By any terms, Berlin’s 2021 European Film Market will deliver its smallest pre-sales market in years. COVID-19 has put back productions, created distribution bottlenecks, and provoked huge uncertainty about cinema theater re-openings.
But there will still be titles – in development, in production and complete – across a broad gamut to whet buyers’ appetites, even at times have them reaching for their wallets.
The following are a curated selection of buzz titles, ranging from big budget to accessible arthouse.
Director: Duke Johnson
Writers: Duke Johnson, Stephen Cooney
Cast: Ryan Gosling
Producers: Gosling, Ken Kao (Waypoint Entertainment), Johnson, Abigail Spencer (Innerlight Films), Paul Young (Make Good Banner)
New York actor Paul Cole is beaten and left for dead in 1950s Ohio. Stripped of his memory and stranded in a small town, he struggles to get back home, and piece together his life.
Sales: CAA Media Finance, Endeavor Content
Director: Jean-Stéphane Sauvaire
Writer: Ryan King
Cast: Sean Penn, Tye Sheridan
Producers: Warren Goz, Eric Gold, Christopher Kopp, Lucan Toh, Penn, John Ira Palmer, John Wildermuth
Young medic drives an ambulance with grizzled veteran as they struggle to make a difference.
Sales: FilmNation Entertainment
Director: Eli Roth
Writer: Craig Mazin
Cast: Jack Black, Cate Blanchett, Kevin Hart
Producers: Avi Arad, Ari Arad, Erik Feig
Four “vault hunters” travel to the distant planet Pandora to hunt down an alien vault rumored to contain advanced technology.
Director/writer: Neill Blomkamp
Cast: Chris William Martin, Andrea Agur
Producers: AGC Studios, Oats Studios
“District 9’s” Blomkamp flips genre from sci-fi to horror in a thriller about a young woman who unleashes terrifying demons at the root of her childhood trauma. “Neill’s a proven auteur, has a genuine brand amongst genre fans, and, typically of this director, the film has a very strong visual hook,” says AGC Studios Stuart Ford.
Sales: AGC International, ICM Partners
“A Good Person”
Director/writer: Zach Braff
Cast: Florence Pugh, Morgan Freeman
Allison’s life falls apart following her involvement in a fatal accident. An unlikely relationship she forms with her would-be father-in-law helps her live a life worth living.
Sales: Rocket Science, CAA Media Finance
“In the Lost Lands”
Director: Paul W.S. Anderson
Key cast: Milla Jovovich, Dave Bautista
Producers: Jeremy Bolt, Anderson, Jovovich, Bautista, Jonathan Meisner
A queen, desperate to fulfill her love, makes a daring play: she hires the sorceress Gray Alys, a woman as feared as she is powerful. Sent to the ghostly wilderness of the Lost Lands, Alys and her guide, the drifter Boyce, must outwit and outfight man and demon in this fable that explores the nature of good and evil, debt and fulfillment, love and loss.
Sales: CAA, FilmNation Entertainment
Director: Oliver Hermanus
Writer: Kazuo Ishiguro, based on the Akira Kurosawa film “Ikiru”
Producer: Stephen Woolley, Elizabeth Karlsen
Key cast: Bill Nighy, Aimee Lou Wood
Set in 1952 London, Williams is a veteran civil servant. As endless paperwork piles up on his desk, he learns he has a fatal illness. Thus begins his quest to find some meaning to his seemingly grey, monotonous life before it slips away.
Sales: Rocket Science
“The Marsh King’s Daughter”
Director: Neil Burger
Writer: Mark L. Smith, Elle Smith
Cast: Daisy Ridley
Producers: Black Bear Pictures’ Teddy Schwarzman, Anonymous Content’s Keith Redmon, Mark L. Smith
Helena is a woman living a seemingly ordinary life, but hiding a dark secret: her father is the infamous “Marsh King,” the man who kept her and her mother captive in the wilderness for years. After a lifetime of trying to escape her past, Helena is forced to face her demons when her father unexpectedly escapes from prison.
