MK2, the venerable family-owned film group which operates a leading arthouse multiplex chain in France and Spain, is emerging from the pandemic stronger, cooler and more ambitious than ever.
Nathanaël and Elisha Karmitz, who succeeded their father Marin at the helm of the company in 2005, have galvanized the MK2 brand with activities ranging from films, art, publishing, technology and lifestyle. The common threads between all these ventures are a taste for singularity, curation and a socially-minded approach.
After scoring big at Cannes in 2019 with Mati Diop’s “Atlantics” and Celine Sciamma’s “Portrait of a Lady on Fire,” which competed and won prizes, MK2 Films will again boast a fairly large presence for the festival’s comeback edition with nine films across several selections, including the competition with Joachim Trier’s “The Worst Person in the World,” the new Cannes Premiere section with Andrea Arnold’s “Cow,” Un Certain Regard with Aleksey German Jr.’s “House Arrest” and Mina Mileva and Vesela Kazakova’s “Women Do Cry;” and Directors’ Fortnight with Jonas Carpignano’s “A Chiara” and Anaïs Volpé’s “The Brave.” The company also has Rahul Jain’s documentary “Invisible Demons,” co-repped with Participant in the cinema for the climate section, and two films at Cannes Classics, Krzysztof Kieślowski’s “The Double Life of Veronique,” and Emir Kusturica’s “Black Cat, White Cat.”
Under the leadership of Nathanael Karmitz and managing director Fionnuala Jamison, an Irish-born executive who took over from Juliette Schrameck last year, MK2 Films is now about to expand with more acquisitions, including English-language titles, more co-productions and additional hires. The current team includes Olivier Barbier, head of acquisitions and Camille Dupeuble, SVP of international sales, who joined MK2 from Wild Bunch and Studiocanal, respectively; along with Quentin Bohanna, international sales executive; Elise Cochin, in charge of library sales worldwide; and Ching-Lo Hsu, international sales and coordination executive.
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The company’s slate of new acquisitions include Mikhael Hers’ “Night Birds” with a female-driven cast led by Charlotte Gainsbourg (“Melancholia”), rising star Noée Abita (“Slalom”) and Emmanuelle Béart (“8 Women”). “Night Birds,” the helmer’s follow-up to the Venice-premiering “Amanda,” portrays a divorcee raising her children alone and working at a late-night radio show in the 1980s.
MK2 Films has also boarded “Mars Express,” Jeremie Perrin’s stylish animated film noir set in a near future. “Mars Express” follows a private detective and her android partner who are hired by a wealthy businessman to track down a notorious hacker. Their investigation leads them to Mars where they uncover a darker story of brain farms, corruption and a missing girl.
Jamison said the feature will “combine 2D and 3D animation and will include a healthy dose of humor and action scenes.” The executive said “Mars Express” was also in line with the company’s other upscale animated projects, notably Alex Helfrecht’s “A Winter’s Journey,” which is being made by the creative teams behind “Despicable Me” and “Loving Vincent;” and “The Inventor,” written and directed by Jim Capobianco, the Oscar-nominated scribe of “Ratatouille.”
Slated for a delivery in 2022, “Mars Express” is produced by Everybody on Deck and is being created by Je Suis Bien Content, a well-known studio whose track record includes “The Day of the Crows” and “Persepolis.” Gebeka will distribute the film in France. MK2 Films will show a demo reel of the project at Cannes.
As it strives to nurture a young generation of filmmakers, MK2 Films has also acquired international sales rights to “Mother and Son,” the sophomore outing of Leonor Serraille who won Cannes’ Golden Camera with “Jeune Fille” in 2017. The film opens in the 1980s and spans 30 years into the life of Rose, who moved from Africa to the Paris suburbs with her two young sons. Produced by Blue Monday Productions, the film stars Annabelle Lengronne, Stéphane Bak, Ahmed Sylla and Kenzo Sambin. It will be released in France by Diaphana.
“In previous years, we were handling 10 to 15 films per year, and now we’re aiming to handle between 15 and 20 with a desire to have a balance between established filmmakers and emerging talents, many of whom are women,” says Karmitz.
The company’ Cannes lineup is dominated again this year by female directors, but Karmitz says it has nothing to do with affirmative action. “It’s happening in a very natural way through the choices we make, and it’s a reflection of today’s world but in reality female directors have always played a pivotal role in the history of cinema since its creation,” says Karmitz.
Jamison concurs, “We are happy to be working with a young generation of directors, and we are seeing every year that an increasingly number of them are directed by women, like Leonore Seraille, who lend a different tone and voice to the stories they tell. I think we all need this new gaze.”
Jamison said that although the market was highly competitive with “distributors mainly focusing on established directors, there is still room for gems from lesser-known directors as long as they stand out for their subjects, characters or points of view.”
“All the films on our lineup say something about our world and are very politically-minded; if you take the two films in Un Certain Regard for instance, each represent a very particular chapter in history that resonates today,” says Karmitz.
“MK2 has always been driven by the desire to look for stories about particular situations that can strike a universal chord,” adds Karmitz, who added that political engagement has always been at the roots of MK2 since its founding by Marin Karmitz in 1974.
MK2 Films will also be ramping up its input in co-production. In the current post-Covid film landscape, the company feels a duty to be “more involved with filmmakers and encourage them to continue making singular, original movies that will be discovered in theaters,” says Karmitz.
With its international outlook, the company is also well positioned to ensure that projects it boards will travel overseas. “100% our lineup travels, and on each title we have at least 25 territories sold,” says Jamison.
The executive, who played an active role in securing worldwide sales rights to Arnold’s “Cow,” said the outfit was interesting in repping more films from Anglo-Saxon industries, including the U.K., Australia, New Zealand and the U.S.
Another key aspect of MK2 is its love for heritage movies and its impressive library of 600 films, including classics from Charles Chaplin to Claude Chabrol, David Lynch and Abbas Kiarostami. Rosalie Varda, the daughter of the late New Wave legend Agnes Varda, joined MK2 Films as senior consultant for the company’s library activities. Within the last year, MK2 has hosted several events, including an homage to Chabrol with a program of five iconic movies restored in 4K labeled “Suspense in the Female Form;” and a large-scale retrospective and exhibition of the work of Kiarostami; and the 100-year anniversary of “The Kid,” Charlie Chaplin’s first film.
The brothers’ latest venture is Hotel Paradiso, a hip and chic cinephile haven located in Paris. The four-star venue boasts 34 rooms, which are tastefully decorated by Alix Thomsen and boast laser projectors as well as giant screens; while two suites even boast private state-of-the-art screening rooms. The hotel is also meant to be a Parisian hotspot with a karaoke lounge, podcast studio and an open-air cinema roof terrace with unobstructed views of Paris. Due to the large success of the venue since its launch a few months ago, Karmitz said the company is now considering opening another Paradiso hotel in Paris.
MK2 is also big on curated digital initiatives. In 2020, the company created Festival à la Maison, an online festival, and launched MK2 Curiosity, an AVod platform dedicated to rare arthouse films. The brothers’ love for high-art and films are also on display in their Cinema Paradiso festival which is currently being hosted by Le Louvre Museum and offers open-air free screenings of cult films and anticipated ones like Netflix’s “How I Became a Superhero” by Douglas Attal.