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‘Zucchini’s’ Rita Productions, ‘Stalk’s’’ Silex Films Re-Team for ‘Witch!’ (EXCLUSIVE)

Thalia Rebinsky, Pauline Gyax, Eve Minault
Rita Productions

Switzerland’s Rita Productions, producer of Academy Award-nominated “My Life as a Courgette,” is re-teaming with France’s Silex Films, the company behind France Televisions’ Slash hit series “Stalk,” to develop “Witch!” (“Sorciere!”).

Aiming to rehabilitate the figure of the witch in contemporary society, doc-feature “Witch!” is based on the bestselling essay by Mona Chollet,  “Witches, the Undefeated Power of Women.” The essay should hit English-language bookstores later this year.

The doc-feature is being written by TV creator Thalia Rebinsky whose  “Nina” is now in its sixth season on France 2, and documentarian Eve Minault, director for French-German public broadcaster Arte of the prescient “Crash: Are You Ready for the Next Crisis?”

Pauline Gygax, Judith Nora, Max Karli and Priscilla Bertin will produce. Minault, Rebinsky and Gygax will present the project on Saturday April 25 as part of an RTS Prize: Documentary Perspectives showcase, organized by the French-language broadcaster at Swiss film festival Visions du Réél, which runs online from April 17 to May 2.

Carrying a cash prize of SF10,000 ($10,300), the RTS Prize forms part of Visions April 25-May 2 industry program.

The 90-minute documentary feature sets out to track down modern-day witches worldwide. Having done so, it will analyze their figures in current-day society, enrolling testimonies from thinkers, original archive material and contemporary film footage and creative animation.

Witches are no longer burnt at the stake. Their position in contemporary society, however, is hardly ideal, provoking “at best censorship or self-censorship, at worst, hostility and violence,” says a film synopsis.

“Witch!” is in early development, with the structure and tone of the documentary established, as well as its main axes of adaptation, and of course the iconographic research, which producer Pauline Gygax at Rita Productions called “very dense.”

“The witch hunt has always been a hunt for free, autonomous and courageous women. The rise of today’s “new feminism” inevitably provokes very strong resistance (defense of the gains of masculinity; questioning of acquired rights such as abortion throughout the world,; homophobia; resurgence of religious extremism…),” said Gygax.

She added: “As Susan Faludi already observed 30 years ago, this is the backlash concept: Today more than ever, witches are visible, but also strongly rejected. Just look at the fate of a smart 16-year-old teenager who allows herself to say that the planet is in trouble….”

”We were destined to work together with Rita Productions on this new project. Rita is our ‘sister production company’ in Switzerland, we share the same DNA and had the chance to work with Pauline Gygax and Max Karli in the past on a feature film,” said producer Judith Nora at Silex Films.

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Judith Nora, Max Karli and Priscilla Bertin Rita Productions

She added: “Silex Films aims to produce projects with strong cultural impact using new visual grammar aimed to a large and international audience. ‘Witch!’ reflects this ambition perfectly. Mona Chollet’s insightful essay is a huge ‘hit’ in France and its success is spreading all over the world. We feel very lucky as this widespread popularity is opening many opportunities for the international market.”

Regarding the animation sequences, the producers are exploring various avenues: Bringing still images-archives to life, re-creating witchcraft trials from the Middle Ages but with modern-day witches as defendants, or, as in Judy Chicago’s installation The Dinner Party, inventing a dinner that brings together figures of women witches from all eras: Goddess Kali talking with Louise Bourgeois talking with Beyonce talking with Frida Kahlo and so on.

“Our motto for the film is: Not one single fixed image,” Gygax said.

The producers are looking to shoot in the U.S., Europe and, crucially, beyond, – an aim which will make “Witch!” a somewhat more substantial budget than most projects being presented at Visions du Réel.

“This international ambition is very important to us, to consolidate the resolutely pedagogical aspect of the film and also  to get out of a kind of western ethnocentrism that is all too common. This would be particularly unfair here.,” Gygax said.

Founded by Karli and Gyax in 2003, Geneva-based Rita Productions produced “My Life as a Courgette” and, teaming with Silex Films, Bettina Oberli’s “With the Wind,” which won the Variety Piazza Grande Award at the 2018 Locarno Festival.

Also in  2018, Rita Productions co-launched Bandita Films, with Ursula Meier (“Sister”), Lionel Baier (“Vanity,” “Another Man”), Jean-Stéphane Bron (“The Paris Opera”), and Frédéric Mermoud (“Moka”) at Lausanne-based Bande à Part Films. The joint venture to make full-on international movies, both fiction and doc-features has Ursula Meier’s La Ligne (“The Line”) near to going into production and Baier’s “South” scheduled to shoot at the need of summer in Italy before the coronavirus crisis postponed these plans.

Based in Paris, and focusing on feature, drama series and 2D animation,  Silex Films’ “Jungle,” Louise Mootz’ 52-minute doc-feature “Jungle” capturing her best friends in northern Paris as  they confront their desires, sexuality and condition as women with untamed energy, has been selected for Visions du Réel’s medium-feature and shorts section.

Silex drama-thriller “Stalk,” which was released in March on France Télévisions’ Slash service has quickly become the most critically acclaimed of recent YA French TV series, showcased by The Wit at Mipcom and winning last September best director for Simon Bouisson and most promising actor for Théo Fernandez at La Rochelle’s Festival de la Fiction TV.

Adapting Pénélope Bagieu’s international bestseller “Culottées,” Silex’s 2D animated series “Brazen” has just been selected for the 2020 online Annecy Intl. Animated Film Festival.