Swiss auteur Simon Jaquemet’s “Electric Child” joins Ukrainian sci-fi comedy “U Are the Universe,” and “We Are Zombies,” from heavily rated Canadian trio RKSS, as three potential highlights at this year’s Cannes Marché du Film’s Frontières Platform, organized with the Fantasia Film Festival.
Focusing on genre, the Frontières showcase is emerging as one of the Marché du Film’s biggest market plays, supercharged by this year’s milestone Oscar triumph of “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” smart genre’s popularity among an emerging generation of filmmakers and its rising tide as one of the most resilient of independent movie market propositions.
For RKSS, it’s a return, having had great success with their previous “Turbo Kid,” which went on to Sundance, and won a bunch including at SXSW and Fright Fest.
“U Are the Universe,” deserves a special mention, given the sheer challenge of completing a project under the pressures of the military action taking place in Ukraine.
Frontieres’ second section, its Proof of Concept project showcase, features “Quest of the Gods,” which even at this early stage looks a hugely ambitious film visually, plus – a rarity among genre – the animated feature “Pesta.” “The Handmaid Tale’s” star Nina Kiri is attached to star in “Absolution,” another notable swing in Proof of Concept.
These potential standouts join a total of 16 titles showcased this year. There is a notably strong sci-fi contingent among psychological horror, and more classic genre. “Science fiction is just something that fascinates because it’s open. You can really do whatever you want, create worlds that don’t exist because no one knows what’s out there,” argued Annick Mahnert, Frontières executive director.
Another notable trend is a diversification in countries of origin, this year’s selection including titles from Ukraine and Serbia, Bosnia & Herzogovina and Montenegro, Mahnert told Variety. “I’m so glad to see these countries starting to submit to us because we didn’t have so many projects coming from the Eastern European territories in the past. So something’s happening and we just love to support projects in new regions.”
This global shift underscores the universal appeal of science fiction and genre and its ability to connect with audiences everywhere.
Directors’ ambitions are also growing. One case in point is Jaquemet, known for arthouse plays “War” and “The Innocent;” who is making a bold transition into full-fledged science fiction. Filmmakers like Jaquemet, Ostrikov and Graham Hughes – with his multi-verse entry “Hostile Dimensions” – are pushing the classic bounds of genre, and crafting thought-provoking narratives that challenge our understanding of the human experience while delivering the excitement and spectacle that genre demands.
Many of these titles appear to mix together all of what could be considered genre into box-defying narratives. This approach reflects a new generation of filmmakers’ adeptness at moving between and within genre.
Such a mix-up approach has never been more attractive for one towering reason: “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” and its mantelpiece of Oscars. There is a renewed sense of hope that more lights will be green, originality rewarded, and that genre blending can succeed by all measures. The jolt of optimism this has given to the genre scene should not be underestimated. It could be a busy couple of days in Cannes.
A breakdown of 2023 Frontières titles:
“Bury Me When I’m Dead,” (Seabold Krebs, U.S.)
Henry, haunted by his failure to fulfill his wife’s dying wish, faces a series of tragic events. Convinced his wife has returned for revenge, Henry grapples with guilt, fear, and the supernatural. Producers Amanda Freedman and Nicholas Payne Santos pitch the film as a “grounded, human drama inside an elevated genre sandbox.”
“Den Mother Crimson,” (Siluck Saysanasy, Canada)
Three experts assemble to consult on a mysterious task. As its true nature unfolds, they struggle with the moral implications and potential global consequences. From Branded To Film (B2F), based in Kingston, Canada, a mission-led production house looking to “train a local crew and build a new and needed affordable hub for high-quality independent genre. films,”
“Electric Child,” (Simon Jaquemet, Switzerland, Germany, Netherlands)
Jacquemet told Variety his third feature, his first in English, is “a sci-fi computer thriller, revolving around A.I. and parenthood. But it’s not set in the future; it’s set in the now.” To save his son from a rare disease, a computer scientist, played by “Godland’s” Elliott Crosset Hove, allies with his advanced AI creation, triggering a world-altering chain reaction. Jaquemet’s first feature “War” (2014) won the Max Ophuls Award, among other prizes, and premiered at San Sebastián. His second feature, “The Innocent,” premiered at Toronto’s prestige Platform section in 2018.
“Hostile Dimensions,” (Graham Hughes, U.K.)
Scottish filmmaker Hughes follows his well-received “Death of a Vlogger” with this multi-verse thriller. Two documentary filmmakers traverse alternate dimensions, confronting nightmares to uncover the truth behind a graffiti artist’s disappearance. These dimensions mix the ordinary with the bizarre, for example a hilly idyll is thrown off kilter by whales floating across the skies. The filmmaker describes the feature as a “tribute to highly imaginative low-budget films combining found footage with epic sci-fi to create something unique and thrilling.”
