Blood Window 2020: Our Thoughts on The LAB Projects
First we have a sci-fi thriller, Where the Cold Wind Blows from Gwenn Joyaux, to be produced by Aldana Aprile. The story takes place in a world where an app has been developed that can help heal psychiatric illness. It’s developer finds out that it is being used as a viral weapon. They embark on a journey of self discovery, confronting her inner monsters, ultimately questioning if she is in this for herself or for the greater good.
Joyaux describes her film as a minimalist sci-fi epic and a cinematographic haiku, hoping to bring along the audience to its end-effect conclusion. The beginning of the pitch showed a collection of images, mostly in snow, creating a blanched landscape we presume is the kind of setting she hopes to create with her film. To their advantage, we believe, she plans to film it in English, opening it up to an international audience. Asking price is one of the higher ones with about a quarter of the financing already in place.
Next there is the suspenseful horror Carla’s Body is Lying Next to Yours, produced by my friend Jimena Monteoliva, to be directed by Bernardo Bronstein. In his film Julius moves to the country to avoid confronting his past and get over a bad breakup, but everything always has a way of catching up. Throw in a few fantastical elements to act as external influencers and we have ourselves a story.
Bronstein has worked under the Crudo Films banner for a while so it is good to see production companies continue to cultivate those relationships. A portion of the award winning short film he made with Crudo Films, Kill the Children, was included in the pitch. Looked good. The asking price is one of the higher ones and the film has been submitted to INCAA and is awaiting a response from the agency to see what funding the project would qualify for, we guess. The final draft of the screenplay has been completed.
A couple years ago there was a commercial horror flick called Necronomicon by filmmaker Marcelo Schapces. The premise of the film was that a copy of Lovecraft’s Necronomicon was hidden in the bowels of the nation library in Buenos Aires. So the last time I was down I visited the library and filmmaking is truly the art of storytelling. I have no idea where you’d hide a copy of the book of the dead in that building.
Schapces pitched a new project The Concierge and Eternity, a new vampire film about a man who poses as a janitor or manager of buildings around the city. The interesting thing about this story is that it takes place in three key time periods in Argentine history: 1955 (Revolución Libertadora), 1982 (Guerra de las Malvinas) and 2001 (Economic Crisis). The only one that threw me was Guerra de las Malvinas, because I’ve only known it from the British perspective, The Falklands War. It never crossed my mind that it would have been called anything else. Fascinating.
So it’s piqued my interest not just because of what kind of film The Concierge and Eternity can be but when it takes place. The history buff in me is intrigued. With just under half of their funding in place the low asking price for the balance should have investors interested in learning more from Schapces.
One of the projects leaning heavily into strong, feminist themes is The House of the Doors and Windows from Sabrina Morena and producer Mara Beten Pancio. The story is about a commune of women where men are not welcome. When one of their own, Lucia, falls ill and the only doctor who can help her is a man, things begin to unravel. The pitch included some unsettling undertones of violence that would be interesting to see unfold on screen. This was classified as a sci-fi and epic style of film in the guide though the mood footage Morena shot for her pitch video suggests something towards art house style in the buildup to the unravelling.
Another strong, feminine project with some teeth was The Mermaid of Monterrey from Marlene Grinberg. Likely a little more overt than Morena’s project Grinberg appears ready to pull no punches in her film about a lapsed cannibal mermaid Nina whose bloodlust is awakened when she befriends a little boy who reminds her of a sailor she once fell in love with. And so Nina must have flesh and blood! Grinberg was defiant and strong in her presentation, a filmmaker on a mission, we should keep an eye on her in the future for female centric genre cinema made with determination.
Just a couple projects from Mexico at this year’s market. We start with The Master (El Amo) from director Antonio Maya Villarreal and producer Angel Linares. This is a tough one because the asking price is virtually nill and anyone could jump on board, watch it sell across multiple territories and regions and maybe, probably make good on their investment. So we must start with the premise, shall we? A nun, an unlicensed doctor, a bureaucrat and former military man walk into a bar, I mean, wake up in a hacienda (estate). No one knows each other and they have to follow the orders of The Master. They’ll underdo a series of brutal tests to make it out alive, all the while filming each other while they do it.
You see? It’s going to be found footage. Yeah. The sub genre has fallen under hard times, exploited to death (pun intended) to the point that it’s no longer fresh and new. Would Villarreal and Linares do anything different or new with it? Or will The Master just be another exercise in Latin extreme horror that can only be sold to boutique labels around the World? If there was money to throw away (even before the pandemic was there?) The Master on paper sounds like a project that would be made, sold on the cheap, and picked up in a couple years by smaller distributor labels looking to fill in their roster of DVD and digital releases. It could be entirely possible that an investor would make their money back, but for horror fans The Master would have to be something truly exceptional to stand out from all the found footage films that have come before it.
