Joy Jorgensen’s Berlin-based Killjoy Films and Nadia Turincev and Omar El Kadi’s Paris shingle Easy Riders are partnering on “Runner,” a relationship drama set in the American Midwest from director Marian Mathias.

“Runner” follows Haas, an 18-year-old girl dealing with the sudden death of her father and whose life takes an unexpected turn when she carries out his last wish to be buried in his home town along the Mississippi – a community that has been hit hard by climate change and economic woes. There she meets Will, a young man whose artistic soul is tethered to the harsh reality of life.

Mathias describes her debut feature as a “story of first love. It is a story of two young people, both in times of great trial, who find and reinforce one another.” Commenting on the film’s setting, the director says, “I am drawn to the vast and often neglected scenes of the American Midwest.”

The film is set to shoot on location in Missouri and Illinois.

“Reading the script for ‘Runner,’ I immediately felt a tension between toughness and grace,” says Jorgensen, who launched Killjoy in New York in 2014 and moved the company to Berlin two years later.

“My family is from the rural U.S. and ‘Runner’ poetically conveys the vast spaces between people in the rural parts of the U.S. and the ability or inability of people to overcome that physical and emotional distance,” she notes. “It’s about the joyous fight for connection despite circumstance.”

Jorgensen adds: “Marian and I have been working together for a long time and I’ve always been impressed with her rigor and generosity – a combination that is as palpable in her presence as it is effective in her filmmaking.”

Mathias’s Brooklyn shingle Man Alive is likewise co-producing the film, which took part in this year’s Venice Gap-Financing Market.

The project received development support from the Cannes Cinéfondation Residence program and production support from Creative Media Europe, which sponsored the €50,000 ($59,195) Torino Co-Production Award Mathias picked up last year. “The majority of our currently secured financing comes from private equity in the U.S. and Germany,” Jorgensen explains. “We are preparing to apply for potential French support with Easy Riders Films this fall.”

The producers are looking for additional equity investors or co-production partners for post-production in Venice, according to Jorgensen. The project has yet to sign a world sales company.

“Runner” is budgeted at €464,800 ($550,264) and already has €326,000 ($385,943) in place. The planned production budget was originally higher, but the producers recently reduced it by streamlining the production team, Jorgensen explains. “A smaller crew makes it more likely that we can safely film in spring 2021, regardless of a vaccine, by making it more feasible to apply strict COVID-19 safety protocols.”

With the story set in Illinois and key parts of the film shooting along the Mississippi River, the producers are also planning to apply for Illinois’ 30% tax credit.

(Pictured: Joy Jorgensen, Marian Mathias)