Paris-based outfit Silex Films is teaming up with Charades (“Mirai,” “I Lost My Body”) for “In Waves,” a California-set tale of unconditional love and surfing, adapted from American illustrator AJ Dungo’s critically acclaimed graphic novel of the same name.
“In Waves” will mark the feature debut of Phuong Mai Nguyen, a graduate of the Gobelins and La Poudriere animation schools who has directed several shorts, including “My Home,” which was shortlisted for the Academy Awards in 2016. She co-helmed the animated series “Brazen,” a series about historical women of various time periods which was also produced by Silex.
Fanny Burdino and Samuel Doux, a pair of successful screenwriters, are co-writing the script and have given it enough depth to appeal large audiences beyond the obvious animation or surf fan niches, said Priscilla Bertin, Silex’s co-founder (with Judith Nora). Burdino and Doux have worked with celebrated auteurs, including Joachim Lafosse (“After Love,” Cannes’ Directors’ Fortnight 2016), Cedric Kahn (“The Prayer,” Berlinale 2018) and Laurent Cantet (“Arthur Rambo”).
Set in sun-drenched Los Angeles, “In Wave” follows a shy teenager, AJ, who falls head over heels in love with the radiant, beautiful and popular Kristin, who is passionate about surfing. The pair bonds as Kristin initiates AJ to surfing, and their friendship blossoms into true love, surrounded by their close-knit community. Their happy life together takes an expected turn when Kristin starts suffering from a fatal illness. AJ is there for her as she battles the illness with dignity, never abandoning her ‘joie de vivre,’ until the very end.
“Judith and I were immediately torn by this powerful story of love and grief, which is also inspired by the personal journey of its young author, AJ Dungo, and is a kind of ‘Love Story’ set in the surfing world,” said Bertin, who is herself passionate about surf. Bertin said she fiercely chased adaptation rights for the book from California to New York.
“We were also amazed by the beauty of the drawings, as well as the poetic vibe and sensory quality of the graphic novel — the ocean, the waves that come and go are the perfect metaphor for sorrow which is one of film’s central themes, along with love,” said the producer, adding that she expects the project’s universal themes to strike a chord with young adults and well beyond.
Bertin will be pitching the project in development at the Annecy Film Festival which kicked off June 14. The movie is budgeted at $8.4 million and is expected to go into production at the end of 2022 for a delivery in late 2024.
The animation will be mainly being handled by Silex’s own studio in Augouleme, France. Bertin said the company was interested in joining forces with U.S. and/or European partners which will likely have a high-profile American voice cast. There might also be some artistic collaborations with Japanese partners.
“In Waves” marks the first animated film co-produced by Charades, the well-established sales banner which sold around the world several award-winning animated features, including Jeremy Clapin’s Oscar-nominated “I Lost My Body,” winner at Cannes’ Critics Week, and Mamoru Hosoda’s Oscar-nominated “Mirai” which opened at Cannes’ Directors’ Fortnight.
“’Mirai’ was the first animated feature film we sold, followed by ‘I Lost My Body,’ so we were very cautious to board our first animated feature film as a co-producer, and ‘In Waves’ was the perfect fit for our DNA, it made sense in every way for us,” said Charades’ co-founder Yohann Comte. “This project combines experienced female producers, Priscilla Bertin and Judith Nora, with a talented female artist and feature debutant, Phuong Mai Nguyen, and an international IP telling an overwhelming love story.”
Bertin, meanwhile, said Silex was eager to partner up with Charades, which has a stellar track record in prestige animation and will be able to position “In Wave” as an international project, and potentially showcase it in the festival circuit.
Dungo’s novel has been published in more than 10 countries and was translated in French, Italian, Spanish, Polish, German, Portuguese, Chinese and Slovakian. Since being published in 2019, the graphic novel has sold 60,000 copies in France alone. It won a flurry of international laurels, including BD Fnac-France Inter Award, the American Library Association’s Alex Award, and it was a finalist of the EGL (Excellence in Graphic Literature) Awards, as well as one of NPR’s Favorite Books of 2019.
Bertin said she and Nora wanted to adapt the graphic novel into an animated feature rather than a live-action one because “only animation could recreate the sensorial and dream-like aspects of the story and express a myriad of emotions, while avoiding a crude representation of disability and death.”
Although the film depicts grave events, it will boast a colorful, pop art visual style which will capture the author’s “bright universe, as well as the energy of youth and sunny California setting,” said Bertin.
The film’s animation will match the source material. It will have a 2D look and will be created with a mix of 2D and 3D techniques.
Launched in 2009, Silex has been working with many promising young filmmakers, including Aurélie Saada, a popular French singer who is making her directorial debut with “Rose,” a female-driven drama starring Françoise Fabian and Aure Atika which will be released by Apollo Films and represented in international markets by Kinology (“Annette”). Silex is producing the movie with Germaine Films.