The second project, El Camion (The Bus), from Raul Camarena and producer Mariana San Esteban looks very interesting. Three film students discover that a coven of witches are responsible for the death of 13 girls in a bus fire.
There’s a bit to unpack there. One is the real life incidents of bus fires in Mexico, which I didn’t know was a thing. Two is the level of violence is harrowing. Three is that bit where it was a coven of witches who did it to young girls. I’m still trying to process that one. Why would a coven of witches inflict violence on their own gender. Burning a bus full of men or boys, yeah, I’d get that. I’m very interested to see where Camarena wants to take this.
The only thing that is obviously in the way here is that the wished-for budget for this horror thriller is one of the highest in the market. Three whole zeroes more than what the lads from The Master want for their project. In an industry that is only beginning to recover from the effects of the pandemic funds will be limited and will be sparingly distributed. The project says they have just over forty percent of the financing in place but the remaining sixty is still a lot to ask of any financier and producer to pony up and expect to make back in international sales and distribution. A lot.
If you don’t ask though…
Some of us at Screen Anarchy are already unabashed fans of Juan Diego Escobar Alzate’s Luz The Flower of Evil. And since he has announced his new project Searching For The Black Rainbow we’ve been eager to find out more. Well, ta dah! Ready? The story goes that an explorer is killed by an indigenous tribe while he was looking for a place called The Black Rainbow. His son sets out to get revenge and strikes up an expedition to do so.
Keeping with his reverence for Nature, Alzate has a lot in store for this group in his new film, pretty much saying that the white man is screwed when he has defied Nature. The land has kept a dark secret which will no doubt surface during this quest for revenge. I mean, he had us at Folklore Horror and Lovecraftian Spaghetti Western in earlier descriptions but now that we know the setup we are more excited for this to happen. In one breath he cites The Lost City of Z, Apocalypto, Brimstone as influences on the story, then Mandy and Color Out of Space’s color palettes and Jorodowsky’s poetic storytelling as influences for this film.
The planned budget for his new film is sizable but not insurmountable. They have about a third of the budget already in place. Take my money!
The other project from Colombia is another female led film, a thriller called Flores en el Jardin (Flowers in the Backyard). From filmmaker Irene Romero and producer Natalia Rendon. The story is about Juliana who returns to her hometown after her father passes away. She returns because he has left her the family home so she plans to sell it. She discovers two girls have been living there and while she tries to uncover the mystery of who they are, a battle for the home begins between Juliana and the eldest girl.
Some proof of concept footage was included in the pitch - moody tones turning into tension filled moments - just enough to give an impression of the tones and escalation that Romero would have in store for an audience.
Their budget is mid-range by comparison to the rest and they have about a third in place. They came to the festival looking for European co-production partners, sales agents and to pique the interest of festival programmers.
One of the more ambitious projects to hit this year’s market is an anthology called Medo Imortal (Immortal Fear) from director and producer Mariana Thorne. The anthology would have thirteen chapters, each inspired by classic Brazilian literature. The hook is that each one would be reinterpreted to discuss gender relations throughout Brazil’s history. In the pitch video Thorne alluded to a book called Immortal Fear. It was unclear if this would be source material but the publisher has gone as far as to give their blessing to the project. So, yes?
We want more female led genre cinema. We need more female led genre cinema. My only hesitation about this project is probably the high budget. At the time of the market information about what financing was in place was not available. Investors will see for themselves if there is potential for good returns on their involvement. Good horror anthologies always sell internationally, to distributors and to streamers. There is a market out there around the world for well done horror anthologies.
There is also the fact that Thorne is going to make this anthology by herself. This is a change from the usual format and goes against convention where multiple directors contribute to a project, creating a chorus of horror for all to hear. Altos. Falsettos. Baritones. Tenors. With Medo Imortal we’d get a soloist. Will viewers sing to her tune? Admittedly it would give a consistency to the overall flow of the project. Does it give variety? If Medo Imortal does come to life I will be interested to see what comes of it.
The other Brazilian project was Kintsugi from directors Diego Lopes and Claudio Bitencourt. The duo have one feature film in their docket, last year’s drama, Lament. In their new film a hacker, Luciano, who exploits his victims falls for the new neighbor. All is not as it seems of course and eventual destruction will happen.
