Frontieres Genre Platform Forefronts Female Filmmakers, Characters

The Retreat
The Retreat, photo by Mai Ismail

Projects about biohacking, werewolves, Kung-Fu and even killer fingernails and the menopause are among those being presented at this week’sFrontières Platform Cannes for genre films.

A co-presentation between the Cannes Film Market and Canada’s Fantasia International Film Festival, this year’s Frontières selection is also notable for featuring a large number of genre projects by female filmmakers and centered on female characters. The projects also come from as far afield as Argentina, Israel and Russia, well as the U.S., U.K. and Canada.

Taking place online on June 25, the 4th Frontières has two distinct strands. The Buyers Showcase will present six projects that have recently been completed or are in post-production, and screens footage for buyers, sales agents and festival programmers. The Proof of Concept Presentation, meanwhile, will screen teaser trailers for seven projects looking for financing partners.

Surveying the 13 projects, newly appointed Frontières executive director Annick Mahnert stresses their diversity of style and origins. “Even if one might remind you of something that has been done before, it is original enough to standalone,” she says.

From the Buyers Showcase, Canadian film “The Retreat” is about lesbian couple (played by Tommie-Amber Pirie and Sarah Allen) on a weekend retreat in a remote cabin who end up fighting for their lives when a group of militant serial killers hunt them. Alyson Richards wrote the script for “The Retreat” and is producing along with Lauren Grant of Clique Pictures, with long-time collaborator Pat Mills directing. Aqute Media is handling worldwide sales.

The idea for “The Retreat” came to Richards when she and her wife stayed at a remote cabin themselves, feeling vulnerable as queer people outside of the comforts of the city. “As a queer woman, I was getting really frustrated that in so many genre films, the queer female characters are often revealed to be the psychotic killer or are killed,” says Richards. “I really wanted to write a script where the gay characters didn’t turn on each other but instead turned to each other to survive.”

“Breeder” is a Nordic horror about a young woman Mia who discovers her investment manager husband is financing a health company that is secretly kidnapping women and biohacking their DNA to use in rejuvenation experiments. Mia herself is then captured and has to fight, not only to survive but to help her fellow female captives escape. It is penned by female writer Sissel Dalsgaard Thomsen. Producer Amalie Lyngbo Quist of Beo Starling says “Breeder” examines “the human cost of privileged individuals’ quest for eternal youth.”

Quist explains that Thomsen also wanted to explore the theme of women’s agency in a horror setting, and to widen the story beyond the classic female revenge movie. Level K is handling international sales for “Breeder,” which was presented at the Proof of Concept stage at last year’s Frontières. SVOD Blockbuster has Scandinavian rights.

Currently in post-production, Canadian werewolf horror “Bloodthirsty” is about an up and coming female singer, played by Lauren Beatty, who travels deep into the woods to work with a famous, eccentric and reclusive music producer (Greg Bryk) on her second album. It’s the second feature directed by Amelia Moses, and is written and produced by Voice Pictures’ Wendy Hill-Tout and also scripted by her daughter Lowell – who also wrote the original music – and is also produced by 775 Media Corp’s Michael Peterson. He says it contributes to the werewolf genre by having “something interesting and unique to say about art, the artist and the cost to one’s identity in the pursuit of great art.”

A different project altogether, “The Paper Tigers” is a U.S. Kung Fu action comedy about three Asian American childhood friends who must avenge their master’s death. The only problem is all three are now middle-aged and out of shape. Producer Al’n Duong of Beimo Films says a modern American Kung Fu film is rare, let alone one that centers around the Asian American experience. “’The Paper Tigers’ is a comic, but grounded look at a world where modern day life collides with old school Kung Fu rules,” says Duong. XYZ Films and AMP International are handling international sales.

Estonian film “Kratt” is the second feature to be directed by Rasmus Merivoo, and is produced through Tallifornia. Fast-paced and distinctive, it’s about Kratt, a mythological creature from Estonian folklore, which can be built out of old implements and ordered to carry out at tasks. In the film, young children staying at their grandmother’s house discover an ancient guide to building the creature – but find out that they always have to keep it busy, otherwise bad things happen.

“Io Sono Vera (Vera de Verdad)” is a sci-fi drama that hails from Italy and Chile. It’s the story of a young girl who disappears without a trace. Five years later she returns but as a woman in her mid-twenties who seems to have been the victim of a strange premature aging syndrome. Coccinelle Film Sales is handling international sales for the feature, which is directed by Beniamino Catena, and produced by Macaia Films’ Simone Gandolfo and Atomica’s Karina Jury.