Sales: STXinternational, CAA Media Finance
“The Pale Blue Eye”
Director: Scott Cooper
Cast: Christian Bale
Producers: Bale, Cooper, John Lesher, Tyler Thompson (Cross Creek)
A detective and a young cadet attempt to solve a series of murders at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in 1830.
Sales: MadRiver, CAA Media Finance, Endeavor Content
Director: Andrés Baiz
Writer: Emily Jerome
Cast: Shailene Woodley, Anthony Mackie, Jacob Latimore
Producers: Kevin Walsh (Scott Free), Emily Jerome, Stuart Ford (AGC)
Wall Street trader teams up with prison guard to take on a culture of corrupt boardrooms, white supremacists, prison gangs and crooked correctional officers.
Sales: AGC International, CAA Media Finance
“The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry”
Director: Hettie Macdonald
Cast: Jim Broadbent
Producer: Kevin Loader, Juliet Dowling, Marilyn Milgrom
Harold Fry sets out on a 450-mile walk across the U.K. to save the life of his old friend Queenie, who is dying in a hospice.
Director: Josh Ruben
Screenplay: Mishna Wolff
Cast: Sam Richardson, Milana Vayntrub, George Basil
Producers: Jason Altman, Margaret Boykin, and Andrew Lieberman for Ubisoft Film & Television; Matt Miller, Natalie Metzger, and Benjamin Wiessner for Vanishing Angle; and Sam Richardson.
A snow storm cuts off a small town in Vermont as a mysterious creature terrorizes the community. “A slightly left-field comedy horror whodunit that’s really hugely entertaining with engaging characters and a very broad audience appeal,” says David Garrett of Mister Smith Entertainment.
Sales: Mister Smith Entertainment
“After We Fell”
Director: Castille Landon
Writer: Sharon Soboil
Cast: Josephine Langford, Hero Fiennes Tiffin, Stephen Moyer
Producers: Jennifer Gibgot, Brian Pitt, Wattpad’s Aron Levitz, CalMaple’s Mark Canton, Courtney Solomon
Just as Tessa makes the biggest decision of her life, everything changes. Revelations about her family, and then Hardin’s, throw everything they knew before in doubt and makes their hard-won future together more difficult to claim.
Sales: Voltage Pictures
“Enter the Dragons”
Director: Marjane Satrapi
Writer: Joy Wilkinson
Producer: Cassandra Sigsgaard, Jessica Malik, Jessica Parker, Gemma Arterton
Cast: Gemma Arterton, Jason Tobin
England, 1979. Mrs. Thatcher has just won the election, but life hasn’t changed for women in Coalshaw. The most Gloria Grimshaw can hope for is selling cosmetics and having a baby… but when the close-knit community of women comes under threat, Gloria is forced to defend herself – by learning martial arts. As she begins to take control of her life, her friends notice this transformation and want to join in. Soon women of all ages are learning to fight together with Gloria, becoming the Coalshaw Dragons.
Sales: WestEnd Films
“I‘m Your Man”
Director: Maria Schrader
Writer: Maria Schrader, Jan Schomburg
Producer: Lisa Blumenberg (Letterbox Filmbroduktion)
Cast: Dan Stevens, Maren Eggert, Sandra Hüller
Alma takes part in an extraordinary study, in which she lives with a humanoid robot tailored to her character and needs, whose sole purpose is to make her happy.
Festival section: Berlinale Competition
Sales: Beta Cinema
Director: Lorcan Finnegan
Writer: Garret Shanley
Kay cast: Eva Green, Mark Strong, Chai Fonacier
Producers: Emily Leo of Wild Swim Films, Brunella Cocchiglia of Lovely Productions
“Nocebo” follows a fashion designer who is suffering from a mysterious illness that confounds her doctors and frustrates her husband – until help arrives in the form of a Filipino nanny, who uses traditional folk healing to reveal a horrifying truth.
