Frontières 2020: Our Favorite Pitches From This Year's Market
The Frontieres@Fantasia co production market carried on online this past weekend. Usually the busiest weekend during the Fantasia Film Festival we partook of the event from the comfort of our own homes, pants optional, as has been the way to go these past few months. This is the way.
This year, because of the pandemic, the pitches were obviously going to happen differently. Each project prepared a maximum ten minute video for everyone to watch on a central video platform. Unfortunately, this meant we would not get the annual incident where a filmmaker could not get into the country, leaving the one person who had not planned to take part in the presentation reading from the notes verbatim. Don't tell me you don't miss that!
With only a couple technical hangups here and there (can we get a collective middle finger to Zoom for all the link changes?) all the panels and specialty focus pitch sessions went as planned. Our own Josh Hurtado was a last minute substitution to host the roundtable discussion 'Has Covid-19 Changed the Norms of the Industry?' and by all accounts he did a terrific job.
So Josh and I have been through all the pitches and picked out a number of highlights. There were only a couple of overlaps but that just goes to show that sometimes Josh has the same great taste in films that I do.
Each project will have its director and writer noted along with the log lines.
Forgetting Charlotte - Chloé Cinq-Mars, writer-director
Following a harrowing hold-up, a new mother neglects her baby and pursues an affair with an ex-lover, stirring up memories of her sister’s death as sleeplessness weakens her grip on reality.
One of several recurring themes among this year's Frontieres selections was parenthood, but writer/director Chloé Cinq-Mars project, Forgetting Charlotte, certainly had one of the most interesting approaches to the material. The story of a woman's struggle with post-partum depression, the recently resurfaced memory of a childhood trauma, and her attempt to self-soothe through increasingly erratic sexual outbursts, Forgetting Charlotte looks at motherhood through several often neglected lenses. Conceptualized as a French language Canadian production, this would be Chloé Cinq-Mars' feature directing debut, and her impassioned pitch made it clear that she has not only a great idea, but also very solid ideas for bringing that idea to fruition. The projected budget leans toward the higher side of the projects in the market, and that may make it a bit tougher to lock down financing, but I hope she and her producers can make it happen. - JH
Cirkus - Graham Skipper, writer/director
Following the tragic death of her acrobatic partner and lover, a despairing woman meets a prophet who advises her to challenge the Gods of the Circus to bring her girlfriend back to life.
Skipper came to the market with one of the more modest asks, which immediately made it more appealing than some projects aiming for the stars. After all the soft money, tax credits, grants etc. how much is left for an investor to put into the project? Skipper’s presentation also included footage filmed from urban circus performances so the know-how is there. He met his wife, an aerialist and performer, at an urban circus in New York, so Skipper will draw on her experiences and expertise as well. This is territory that Skipper knows well. Heck, everybody loves the circus, but do they know about the urban circus? This is territory few of us have seen outside of its late night walls. Skipper wants to share that experience with us. When I think of horror fantasy I don’t think of film but I always go to literature, to authors like Neil Gaiman, even China Meilville novels like his London in Kraken or his Bas-Lang series. I mean, it’s not an entirely bad thing but I see I’ll have to go back through Tod Browning’s filmography. I'm really curious to see what Skipper can do with this. Glass Eye Pix is already on board to offer their support wherever Skipper may need it if the project moves ahead. - AMOne of the most ubiquitous names in independent horror over the last few years has been Graham Skipper. Director of festival favorite Sequence Break, and actor in dozens of films over the last decade, Skipper is looking to set his second feature in a world with which he has become very familiar in Cirkus. Taking the real-world underground circus and freakshow circuit as a jumping off point, Skipper's film would use real performers to create a world in which they are descended from supernatural beings capable of extraordinary things. Essentially a dark and mystical romance with adventure leanings, Cirkus could be a very compelling watch and Skipper's passion for the project shone through in his pitch (name dropping Tod Browning and Clive Barker as tonal influences didn't hurt, either), and I'd love to see where this goes. - JH
The Last Video Store - co-directors Tim Rutherford & Cody Kennedy, Writer Tim Rutherford
A guerrilla film crew discovers what may be the last video store on earth but must contend with its jaded owner and a malevolent cult leader as they attempt to shoot their final movie.
A project like The Last Video Store will live and die if the premise can last the duration of a feature length structure. I was debriefing with some sales agent friends and we agreed on one thing that would be very important to that working out. Pacing. Can something that has worked very well as a series of short films make the grade as a feature length film? If it can it does promise to be a good dose of cult film appreciation and fun. The news that Steve Kostanski (Psycho Gorman, Manborg) has signed on to do their visual effects only makes the idea of it more enticing. Filming would be in Vancouver, where they are inching closer and closer towards getting production back up on its feet. This was another project that came to the market with a very low asking price tag attached to it. Would be a shame if it were a case of something that is too good to be true. - AM
The House With Six Heads - Yfke van Berckelaer, writer/director
A 17th century Dutch legend comes to life when a maid, armed with a sickle, hunts down the robbers that invaded her home and hurt her friend; she won’t stop till she has their heads.