Among the seven projects in Frontières’ Proof of Concept platform is “The Change,” which looks at the taboo subject of the menopause through comedy, witchcraft and horror. Director Jen Handorf has worked as a producer in the U.K. for over a decade, turning out genre films such as “Prevenge” and “The Borderlands”, and this project marks her directorial debut. “I believe I can safely say that ‘The Change’ is the only film about menopause in the market,” says Handorf.

MPI is attached as worldwide sales agent. Handorf had planned to shoot a proof of concept trailer with real actors ahead of Frontières, but COVID-19 prevented it. So she has created a “really brilliant animation piece” according to Frontieres’ Annick Mahnert that gives an idea of the project.

“Coming Soon,” meanwhile, has a catchy premise. It’s about three movie obsessed friends who try to track down a serial killer who recreates scenes from classic 1980s movies to dispatch his victims. Producer Lauren Grant of Canada’s Clique Pictures pitches it neatly: “Your favorite movies becoming your worst nightmare,” adding that it has “throwback 80s fun, but is thoroughly modern.” Altitude Film Sales is handling international sales, which Grant says has “secured multiple pre-sales to date.” It is directed by Ante Kovac, and written by Nicole Saltz, Ante Kovac and Daniel Quinn. Ajay Freise is attached to star.

“Dogman” is the seventh feature from well-known Argentinian genre director Tamae Garateguy. It’s the story of a young half-Argentinian, half-Japanese man who takes revenge on the mafia who killed his family. Set to shoot in Argentina and Peru, it’s billed as an action adventure film that’s full of humor and energy. Garateguy also says it’s her most personal film – she has a Japanese in her Argentinian family.

“Fingernail” also looks interesting. The Israeli-project is about monsters who kill young children and their mothers with a long and lethal fingernail. As cities empty of the young, a father takes his young son and wife to shelter deep in the forest from the marauding creatures, which are impossible to kill. But when the son escapes from the woods back to civilization, he’s shocked to find a world that contradicts everything told to him by his father.

Producer Yoav Roeh says the script should crossover from horror audiences to a wider arthouse crowd as it also examines themes such as education and brainwashing.

“The film has a universal element which as Israeilis we are sorry to specialize in, and that is fear of “the other,” says Roeh. Set to be directed by Boaz Armoni, “Fingernail” was a prize winner last year at Bucheon International Fantastic Film Festival’s genre film project market.

“In Her Head” is described by Frontières’ Annick Mahnert as the most arthouse title in the selection. It also ranks as the most ambitious co-production at Frontières. Co-produced between Russia, Lebanon, Georgia, France and Lithuania, it explores the co-existence of different cultures and religions in a relationship, and is set to shoot in Lebanon and Europe. The idea for the film first came to director Maria Ivanova five years ago when she was shooting a documentary on Syrian refugees in Lebanon.

“I was amused by how so many different cultures and religions can co-exist in one small country,” she explains. Ivanova herself is Russia, while DoP Marius Panduru is from Romania, the art director is Kote Japaridze from Georgia, the producers are from Russia and Lebanon, and the actors are French.

Dutch sci-fi thriller “The Occupant” should ring a bell for genre specialists. It has won project prizes at both Bucheon and Sitges film festivals. The film has one key lead, Danny, a strong young woman determined to save her sister against all odds and at all costs. “We sometimes pitch it as ‘Arctic’ meets ‘Arrival,’” says producer Raymond van der Kaaij of Revolver Amsterdam, the producers of 2017 Sundance winner “I Dream in Another Language” and co-producers of Whit Stillman’s “Love & Friendship.” “The Occupant” is co-written and directed by commercials and short film director Hugo Keijzer, while Maurice Schutte at HAA! Films also produces.

“Rules for Werewolves”, meanwhile, is a Canadian and U.S. production. “Stranger Things’” Finn Wolfhard will reportedly topline the thriller based on a short film by Jeremy Schaulin-Rioux, who will also helm the feature-length pic. Producers are Peter Harvey of Peter Harvey Productions, and Ten Acre Films’ Jonathan Duffy and Kelly Williams. Playwright and novelist Kirk Lynn adapted the screenplay for the short based on his debut novel. It’s told mostly through a single take and investigates the rituals and rhythms of a pack of wild teens as they break in and loot a new home, leaving someone (or something) behind for the cops to find.