Sales: XYZ Films
“Our Last Summer”
Directors: Katie Ennis, Gary Jaffe
Writer: Gary Jaffe
Producer: Emily McCann Lesser, Katie Ennis
Executive producer: Alan Ball
Westchester, Summer 1991. Closeted teenager Daniel Rosen travels a bumpy road to self-acceptance when his estranged gay uncle Ira returns home, dying of complications from HIV/AIDS.
Sales: The Exchange
Director: Emmanuelle Bercot
Cast: Catherine Deneuve, Benoît Magimel, Gabriel Sara, Cecile de France
Producers: Les Films du Kiosque
The latest from Bercot, director of Cannes opener “Standing Tall”: A son in denial and a helpless mother gradually confront his grave illness, as a doctor tries to do his job. “A highly emotional film with strong festival potential,” says Studiocanal’s Chloé Marquet.
Director: Tony Stone
Writers: Gaddy Davis, John Rosenthal, Stone
Cast: Sharlto Copley
Producers: Stone, Matt Flanders
Ted K lives a life of almost complete seclusion in a simple wooden cabin in the mountains of Montana. But then this former university professor, who despises modern society and its faith in technology, becomes radicalized. What begins with local acts of sabotage, ends with deadly bomb attacks. To the outside world, Ted K becomes known as the Unabomber.
Sales: Cinetic Media, HanWay Films
Berlin section: Panorama
Director/writer: Harry Wootliff
Cast: Ruth Wilson, Tom Burke
Producer: The Bureau
Kate is sleep-walking through life when a chance sexual encounter with a charismatic stranger awakens her. High on infatuation what follows is an intoxicating car crash.
Sales: The Bureau Sales
Directors/writers: Kristina Buozyte, Bruno Samper
Cast: Eddie Marsan, Raffiella Chapman, Rosy McEwen
Producers: Asta Liukaityte, Daiva Jovaisiene, Alexis Perrin
After the collapse of the Earth’s ecosystem, teenager Vesper teams with a mysterious woman, Camellia, on a mission to infiltrate the Citadel, where oligarchs use genetic technologies to rule the world.
“Ali & Ava”
Director/writer: Clio Barnard
Cast: Claire Rushbrook, Adeel Akhtar
Producer: Tracy O’Riordan
Ali and Ava, both lonely for different reasons, meet and sparks fly. Over a lunar month a deep connection begins to grow, despite the legacy of Ava’s past relationship, and Ali’s emotional turmoil at the breakdown of his marriage.
Sales: Altitude Film Sales
Director: Sönke Wortmann
Producer: Constantin Film Produktion
Key cast: Nilam Farooq, Christoph Maria Herbst, Hassan Akkouch
After one xenophobic remark too many, Professor Richard Pohl is in danger of being kicked out of his university after insulting law student Naima Hamid in front of a packed lecture hall. Now, he must coach her in a debating contest.
Sales: Picture Tree International
Director: Claire Denis
Cast: Juliette Binoche, Vincent Lindon
Producer: Olivier Delbosc
A love triangle story about a woman caught between two men – her long-time partner and his best friend, her former lover.
Sales: Wild Bunch, Anton
Directors: Gastón Duprat, Mariano Cohn
Writers: Gastón Duprat, Mariano Cohn, Andrés Duprat
Cast: Penélope Cruz, Antonio Banderas, Oscar Martínez, José Luis Gómez
Production company: The Mediapro Studio
In search of transcendence and social prestige, a multimillionaire businessman decides to make a film that will leave a mark. For this, he hires the best: a stellar team consisting of famed filmmaker Lola Cuevas and two well-known actors, both of whom are immense talents, but with even bigger egos.
Sales: Protagonist Pictures, CAA Media Finance
“The Peasants” (Animation)
Director: Dorota Kobiela
Producer: BreakThru Films
“The Peasants,” from the director of “Loving Vincent,” is a tragic story of a peasant girl Jagna forced to marry a much older, wealthy farmer Boryna, despite her love for his son Antek. With time, Jagna becomes the object of envy and hate of the villagers, and has to fight to preserve her independence.
