Thomasin McKenzie, who starred in “Jojo Rabbit,” will play Joy “Joika” Womack, the American ballet dancer, in James Napier Robertson’s “Joika,” to shoot in New Zealand in early 2021. Embankment has launched worldwide sales and co-reps U.S. rights with UTA Independent Film Group.
Kiwi writer-director Napier Robertson, producing partner Tom Hern, and McKenzie are already in prep and the production will “utilize innovative digital technology to navigate ongoing pandemic restrictions,” according to a statement.
Based on Womack’s true story, the film sees McKenzie step into ballet pumps and brave the most competitive dance school in the world: Moscow’s Bolshoi. “Testing the limits of dedication, determination, sacrifice and virtuosity, and spurred on by the passions of first love, Joy’s leap into the unknown touched perfection,” Embankment said.
McKenzie broke out in Debra Granik’s “Leave No Trace” and starred in Taika Waititi’s Oscar winning “Jojo Rabbit.” Following roles in David Michôd’s “The King” and Justin Kurzel’s “True History of the Kelly Gang,” McKenzie is soon to become a household name, with upcoming projects for Edgar Wright, Jane Campion and M. Night Shyamalan.
Los Angeles-born Womack is one of only a handful of foreigners, and only two American women, to ever penetrate Moscow’s infamously tough Bolshoi Ballet Academy when she graduated from its main training program and was offered a contract in 2014. Following a stint in South Korea, as the principal dancer with the Universal Ballet, Womack returned to the U.S. where she now dances with the Boston Ballet. Womack, who has raised the global profile of American dance, is personally overseeing McKenzie’s training and will act as the actress’ double for more demanding sequences.
As high-profile productions, including James Cameron’s “Avatar” sequels and Amazon’s “The Lord of the Rings” series, gear up in the coming months, nimble independent productions are also capitalizing on New Zealand’s production restart.
Producer Tom Hern said: “We are delighted New Zealand is leading the way back to set during these challenging and extraordinary new times – and are even more pleased that ‘Joika’ will be part of this first wave of greenlit films, post-crisis.”
Napier Robertson burst onto the scene with “The Dark Horse,” a moving drama about bi-polar-suffering, Māori speed-chess genius, Genesis Potini. The film become a critics’ choice and audience favorite (audience award winner at Rotterdam, Seattle and San Francisco international film festivals, and boasts a score of 97% on Rotten Tomatoes) off the back of strong direction and a transformative lead performance from Cliff Curtis. Napier Robertson has since worked on the BBC’s adaptation of Eleanor Catton’s bestseller “The Luminaries,” and Roadshow and Stan’s TV series “Romper Stomper,” sequel to Russell Crowe’s breakout movie.
Napier Robertson and Hern’s Four Knights Films will produce, alongside Anonymous Content’s Paul Green, Paula Munoz Vega and Laurie Ross. Luke Rivett will executive produce.
Embankment’s Tim Haslam said: “Joika is about unearthing and encouraging talent, and the sacrifices made to fulfil dreams. Put into Thomasin’s inspirational shoes, audience’s will experience every step of her journey to perfection.”