Kintsugi is the Japanese art of restoring broken pottery with a lacquer often infused with gold. This in turn increases the value of the object. This is counter to the story in their film which we have themes of sacrifice and self harm. To say any more about that will give away the conclusion of the story but we imagine that some of these themes will be either cathartic or triggering. We presume what will resonate with international audiences will be those themes but also this relationship that happens between these two, that will be very important to the success of what they hope to pull off by the end. The relationship will decide if the audience comes along for the ride.
Budget is in the top half of what was trending this year. The duo have about a fifth of that in place and came to the market for the quad: production, sales, distribution and festivals.
OTHER IBEROAMERICAN COUNTRIES
From Ecuador came a suspenseful horror flick called Chuzalongo from director Diego Ortuno and producer Michelle Echeverria. Chuzalongos are part of the local folklore, small children, usually with blonde hair and blue eyes, who feast on the blood of their victims.
Interestingly, in Ortuno’s film, it is a priest who comes across one such creature and with good intentions tries to take care of the child. When he realizes what this child really is he decides to provide victims for the child to feast on. A horror metaphor for abuses done by those in the church perhaps?
We don’t see too many projects out of Ecuador outside of Latin America though I believe, depending which way Ortuno takes this decision making of the priest, horror fans would largely delight in the church taking a bit of a hit now and then. There is always an interest in folklore from other countries and evil children are always a hit.
Their budget is mid-range and they have about a fifth in place already. They came to the market for input from industry experts, to publicize the project and explore other financing options.
Also from Ecuador there was La Casa del Monstruo (The House of the Beast) from filmmaker Xaiver Chavez and producer Ivonne Campoverde. The dramatic thriller would be about Lucrecia, a woman who has strange dreams that she is Sofia, a rural girl who is kidnapped and sold into prostitution. Things is, Sofia exists, and when Lucrecia goes to find her she finds out Sofia has had strange dreams as well. She dreams that she is Lucrecia!
It’s a very interesting concept, one which we presume will play straight and have appeal outside of the straight up genre circles. It does have the potential for some thrilling moments, especially if Lucrecia tries to free Sofia from the prostitution ring. Cannot imagine she would just say stop dreaming about me and walk away, right?
Budget for it is mid range and they have about a fifth of it in place heading into the market. They came to Blood Window looking for partnerships, financing and to publicize the project to other markets in attendance.
Another country you don’t hear much from is Paraguay though director Daniel Gonzalez hopes to change that with his project El Traje (The Suit). They say that clothes make the man, but what if those clothes have an evil past? That’s the premise of El Traje, a story about Renato, former lead singer of a popular rock band who gets a suit that hides a terrible past, which involves him somehow. All will be revealed in a series of paranormal events.
The potential of this project is all presumptive. We presume that there will be room for music, and hope that it is good music. Saying that everything will come undone in a series of paranormal events suggests that there is potential for some good creeps or scares.
Producer Rene Ruiz Ruiz came off confident and assured. Going over his extensive business background he sounded prepared for the market in the pitch video. He already has half the financing in place, though the budget is on the teeny weeny side. If the script shows a lot of promise and the universal appeal of good music and good scares is in the screenplay some deals could be in place for this production out of the seldom talked about Paraguay.
And coming out of Chile is Matria from my friends, director Sandra Arriagada and producer Lucio A Rojas. Full disclosure, I was pulling for Sandra before the market began so I was hoping that her project was going to be good. Thankfully it did not disappoint and her female-led project should have universal appeal for all genre fans around the globe.
Seven men are drawn to a house, attracted by an enticing prize. Each has committed one of the seven patriarchal sins (I don’t even want to know in case I’ve committed any of them) and they are about to pay for them, dearly. Their fate is in the hands of Erinia, a former intelligence or military professional who has started her own small business, to rid the world of rats (men). Together with her troop of goddesses they will rain hell on these unsuspecting sad sacks.
This is where Arriagada stops the pitch to tell everyone to calm down, that it's simply a black comedy. Gotta love her for that.
Arriagada already has an extensive background in television production in Chile and a chapter in the horror anthology APPS, so she’s due to break out into theatrical and this kind of project sounds like it could be a crowd pleaser. Specifically it will speak to female audience members, an area we know that Arriagada wants to see growth continue to happen. With the backing of her producer, Rojas, no stranger to blood and guts with his brand of horror films like Trauma, we are anticipating a bloody good time.
Budget for Matria is towards the low end of the spectrum. They have over half of it in place already. They came to the market looking for help with the remaining financing, future festival bookings and distribution.
SPOTLIGHT ON INTERNATIONAL PROJECTS
First off from the international spotlight is Blue As Your Blood from Germany. Director Ivan Ainz-Pardo and producer Till Schmerbeck propose a tale where an investigative journalist and her team break into a luxurious home which they suspect contains information about the trade of illegal medicine. They do find a mysterious drug on the premises but also that they’re locked inside. Worse, when the owners of the home return they discover there is something more hideous and far more dangerous than illegal medicine in the house now.