Sales: New Europe Film Sales
Director/writer: Yoav and Doron Paz
Cast: August Diehl, Sylvia Hoeks, Michael Aloni
Producer: Skady Lis
Based on a true story. In 1945, a group of Jewish holocaust survivors planned to poison the water system in Germany, killing 6 million Germans. The film tells the dangerous secret operation that was called Plan A.
Sales: Global Screen
Directors: James Napier Robertson, Paula Whetu Jones
Cast: Rena Owen, Miriama McDowell, Vinnie Bennett, James Rolleston, Tioreore Ngatai-Melbourne
Producer: Matthew Metcalfe, Tainui Stephens
The story of Whina Cooper, who united the Māoris and led them on a 1,000 km trek to New Zealand’s Parliament in protest against indigenous land being stolen.
“Ballad of a White Cow”
Director: Behtash Sanaeeha, Maryam Moghaddam
Cast: Maryam Moghaddam, Alireza Sanifar, Pourya Rahimisam
Producers: Gholamreza Mousavi, Etienne de Ricaud
“The story of a woman’s struggle for justice, recognition and independence in today’s Teheran,” notes Totem Films. Mina, whose husband was executed for a crime he didn’t commit, gradually allows a stranger, Reza, to enter her life, unaware of the secret that ties them to one another.
Berlin festival section: Competition
Sales: Totem Films
“Bloodsuckers – A Marxist Vampire Comedy” (Germany)
Director: Julian Radlmaier
Cast: Alexander Koberidze, Lilith Stangenberg, Alex Herbst
Producer: Julian Radlmaier, Kirill Krasovski (Faktura Film)
A penniless Soviet refugee falls in love with a young, wealthy German vampiress who is spending the summer by the sea with her awkward assistant.
Berlin festival section: Encounters
Sales: Arri Media International
Director: Prano Bailey-Bond
Screenwriters: Prano-Bailey Bond, Anthony Fletcher
Cast: Niamh Algar, Nicholas Burns, Vincent Franklin
Producer: Helen Jones (Silver Salt Films)
1985. When film censor Enid discovers an eerie horror that speaks directly to her sister’s mysterious disappearance, she resolves to unravel the puzzle behind the film and its enigmatic director.
Berlin festival section: Panorama
Sales: Protagonist Pictures
“Mr. Bachmann and His Class”
Director: Maria Speth
Writers: Reinhold Vorschneider, Maria Speth
Producer: Maria Speth
Key cast: Dieter Bachmann, Aynur Bal, Önder Cavdar
“Mr. Bachmann and His Class” is an intimate documentary portraying the bond between an elementary school teacher and his students. His unconventional methods clash with the complex social and different cultural realities of the provincial German industrial town they live in.
Berlin festival section: Official Competition
Sales: Films Boutique
Director: Daniel Brühl
Writers: Daniel Brühl, Daniel Kehlmann
Producer: Malte Grunert, Amusement Park Film, Warner Bros. Film Productions
Cast: Daniel Brühl, Peter Kurth
Living the perfect life of a movie star in Berlin, Daniel crosses paths with Bruno, whose life is far tougher, but he is ready to take his revenge.
Berlin festival section: Berlinale Competition
Sales: Beta Cinema
Director/writer: Céline Sciamma
Cast: Gabrielle Sanz, Joséphine Sanz, Nina Meurisse
Producer: Bénédicte Couvreur
Berlin festival section: Competition
Eight-year-old Nelly, who has just lost her beloved grandmother, is helping her mom clean out her childhood home. One day her mother abruptly leaves. That’s when Nelly meets a girl her own age in the woods building a treehouse.
Sales: MK2 Films
Director: Natalia Almada,
Producers: Josh Penn, Elizabeth Lodge Stepp
An epic documentary that explores our tech addiction and its impact on the social fabric of our planet.
Sales: Film Constellation
John Hopewell contributed to this report.