“Jour de Chasse,” (Annick Blanc, Canada)
Known for shorts “Au milieu de nulle part ailleurs” and “The Colour of Your Lips,” Blanc’s debut feature turns on Nina, a tempestuous young woman who joins a group of hunters in a remote cabin. A mysterious stranger’s arrival disrupts her newfound place in their male micro-society. The project is produced by Quebec’s Midi la Nuit. “Raw and dreamlike, the film explores individual responsibility within a group, and the way altruism disappears in a society obsessed with luxury,” said producer Maria Gracia Turgeon.
“U Are the Universe,” (Pavlo Ostrikov, Ukraine)
After Earth’s explosion, Ukrainian space trucker Andriy, now the last human, embarks on a perilous journey to meet Frenchwoman Catherine at a distant space station. The director explores an antidote for loneliness in his films: “I look for love, because it is the highest human
value. The best that there is in the whole universe. And it is this medicine that I offer to the viewer for loneliness. We are not alone!” The bulk of funding came from Ukrainian State Film Agency and Fore Films.
“We Are Zombies,” (RKSS, France, Canada)
Heavily praised Canadian trio Anouk Whissell, Yoann-Karl Whissell and Francois Simard – known as RKSS – return with their adaptation of Jerry Frissen and Guy Davis’ cult comic book series “The Zombies That Ate the World. In a city overrun by non-threatening zombies, three slackers battle rednecks and a corporate villain to rescue their kidnapped grandma. One of the strongest industry packages at Frontières. RKSS’ “Turbo Kid” bowed at Sundance, played Sitges and SXSW, among others. Laurent Baudens, Christian Larouche, Gaël Nouaille and Didar Domehri produce. Kinology handles international sales.
Proof of Concept
“Absolution,” (Filip Kovacevic, Serbia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Montenegro)
“The Handmaid’s Tale’s” Nina Kuri is attached to star in this project, set in a post-apocalypse dying desert settlement. When his younger brother is chosen for ritual sacrifice, young hunter Ethan departs with a mysterious young woman to find the mythical advanced world she came from but now struggles to remember. The second feature from Kovacevic and his Belgrade-based Void Pictures whose debut “Incarnation,” a time-loop thriller, screened at 2016’s Raindance Festival.
“Dark Tide,” (Peter Ricq, Canada)
A sophomore outing for Ricq whose horror comedy “Dead Shack” screened at Sitges, NIFFF, Toronto After Dark and Fantasia, where it won best Canadian Feature. Here, a young fisherman washes up on a mysterious island, only to be captured by a deranged captain who is hunted by a dark hungry beast. Or so it seems.
“Paws,” (Lucas Rinker, Germany)
Reuniting production house Neopol Film, Rinker’s follow-up to sales and critical hit “Holy Shit!,” a Cinedigm Corp U.S. pickup. An eco-thriller/creature feature, says producer Tonio Kellner, with a starved and monstrously large mother Polar bear, whose habitat has shrunk, attacking the crew of a stranded vessel on a supposed North Pole anti-climate change mission.
“Pesta,” (Hanne Berkaak, Norway)
Billed as a romantic folk horror film set during the Black Plague in Norway, two teens – Astrid a nobelman’s daughter, Eiley an outcast heathen – fight for their across-the-tracks love as the world they knew ends. Directed by Berkaak, known for her carefully toned block animation (“The Marathon Diary”), targeting 16-26s and a contemporary world where “young people are fearing the end of the world once again,” said Berkaak.
“Quest of the Gods,” (George Moïse, U.S.)
From L.A.-based writer-director Moïse, who won best picture at the Philip K. Dick Film Festival for “Counter Clockwise,” a sci-fi adventure comedy with a space station worker travelling the galaxy to get his phone back. Moïse’s Vimeo-published trailer, made on his computer, pays testimony to his extraordinary dedication. “The film is a passion project for me and I will be creating/supervising a lot of the visual effects myself to deliver Hollywood style visuals for an independent budget,” Moïse said.
“The Second Woman,” (Zach Gayne, Canada)
A Canadian literary legend fights for her life and sanity when attacked by a stalker. “Think Margaret Atwood with a murderous doppelgänger,” the description runs. “Co-screenwriter/star Precious Chong and I intend to make a thrilling cult horror show that satirically cuts through the morals of modern social concerns. Our story is a cautionary tale about the perils of getting lost in one’s own persona,” said Gayne.
“Upiro,” (Oscar Martín, Spain)
Based on Spain’s first case of vampirism documented by the Catholic Church, a young woman is sent in 1755 to a cloistered monastery where several novices suffer a strange blood disease. Everything seems to point to an ancient tale that the new Enlightenment society would rather keep out of sight: A bloodthirsty upire – vampire – seems to have infiltrated the monastery. Directed by Oscar Martín (“Amigo”), produced by Elena Muñoz at El Ojo Mecánico, and big triple winner at Ventana Sur’s 2021 Blood Window which is now sparking considerable industry interest.