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New feature films from Japanese auteur Koji Fukada, Spanish-Chilean filmmaker Théo Court, and rising Georgian director Elene Naveriani are among the 28 projects selected for this year’s CineMart co-production market, which takes place online Jan. 30-Feb. 2, alongside the Rotterdam Film Festival.

One of Europe’s leading confabs for new and established filmmakers, CineMart will host a virtual 2022 edition after a dramatic rise in COVID-19 cases in the Netherlands in December forced organizers to scrap plans for a physical event. The Rotterdam Film Festival, which was planning to hold screenings in Dutch cinemas, also announced it was going virtual after concerns about the fast-spreading Omicron variant shuttered the country’s movie theaters.

Though the last-minute reversal came as a disappointment to organizers, IFFR Pro, CineMart and Rotterdam Lab manager Inke van Loocke remains upbeat about this year’s edition of the market, which in previous years has offered a launching pad for titles such as Taika Waititi’s “Jojo Rabbit,” Adina Pintilie’s Berlinale Golden Bear winner “Touch Me Not,” and Yorgos Lanthimos’ “The Lobster.”

Van Loocke described it as a “huge challenge” to winnow down the selection from a huge pool of deserving submissions. “We always want this balance of more household names in the independent field,” she says, “but also new, first-, second-feature filmmakers.”

Along with 16 feature films currently in development, there are five Immersive projects and seven BoostNL projects, presented as part of a development program that began at last year’s Netherlands Film Festival.

Among the more anticipated works to launch this week is “Love on Trial,” Fukada’s pulled-from-the-headlines story of a teenage pop idol who is sued by her talent management company for violating a contractual clause that bans romantic relationships.

Another buzz title is “Tres Noches Negras” (pictured), written and directed by Court, whose last film “White on White” won a Silver Lion in the Venice Film Festival’s Horizons strand and was Chile’s Oscar submission this year. The film turns on a peasant in the Chilean countryside who makes a deal with the devil to disastrous effects.

Georgia’s Naveriani, who debuted in Rotterdam in 2017 with “I Am Truly a Drop of Sun on Earth” and bowed her follow-up “Wet Sand” in Locarno last year, returns with “Blackbird Blackbird Blackberry,” which tells the story of a single woman in her late 40s who is stuck in a small, backward-looking Georgian town and discovers love for the first time.

Meanwhile Hong Kong filmmaker Flora Kau, whose feature debut “Bends” premiered in Cannes’ Un Certain Regard section in 2013, will present her film “The Beautiful Normal,” about a movie producer whose life unravels after her studio unexpectedly pulls the plug on her latest project.

And Croatian director Judita Gamulin’s feature debut “Leave the Door Open,” which she is also developing as part of the Residence of the Cinéfondation at Cannes, offers a distinctive take on human relations set entirely inside an IKEA store.

This year’s CineMart selection casts a wide net, with more than two dozen countries on five continents represented, while 25 of the 28 projects have women attached as either producers, directors, or both.

Though such gender parity is nothing new for CineMart – which achieved a 50-50 balance in 2021 “without even thinking about it,” according to van Loocke – it nevertheless points to the continued influence of the #MeToo movement on the industry.

It’s a movement that van Loocke says goes beyond representation alone. “In the content of the stories, even if they’re sometimes being told by men, you do see that it’s not necessarily the male gaze anymore on certain subjects,” she says. “And that has been really interesting to see.”

Many of this year’s projects “speak about human relationships in a very current, contemporary way,” says van Loocke, while she also sees a growing trend toward documentary-fiction hybrids rooted in deeply personal stories that turn on questions of identity. “I think that’s why maybe we’re seeing a bit more of this hybrid form,” she says, “where telling your own story has become very important – telling it from the perspective of people actually living these stories.”

Taking place at a time of unprecedented flux for the industry, with the disruptions caused by the coronavirus pandemic accelerating trends such as the rise of streaming platforms and the decline of cinemas, van Loocke says that the CineMart co-production market has adapted to keep pace with the changing times.

“In the past, we would be quite strict. We would only take projects that had certain amounts of financing in place, that had lots of space for co-producers and sales,” she says. “And now we’re opening up to projects in different development stages, because we also found that these projects that were maybe in a bit of a later stage were more interesting to sales and distribution. And we wanted to keep attracting those people to the market, because it also puts the other projects on their agenda.

“The most important thing is that we serve the industry,” she continues. “It’s really speaking a lot with the producers and with the filmmakers, but also sales and distribution companies [and asking], ‘What do you need? How can we provide you our best services?’ And this means really functioning as a launching pad. It’s not only finding partners and financing your projects. It’s also promoting your work and championing these filmmakers.”

That spirit of dialogue and cooperation extends to CineMart’s relationships with other markets, such as the Rotterdam-Berlinale Express collaboration, which will send Fukada’s “Love on Trial” to the European Film Market next month. CineMart also fosters close ties with other European platforms such as the Trieste Film Festival’s When East Meets West co-production market and Sarajevo’s CineLink co-production forum.

“Instead of competing with each other [we’re] working together, so it benefits the projects,” says van Loocke. “We’re making sure we’re not competitors but have our own place in this whole scene. It means staying close to all the developments and adapting. Luckily, that’s something we can easily do here in Rotterdam.”

Here is the complete list of projects selected for the 2022 CineMart Co-Production Market:

CineMart

“The Beautiful Normal,” Flora Lau (Hong Kong)
“Black Dust,” Kit Hui (U.K.)
“Blackbird Blackbird Blackberry,” Elene Naveriani (Switzerland/Georgia/Germany)
“Carissa,” Jason Jacobs, Devon Delmar (South Africa/Netherlands)
“Deaf Love 1500,” Grace Passô (Brazil)
“Leave the Door Open,” Judita Gamulin (Croatia)
“Life Ahead,” Olivier Meys (Belgium/France)
“Love #NoFilter,” Mikael Bundsen (Sweden)
“Love on Trial,” Koji Fukada (Japan/France)
“Mother of Gold,” Madiano Marcheti (Brazil)
“The Outside,” Víctor Moreno (Spain)
“Prince Aden,” Gianluca De Serio, Massimiliano De Serio (Italy)
“Solo tengo sed,” Matt Porterfield (Mexico)
“Sorella di Clausura,” Ivana Mladenovic (Serbia/Romania)
“Tres noches negras,” Théo Court (Chile/Spain)
“The Yellow Dot,” David Tancred Lammers (Netherlands)

Immersive

“Alternates” (Bergantian), Jonathan Hagard (Indonesia/Japan/Germany)
“Confident,” Jérôme Blanquet, Bertrand Jeandel (France)
“Duchampiana VR,” Lilian Hess (France/Germany)
“Echo Blast,” Natalia Cabrera (Chile)
“Future Rites,” Sandra Rodriguez, Alexander Whitley (Canada/U.K.)

BoostNL

“Becoming Dubois,” Joost van Hezik (Netherlands)
“Canciones perdidas de reinos distantes,” Kiro Russo (Bolivia/France)
“A Chronicle From Nagorno-Karabakh,” Ibrahim Kataray (Netherlands)
“Flat Girls,” Jirassaya Wongsutin (Thailand/Singapore)
“Nightsong,” Maya Da-Rin (Brazil)
“The Right Answer,” Mariia Ponomarova (Netherlands)
“A Winner Is Seen at the Start,” Zhannat Alshanova (Kazakhstan/France)