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Alexandre Perrier and François-Pierre Clavel’s Bordeaux-based production outfit Kidam, which produced last year’s Cannes Critics’ Week prize winner “Zero F***s Given,” has boarded “Life Ahead,” director Olivier Meys’ story of friendship between two young asylum-seekers, which heads to the Rotterdam Film Festival’s CineMart co-production market this week.

“Life Ahead” tells the story of Jahia, a 16-year-old Eritrean girl who lives in an asylum center in Belgium, where her dim prospects for the future cast a shadow over her life. Then she meets the feisty and spirited Nèta, a young Moldavian girl, who drags Jahia along with her crazy energy.

But when Nèta’s family is forced to leave the country, the young girl falls into a deep sleep – a victim of the malady known as “resignation syndrome.” Jahia swears to do everything in her power to wake her up and not allow her friend to succumb to despair.

Meys told Variety he was inspired to tell the story of “Life Ahead” upon returning to Belgium after spending more than a decade in China, where he grew accustomed to life as an outsider. “Coming back here, trying to settle down in this small country, I was interested in those people who were trying to do that and willing to do that,” he said.

His research led him to the welcome centers for asylum seekers scattered throughout the country. It was a slow process of gaining the trust of the residents he met. “The situation is difficult for them. At first, they are not so eager to speak,” he said. “But step by step, I could connect with them.”

The director said he’s always been drawn to different cultures and walks of life, having lensed previous documentary and fiction films in Lebanon, Chile, and China. His feature debut, “Bitter Flowers” (2017), about a young Chinese woman who leaves behind her son and husband and moves to Paris in search of a better future, premiered at the Busan International Film Festival and won Belgium’s Magritte Award for best first feature.

“I was always more interested in people who are at the first glance very different from me, but when you dig, you feel how [you are] connected and how both of you are human,” he said. “In the end, I look at it not by the way of [our differences] but what we have in common.”

“Life Ahead” is produced by Alice Lemaire and Sébastien Andres of Brussels-based Michigan Films in co-production with Kidam. The two companies previously partnered on “Aya,” the debut feature from Belgium-based director Simon Coulibaly Gillard, which bowed last year in the ACID section of the Cannes Film Festival.

Lemaire said she was drawn to the project by a sense of shared sensibilities with Meys, partly due to a common background in documentary filmmaking. “I think we have the same care of telling something precise and true about the world we’re living in,” she said. “I saw his first feature and I was really struck by the cinematic quality of it, and also this very precise, subtle way of portraying his characters.”

During CineMart the producers are looking for distributors, sales agents, TV broadcasters, and potentially another European co-producer, citing the relevance of the film for other European partners.

“When I read the script, I was convinced that we have to do this movie, because it’s important to humanize this question of migrants,” said Perrier. “In Europe, the question of immigrants is always in the media…but it’s like a concept. They’re not really existing.” Describing the subject as “meaningful” to the production team, he added: “It can change lots of things. I believe it.”

Meys said he hopes “Life Ahead” will offer audiences a chance to “go behind the news…[and] see the people behind it.” “I’m trying to tell a human story,” he added. “I don’t want to make a propaganda film. But I think it’s political in the sense that it’s…seeing [asylum-seekers] as human and what we have in common with them.”

The Rotterdam Film Festival’s CineMart co-production market takes place online from Jan. 30-Feb. 2.