Frontières 2021: A Survey of The Official Selection
Well, here we are again. From the comfort of our own home, we once again are ready to chime in on this year’s Frontieres Market and the multitude of projects looking for partnerships that will get their films made.
When we first began covering the market we would pick a handful of projects based on the wow factor of their pitch. If we had a million dollars what would we give our money to, to see it get made. It was a good gig, filmmakers appreciated being highlighted in our summaries. It wasn’t until a couple years ago when we truly began to grasp this business scope of a production market while we were at another market. It was during those pitch sessions that a juror would ask the team after they gave their presentation questions that basically amounted to, what is the appeal of your project and why would someone on the other side of the World want to watch your movie or show. Game on.
So we wanted to come to each market with that mindset. Which of these projects stand the best chance at finding an international audience. But, given that a lot of us have had a pretty shit year and a half of pandemic nonsense to cope with, we chose instead to write about all the projects and highlight their key themes and or selling points. This is a bigger undertaking than we first imagined, writing something about all eighteen projects to give everyone a fair shot at exposure. Thankfully, this stay at home version gives us the time to bring attention to all the projects that have participated this year. In future versions when we can attend in person we doubt that we will have the time to commit to such an undertaking. Small blessings for having to stay at home.
One thing to note here, and we don’t mean for this to be a bummer but with many of these projects still in early or advanced stages the small percentage of these projects that will get made are planning to shoot into 2022 and 2023. It shows you just how much time and prep go into making an independent genre film and what amount of patience is required from everyone.
So, where do we begin? There’s no better place to start than right here at home. Because I am still a gentleman we will let the ladies go first, no?
Amelia Moses saw both her first two feature films, Bleed With Me and Bloodthirsty, release in the same year because of the pandemic. She comes to the market with her producer and one of the stars of Bleed With Me, Lee Marshall, with her new project, Hearing Things. The story centers around Chris, a young woman who can read minds. A weekend away turns into an impromptu class reunion. Worse, Chris’ ex-boyfriend. Even worse, a swarm of squid creatures in the lake raises a ruckus. It sounds more mainstream than Moses’ first two films, a bit more straightforward and conventional. Which is perfectly fine. This will also be the first screenplay from Laura di Girolamo, a Toronto local who ran the Bloody Mary Film Festival here during better times. It sounds promising. Creature features are always good with audiences around the World.
Maude Michaud is a fixture around Fantasia who comes to the market with her own straight up genre offering called Wild Side. Touting it as a serial killer road trip movie, her story centers around two girls who take a road trip to attend a true crime convention. Having met on an online forum one doesn’t know that the other is actually a serial killer and as they skip from province to province. They bond over a mutual love for serial killers and their body count grows almost as much as their affection for each other does. During her pitch Maude called her film a ‘candy colored cross country killing spree’. She says to think of it as Thelma & Louise crossed with ultra violent road movies from the 90s. The project is in early development. The proposed budget is… hopeful and may have to rely on lots of presales, grants, tax credits, etc, to make it up. But a violent tale that addresses the violence women face every day speaks to both sides of the audience.
One of the projects that I was really looking forward to finding out more about was Kaniehtiio Horn’s Seeds. Already a fan of her from Letterkenny and Mohawk I wanted to see what she’d bring to the market. Seeds is a project that she wrote for herself to direct and will be a home invasion thriller, because, and this was the best mic drop in all of the pitches, indigenous peoples would be the first ones to tell you about home invasion. Blam! Her pitch was bare bones and brief but she promises a lot of humor and kick-ass action. It is a story about a woman who searches for her indigenous roots and in the process protects what is most valuable to her people, seeds from their crops, protecting them from an evil GMO company. Simply put, we need more indigenous genre cinema. Horn already has a following from Letterkenny and series like The Man in High Castle and Hemlock Grove. And who doesn’t want to see an indigenous woman give it to GMO goons?
