and decided to direct a very intimate film in one apartment shot over one weekend. It had a good festival circulation and was sold to TV channels in Japan and to Netflix in France. When people asked me to explain what “Jumbo” is about I said it’s a mix of her AFI anticipation short and this intimate drama.
What is “Jumbo” about?
It’s above all about the relationship between a girl and her mother, and what happens when she falls in love with a stranger, in this case a funfair ride. Object sexuality is part of the story, but the key is the relationship between the mother, played by Emmanuelle Bercot, and her daughter, who is crazy, very sexy, and a bit autistic. The film is essentially a very classic story, against the backdrop of a surrealist story about a young girl’s first love and how her mother adapts to this new situation.
What were the main challenges in financing the film?
We applied for funding from the CNC’s Avance sur Recettes scheme in April 2016 and got it first time round. But French TV stations were confused whether it was an arthouse or genre film, and we had to do further rewrites to get TV funding. We got a MG from Rezo Films our distributor and from WTFilms our sales agent via SOFITVCINE (a Sofica). The French financing is around €1 million ($1.1 million), but the total budget is $3.2 million. Since Zoé was born in Belgium we wanted to do a coproduction and partnered with Kwassa Films in Belgium, but still had a financing gap. Les Films Fauves in Luxembourg then came on board and gave us huge help, including requesting support from Film Fund Luxembourg. This obliged some rewriting of the script to ensure that 51% of the shoot and 51% of the post-production took place in Luxembourg. The Belgian theme park, Plopsa Coo, that we wanted to use in the film, is only 50 minutes from Luxembourg and we were able to match the locations and settings.
What are your next projects?
I’m also producing Noémie’s directorial debut, a 25-minute short set in a gypsy community called “Shakira,” and we’re now talking about another project with Zoé and Noémie. I am also developing a satirical political slasher, “Food” by Mathieu Mégemont, whose short “Diversion” is screening in this year’s MyFrenchFilm Festival. I’m developing Jean-Baptiste’s first feature “Chien de la Casse” (Junkyard Dog) after doing two shorts with him. He won support from Groupe Ouest to develop the script during a residency.
How does “Jumbo” fit into your editorial strategy?
From the outset I wanted to make strange stories with extraordinary elements, that combine arthouse and genre elements. We want to make films that can reach audiences in theaters. Young people prefer watching films on streaming platforms and need something really striking to get them to go to the cinema. Older audiences want to be reassured by seeing actors they already know. Emmanuelle Bercot, who plays the mother in “Jumbo” and won the Palme d’Or in 2014 for her role in Maïwenn’s “Mon Roi,” can attract a wide audience. Noémie Merlant is a rising talent, because of her roles in films like “Portrait of a Lady on Fire.” I’m looking for directors with a strong cinematic vision, and Zoé and Noémie both match that goal!