A number of things speak to me about this project. First there is Yfke and her commitment to No More and the Me Too movement. We admire that and we are behind any project that supports those movements. And to have a single woman take on six men and that means a whole lot of beheadings. With a sickle. Then her master posts them outside his house for everyone to see? Yes, please! Then then is just the sheer logistics of this premise, this deadly game of cat and mouse in a massive house. The house is real. It really is in Amsterdam, this massive five or six story canal house on Keizersgracht (Emperor's canal). I don’t know what the landscape looked like when this legend was supposed to take place but these canal houses are sandwiched in there. This isn’t some remote state house out in the middle of the country. Surely, the neighbours would have had something to say about all the noise? - AM
Tell Them What You Saw - Chelsea Lupkin, Director / Writer
A young woman must confront the possibility that something otherworldly has landed in her hometown after a series of unexplainable events involve her little brother.
Apart from delivering the most polished and professionally made pitch video I think the genre scene is in dire need of more body invasion horror flicks, as much as it is in dire need of more horror flicks from female filmmakers. There’s already the theme of good child and bad child dynamics in this story, something that speaks to me personally and times of adolescence. Lupkin considers in her stated intention for this film, “...what would happen if something invaded you not to harm you, but rather to protect you from something far worse? And what if you needed to fear your neighbors more than any monster?” Division has never been more out in the open these past few years and what was once comical in advertising, divide between families and the odd neighbour dispute, we are now seeing that lines in the sand have become trenches. I’m painting this heavier than is probably intended but I like their confidence in this presentation. Our friends at Yellow Veil Pictures are on board to lend a hand wherever they can. - AM
There's Something in the Barn - Director Arild Fröhlich, Writer Alexander Kirkwood Brown
An American family goes back to its roots after inheriting a Norwegian farm but must contend with the Barn Elf, a gnomish mini-Santa that will wreak havoc if certain rules aren’t followed.
Apart from the obvious All Hallows Eve no other holiday has been given the horror treatment more than Christmas. Likely because the holiday is supposed to be counter to what horror is so we take such delight in turning the Christmas season on its head. Christmas itself is not without its darker side though, with European nations having some pretty twisted yuletide history. So if you can use that to your advantage AND take the piss out of a family of Americans? Where do I sign up? - AM
Every year at these project markets the pitch sessions are flooded with high-minded, very thematically heavy concepts looking to explore the deeper recesses of human psychology. Those are great, but sometimes I just wanna see guts explode. Thank heavens for projects like There's Something in the Barn. A film about an American family of Norwegian descent returning to their ancestral home after inheriting a farm, There's Something in the Barn tells the story of the Nordheims battle against their no-so-friendly Barn Elf. Director Arild Fröhlich promised me blood and guts in the pitch, and I'd like to see someone take on this project and make good on that promise. - JH
The Fever - Mateo Bendesky, writer/director
Ornella (17) becomes terribly ill after being forced into an exorcism by her evangelist overbearing parents. When no one around her cares to find a cure, she convinces herself only re-possession by the Devil will help her.
I am curious about this premise of seeking out possession to get better. So far possession films have by and large been about expunging the evil deity. But, is it evil because someone who thinks differently says so? Few horror films have gone into this territory, inviting possession to happen. Most often they’re cautionary tales. Dance with the Devil and you’ll get your toes stepped on. At best. Wonder is left about Bendesky’s approach to this. Is it going to be a straight up horror? Will it be spooky or scary? I’m just really intrigued by this premise because I’ve always lived by the standard definition of good and evil, and evil isn’t something that you fuck with. - AM
Lest We Be Devoured - Ashlea Wessel Director, Jim Munroe Writer / Producer
A pair of teen girls intent on discovering how their island survived the apocalypse must first contend with gatekeepers, monstrous creatures, and the fraught intricacies of their hearts’ desires.
In director Ashlea Wessel's Lest We Be Devoured, a post-apocalyptic landscape is the canvas on which she hopes to paint her debut feature film. Monsters, fog, an island isolated from a dystopian nightmare, and a blossoming love affair are all elements in this interesting looking science-fiction concept from Wessel and writer/producer Jim Munroe. The film's pitch gave off strong vibes recalling films like Turbo Kid, or the Dutch post-apocalyptic action film Molly, while still managing to maintain Lovecraftian elements reminiscent of the worlds of Guillermo Del Toro. Also on board this project as a producer is genre vet Peter Kuplowsky, who has previously worked with Astron-6 (both as a group and on Steven Kostanski's solo directorial projects), and Mickey Reese (Climate of the Hunter). Overall, a good looking project with modest budget projections that will certainly appeal to financiers. - JH
Ice - Stéphanie Joalland, writer-director
An Arctic fracking accident unleashes an ancient organism that spares a microbiologist, merging with her brain. When her scientist husband arrives they must discern evolution from invasion.
I'm a sucker for claustrophobic horror, and I'm also a sucker for bodily invasion/possession horror, so writer/director Stéphanie Joalland's Ice sounds right up my alley. A scientist at an Arctic research facility defrosts something nasty in the permafrost that attaches itself to her brain, seemingly causing her mental capacity to evolve rapidly. However, when her researcher husband arrives at the camp, he's not so sure that's what is happening. Yes, the story feels familiar, but obvious comparisons aside, Ice's ideas and the vision of the filmmaker had me hooked from the first word. A smartly conceived film with limited need for locations and a small cast make this one potentially very appealing for financiers, not to mention the fact that the film taking place almost entirely inside means the production could happen almost anywhere, a plus in these uncertain times. - JH