American filmmaker Joshua Erkman has teamed up with Canadian producer Michael Peterson for a horror drama called The Arsonists. Peterson already has a number of notable titles under his belt - Knuckleball, Harpoon and Bloodthirsty. The Arsonists has a very poignant set up. A young woman and toxic relationship with her mother while an environmental crisis looms outside. A forest fires rage outside their home, the two women confront each other, the mysterious return of their missing dad and husband and marauders outside the home. The Arsonists came to the market with a very, very, very modest asking price. But this one of things that was predicted would come out of the pandemic: small productions with only a couple of settings with a minimal cast. The poignancy of the project right now is that forest fires have been raging all around the World over. Before the pandemic all eyes were on Australia, then south in Argentina. Right now here in Canada we’re looking out west at British Columbia and across the ocean Turkey is having a tough go of it. If this is the way that things will keep on going, who knows if there will be cinemas to show The Arsonists in but more and more the setting of this film is our reality.
Keeping with the approach to small productions with contained locations and small casts there were projects from the Netherlands, Beyond the Forest, a horror mystery thriller about a young woman who wakes up in a house in the middle of nowhere. Her best friend is there, as well as a body in the backyard. The project came to the market with a modest asking price and is at the financing stage. If greenlit it would be the debut feature film of Jan-Willem de Kraaij.
We first came across La Mala Madre (The Bad Mother) at Blood Window last year. A story from filmmaker Alicia Albares out of Spain, this horror film also promises a central location with a minimal cast. Her story is anecdotal, about the pressure on women to have children and start a family. The central character in her horror flick would have a child but regret it and write a controversial best selling book about her experience. In the movie she wakes up in a remote home and is haunted by visions of another woman in the home. The more we learn about this project the more we like all the twists and turns of reality that Albares is promising. Also adding to the mic drops was Albares stating that her film is not ‘Female cinema’ because women should be a part of ‘all cinema’. Blam! Women came to play!
There was another project that aimed small in production but came with a big theme, the dark side of home care. Italian filmmaker Marco Cacioppo’s Nightshade is in early development entering into the market and came with a modest price tag. Looking for financing and production partners the psychological horror film tells the story of the relationship between a woman affected by a degenerative disease, her maid and the new caregiver. Cacioppo’s producer is Lene Borglum who has worked with Von Trier and Refn. That alone is… she’s got the chops. The tension will come from the arrival of the mysterious caregiver and what she imposes on the relationship with the woman and her maid.
If we’re sticking with the theme of older people and this is a very loose association we have the project Year of the Heart. It takes on the role that there needs to be more roles for women over 40 in the film industry. The story of Year of the Heart centers around a woman who falls for the gardener she hires to look after the garden after her husband has a fit. She starts to discover scars all over her body. Are they just part of her imagination or is something sinister happening. Director and writer Kelly Holmes wants to tell a tale about a woman who is empowered by her menopause. As we said, there needs to be more roles for women over 40 and this is their reality, deal with it. The script is in early stages and they came to the market looking for sales, finance and production partners in North America. Also to get word out about the project. Here you go.
There were a handful of projects that came with LGBTQ themes that were all very different in their approach to genre. There was Fester, a psychological and body horror film from filmmaker Robbie Lemieux. The story is about a young man whose life is turned upside down when his best friend and roommate moves out and a mysterious stranger moves in. He begins to have nightmares and hallucinations and his body appears to rot from the inside. Lemieux calls his film a coming out story told through a horror lens, that troubled first step to acceptance. Lemieux would draw from his own experiences (not the rotting we hope) before he came out.
Slightly different in its approach, just every so slightly, is the blood soaked heist film, Jonesy. The movie about a telepathic psycho cat comedy thriller from Australia came with one of the loftiest budget goals. So high! But the horror comedy about a cat who persuades his owner’s new husband to kill their neighbour’s prized cockatoo. Oh, and the neighbour’s are very rich too, so the husband can kill the bird and steal the money kept in the home. The LGBTQ themes are not as upfront in this potential film but a telepathic psycho cat that goads a gullible goof to murder a bird is very ludicrous. This comes from Aaron McCann, director of the hit faux doc Top Knot Detective by the way.