This horror flick plays on a well worn conspiracy theory, think endless hours worth of Discovery Channel level conspiracy theories. We don’t want to give it away but it could be great. Really great.
What we would have liked to have known after watching the pitch video is how they would do the effects. Would they go practical and in camera or in post and digital? The proposed budget for Blue As Your Blood is mighty high, but so do most European projects that come to international markets. They have a small amount in place and came to the market looking for potential partners.
Next up was Stargazer from Luxembourg. To be directed by Christian Neuman and produced by Helene Walland, it is a story of an actress Fey Vilar who struggles with guilt she feels about the death of her son. Interestingly it is what drives her to be a better actress. However, she receives a mysterious offer to star in a supernatural play called Stargazer which promises to reunite her with her dead son.
The theme of guilt seems to be a constant with Neuman, it being a key theme to his first film, last year’s Skin Walker Udo Kier. Unfortunately we were experiencing sound issues and Neuman’s vocals were subbed out. Again, the proposed budget is high but neighboring Belgium does have an excellent film fund program, out of Wallonia we believe, that loves giving money to genre projects. They have no funds in place and came to the market looking for co-producers, sales and festival connections.
The first project from Spain was La mala madre (The Bad Mother) from writer director Alicia Albares. The story is about reluctant motherhood and the pressure women feel to bear children by society. It centers around a journalist named Victoria who succumbs to pressure to have a child. She still doesn’t like being a mother and writes a book about it called La mala madre and it becomes both a best seller and controversial. As the story continues Victoria wakes up in a cabin in the woods with a broken arm and amnesia. She doesn’t know how she got there and soon starts seeing haunting visions of a woman in the hallway. This is just the beginning.
Albares’ story is anecdotal in that she has often faced pressure to have children from those close to her. So she explores this idea further, of reluctant motherhood, of expectations placed on women by society, and places it in a horror film. She also plans to switch up genres in La mala madre, starting as something then changing it up on her audience. She also wants to reverse gender roles in her film as well. Bravo to that we say.
The planned budget is on par with most projects coming from Europe. The production would be mostly in a single location with a small cast of five characters. They went to LAB looking for co-pro opportunities with Latin American production houses. They have about a fifth of their budget in place.
The second project from Spain was Dark My Light by Neal Dhand. He’s got a very interesting idea around a severed foot, something that has shown in real life of the shores over in Western Canada when too many severed feet were washing up along the Pacific Coastline. A mid-age detective, Mitchell, and his partner, Dreyfus, find the foot on the beach of their small coastal town and that launches them on the trail of a murderer. Events take a personal turn into the unexpected when Mitchell discovers who the foot belongs to.
It’s very interesting to us because we’ve seen real life events unfold over the years here in Canada. It’s also interesting because the hook is who that foot belongs to. Also of interest to us is the film’s producer. Sergio Uguet de Resayre has produced some of our favorite films over the years, Crumbs and Jesus Shows You the Way to the Highway. So there is instant credibility there as we like those films very much. He must also see something in Dhand’s project that he wants to get involved in.
Of all of the projects in the international spotlight program the proposed budget for this film is the most modest and likely most attainable. They already have a quarter of the financing in place and came to the market looking for any collaborations that will help make this film a reality. I think it has the potential to be a real mind bender.
And finally we have Virtual: The Hologames, or, as I think they should call it, this is what you want to watch if you thought Ready Player One was a bit soft. This would be the creation of director and producer Daniel Hernandez Torrado who is hoping to expand on ideas first born in a short film he did back in 2013 called Pixel Theory.
The story goes that the main character Junoh lives in one of the poorest systems hanging out in virtual arcades. He’s put into a deadly competition called the Extreme Hologames where he will try to avenge his brother’s death, save the day and get the girl. From the pitch it looks like Torrado is pulling all the best elements from films like Ready Player One and Alita: Battle Angel and attempting to add some grit to it. More power to him. However...
Of all the projects in this year’s LAB Daniel is shooting for the stars with the highest planned budget of the bunch. Like, wow that’s a lot of money for a genre market, big. Sure, films like Ready Player One and Alita: Battle Angel were made for so much more. So much. But one cannot help but wonder if any small production company has the capital to even consider the risk of this not selling every single territory on the planet, then anywhere else. Even with the capital in a non-Covid year, this is a lot for anyone from the bedrock of genre film to consider investing in a balls out version of the two previously mentioned films. We just don’t know if there was enough in the pitch that made us say, yes, we need to see this movie right away.
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