Films from Maze Pictures, producer of Colin Firth-starrer “The Happy Prince,” and from Basis Berlin, behind Oscar-nominated doc feature “Of Father and Sons,” figure among the six pix in post to be highlighted at Locarno’s First Look on German Cinema, which is shaping up as one of the festival’s industry highlights.
Maze and Basis Berlin will unveil what look on paper like the section’s biggest commercial plays: Drug scene drama “Three Lives Long” and Iran-set arthouse social drama “Empty Nets.”
First Look’s most classic art house bet may be Milena Aboyan’s “Elaha,” a Kurd bride-to-be emancipation drama set in contemporary Germany.
Two other titles have more of an indie tenor: Pan-Europe road movie “Arthur & Diana” and farewell dinner dramedy “One Last Evening.”
“Life is Not a Competition, But I’m Winning” weighs in as an arch film essay from queer feminist activist Julia Fuhr Mann.
Five of the six works in progress are first features, making the First Look on German Cinema an effective new talent showcase. The directors, however, are not all totally German, three being born outside Germany – a sign of the welcome larger inclusivity and pulling power of today’s German film industry.
Selected projects, none with a sales agent attached, will be awarded by a jury of major festival directors made up of Vanja Kaludjercic (International Film Festival Rotterdam), Tricia Tuttle (BFI London Film Festival) and HUH Moonyung (Busan International Film Festival).
Awards take in the Cinegrell First Look Award, which consists of services towards the completion of films in post-production up to the value of €50,000 ($51,000).
A brief drill-down on titles:
“Arthur & Diana,” (Dir: Sara Summa. Prod: German Film and Television Academy Berlin (DFFB), Rundfunk Berlin-Brandenburg – RBB)
To the sounds of Steppenwolf’s “Born to Be Wild,” the ultimate hitting-the-road anthem, siblings Arthur and Diana take an alternative road trip across Europe from Berlin to France to South Tyrol in a movie which mixes a documentary edge and seeming fantasy, family dynamics, adult age fears and disillusionment, and something of the excitement which Arthur remembers fondly from his childhood. Summa, her brother and two year-old son play fictional alter egos of themselves – “Arthur & Diana” gains a larger reach through its personal observance. “The car they drive, their father’s car which they won’t give up on, is the childhood they can’t say goodbye to. It is their father whom they don’t want to let go of,” Sara Summa observes.
“Elaha,” (Dir: Milena Aboyan. Prod: Kinescope Film, Filmakademie Baden-Württemberg, Essence Film)
Elaha, a 22-daughter of a Kurd family in Germany, battles for the money to pay for a medical procedure restoring her hymen before marriage, only nine weeks off, to a doting but patriarchal fiancé. Milena Aboyan, born a Yazidi Kurd in the Armenian SSR in 1989 but based in Germany since 2010, chronicles the hourly restrictions to Elaha’s freedom in the name of traditional family honor. Near newcomer Bayan Layla, seen in “Generation Tochter,” stars as Elaha. Broadcasters SWR and Arte are already attached.
“Empty Nets,” (Dir: Behrooz Karamizade. Prod: Basis Berlin Filmproduktion, Living Pictures Production, Rainy Pictures, Iran)
Amir, 20, jobless, desperately needs bride money to marry Narges. He gets entangled in the violent machinations of the caviar mafia. When Omar asks Amir to help him escape from his country in exchange for money, a chance suddenly opens up for Amir to reach his goal. Winner of the 2021 Golden Lola, the German screenplay award, Karamizade’s first feature, a social-issue thriller, is produced by Eva Kemme whose credits include the Academy Award-nominated doc “Of Fathers and Sons,” also a World Cinema Grand Jury Prize laureate at the 2018 Sundance Festival. The film is supported by ZDF/Das Kleine Fernsehspiel in collaboration with Arte – prestige backing.
“Life is Not a Competition, But I’m Winning,” (Dir: Julia Fuhr Mann Prod: Schuldenberg Films, HFF Munich, 3sat)
A film essay featuring a team of queer runners in the future who travel back in time to note cases of extraordinary gender bias against female and trans athletes, near present and past – such as full footage of the allegedly scandalously punishing 1928 Olympic Games women’s 800 meters final which caused the event to be banned for 32 years. The footage shows a completely normal race. “Precisely because it seems so natural in sports to maintain the classic gender binary, it is all the more important here to question it,” says Fuhr Mann. “In other areas of society, it has long been inconceivable to practice such rigid gender separation and for the associated differences in success, pay and prestige to be completely unquestioned.”
“One Last Evening,” (“Letzter Abend,” Dir: Lukas Nathrath. Prod: Klinkerfilm, Doppelbauer & Nathrath Filmproduktion)
Starting off afresh, moving from Hanover to Berlin, a young couple – she’s an on-the-rise doctor, he’s an unpublished singer-songwriter – stage a farewell dinner that spirals out of control, uncovering hidden fears, secret longings and life-lies. A tragedy-laced dramedy marking the feature debut of Nathrath, whose graduation film “Kippa” won the Studio Hamburg Young Talent Award. “I am interested in portraying characters with hopes and self-delusions who try to save face but eventually lose their composure,” Nathrath says.
“Three Lives Long,” (Dir: Felicitas Korn Prod: Maze Pictures, U5 FilmProduktion, ZDF)
A parentless boy in search of stability, a coke dealer in a scramble for power (Jonas Nay) and a heavy alcoholic full of longing for love (André Hennicke) fight for their lives in the drug milieu. The feature debut of Korn, a Hofer Filmtage story editor, AD and DP who also published this story as a novel in 2020. Produced by Maze Pictures’ Philipp Kreuzer and Katrin Haase at U5 Filmproduktion.