Lucky Strikes, from filmmaker and writer Vivienne Vaughan, would be a queer coming of age horror sci fi story that takes place in Taos, New Mexico. Already steeped in UFO lore, New Mexico is a great setting for unexplained phenomena, like the Taos Hum for one. Taos is also the location of the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge, site of a lot of suicides, including Lucky’s mom. The central character in Vaughan’s story, Lucky, will start to hear the Hum while exploring her attraction to her best friend, Stevie. There is the lure of UFO and unexplained phenomena and we fully support coming-out cinema no matter in what context it is told. Telling that story in a sci-fi horror setting may just speak to a lot more fringe kids than a populist drama would. We do think that Vaughan may be asked to reconsider her choice of ending though. It… made us cringe. We cannot say what it is, but seeing as the script is in its early stages we think the right team can help Vaughan find the right ending for her film.
The Cuca would be a neat environmental horror, somewhere in the same vein as Gaia or the upcoming Colombian horror flick Tarumama. It’s similarities to Tarumama are, well, close. We suppose that anywhere close enough would have similar folklore and tales, stories that are meant to keep children from wandering too far away from the home. In The Cuca the story is about a family that moves to the Brazilian jungle where the Cuca also lives, a creature that steals children. Similar to other films like Gaia in the way that the environment and the mystery but the safety of it are part of the central theme. Similar in the way that all these regions have their own versions of children stealing creatures, like in Tarumama or La Solapa. Director and writer, Mario Furloni comes to the table with a resume ten years in the making. He said in his pitch that all the Cuca effects will be in camera as well. He also promised a controversial and open-to-interpretation ending as well. That’s good, because as congenial and warm as Furloni was in his presentation, the budget for his film was one of the highest in the market. I mean, goddamn that’s a lot for going into the woods and shooting a horror film, high.
A smaller project that takes to the woods is Nichilas Payne Santos’ horror Strange Creatures. The director of It Cuts Deep brings a script in advanced development to the market, a story about a sister searching for her brother after his disappearance in the woods. He calls nine months later after his disappearance and she goes in search of him and finds something supernatural. Santos wants to use this film as an allegory for the stigma of addiction. Small indie horror films will usually find lots of spots on the festival circuit and likely find a home on digital platforms around the World.
Not quite being alone in the woods but the very ambitious project Pyramiden sticks a family at a remote Arctic base where their darkest memories will manifest into physical forms. In the story the daughter in the family must contend with her brother and father, both of whom believe they were responsible for her mother’s death. One of them was, but meanwhile their secrets are coming to life and terrorizing them. Pyramiden was another project that came to the market with a very high proposed budget. A factor in that budget must be that they want to film on location in Pyramiden, an honest to goodness former Russian coal mining town in Norway where everyone just got up and left after too many tragedies beset the town. It’s partially open these days but filming on location has to be a factor in this budget. There’s no faking it until you make it with this crew. The producer on this film is Kjetil Omberg who produced the Dead Snow movies, though we think that this is a bit of a departure in theme and tone from those movies.
It is not often that we see a project come from the Middle East. The Lebanese/Swedish project Occurences from writer/director Nizar Sfair is about a writer who returns home to Lebanon after 35 years. He begins to unearth secrets from his past, about his father and mother and their murder. The psychological thriller begins to probe his past and though he breaks free from his writer’s block he creates new troubles for himself and his past and present start to collide. Sfair wants to film on location in Lebanon, which is not in a great way at the moment. As the market was going on so came the one year anniversary of the Beirut Blast and recovery has been slow. Would things improve so much in the next couple years if production were to go forward? Sfair wants to use Beirut as a physical manifestation of covering up the past, something that in real life was exposed again by the blast of 2020. Themes of identity, roots and war trauma will give thrust to the character in this story who digs up their past and cannot escape it, even all the way back to Sweden.
Polish director Agnieszka Smoczynska has made a name for herself on the festival circuit with her films Lure and Fugue. She came to the market with a new project called Hot Spot, an erotic crime story set in the near future. The story is that a police lieutenant is assigned to cover a case at a refugee camp where there is a conflict between two religions. He interrogates a mysterious woman whose friend was just murdered there. Smoczynska and her producer, Beata Rzeziczek, were dealing in vagueness about the project in their pitch video and even the write up in the market program dealt out generalities over specifics but using a phrase like, ‘In creating a punk, erotic sci-fi, I will wnat to tell this story in a very sensual way’, gave us the tingles. This is one for production partners to find more about. It did come in as one of the higher budgeted projects of the market so time will tell if Smoczynska’s reputation as a filmmaker is enough to secure backing. This project was in early stages of development.
We’ll lighten the mood a bit with a look at Snowflakes, the feature film adaptation of Faye Jackson’s short film by the same name. In the film a virus ravages the UK but only affects white people, causing them to explode in a puff of white ash. Two women who were about to be deported to Jamaica have a chance at freedom but they have to escape the security company, the creator of the virus and the virus itself that numbs you to the effects of the chaos around you. It could be a film that highlights ordinary black women as heroes and that’s something we could all use a little more of. They had a great pitch, with footage from the short film, showing the balance of terror and fun they intend for the larger feature.
Probably one of the more commercially diverse projects at this year’s market was Frontier Mistress. Based on a true story about a Huguenot refugee who plots to kill her abusive husband with her slave lover. She would become the first white woman to be executed in South Africa. Billed as a western and set in the 18th century, Frontier Mistress has all the makings of a film that would find a place in the lineup of mainstream festivals, and genre festivals looking to add some sophistication to their lineups. It’s somewhere in between the two markets; not outright genre and not quite commercial. There have been some great South African western style films recently but they played in a contemporary setting. It’s not very often that we get to see the genre play out in an earlier period. Consider us intrigued by the possibilities of this project.
If we move into something a little more spicy and savory two projects jumped out at us. First there was Confection, a film from director and writer Christa Boarini. A gifted cake decorator is lacking in inspiration until she starts decorating her cakes with body parts. There are hints of eroticism in this project, the sensual along with the macabre. What really sealed the deal for us on this one was when Boarini revealed that in her film there was also a competition for like-minded decorators! What? Like a version of The Great British Bakeoff, with an added dash of death! The pitch included some proof of concept that was colorful and sexy, though we’d rather eat our cake than wear it, but to each their own. It is a story about embracing the artist that you are and even if you are not an artist, everyone loves cake. If we haven’t watched those bakeoff shows we at least know they exist and every region has their own versions of them. Dessert and death are an easy sell.
Everybody knows about vampires and strip clubs as well. Look, we’re not saying that everyone has been a vampire, nor are we saying that everyone has been to a strip club, but you know that each exists, either in lore or in real life. Vampires and sex have been synomonous in the sub-genre for ages but it looks lke filmmaker Meloni Poole wants to turn that on its head. She wants to take an idea from her short film, Lap, and create a larger narrative about it in her project, Thirst. In the short film dancers at a strip club related themselves to vampires, working at night and sleeping during the day. Poole wants to build on that idea in Thirst, about a vampire that goes looking for her missing sister, infiltrating the stripe where the sex trafficking ring that stole her sister is based out of. She’ll use her body as a weapon against those who took her, “becoming an avenging angel for exploited women”. We could definitely use more of that and we could get it from someone who is going to treat the environment without being exploitative.
Finally, there was one series that came to the market this year, hAPPiness, from Ashar Medina. They came to the market with a proof of concept for a series that marries fairy tales with modern apps we use every day. Think Cinderella with a foot fetish dating app, or Hanse & Gretal with Onlyfans, or Sleeping Beauty with VirtualMD. We do not see the connection in that second one, no siree, but they did shoot footage for the foot festish idea and it looked good. Edited to hell, but it looked good and gave evidence that it would be a polished affair. We have not covered a lot of series in development over the years so we do not know what the going rate is for producing a small anthology series these days. But something like this would easily find a home on a streaming service like Shudder, or possibly one of the bigger ones which would reach more regions.