Battered by disappointing markets at Toronto and AFM, both of which were held under the shadow of the actors strike, buyers and sellers are looking to Berlin’s European Film Market (EFM), which runs Feb. 15-21, to re-energize the indie business. The outlook, coming out of Sundance, is good.
“The difference in Sundance from last year to this was extreme, there were a lot more deals being down, both by distributors and streamers,” says Janina Vislmaier, head of sales at Protagonist Pictures, which screened The Outrun with Saoirse Ronan and Sasquatch Sunset with Riley Keough and Jesse Eisenberg in Park City, both of which will screen at the EFM. “Everyone is really excited ahead of Berlin, especially because all the buyers are back, including from Asia, which is a really good sign.”
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The end of the SAG and WGA strikes hasn’t, yet, delivered the flood of new projects and packages many had predicted, something David Garrett at Mister Smith Entertainment puts down to “everyone competing for the same crew and talent” creating a bottleneck that could slow deal-making in Berlin.
But among the confirmed projects heading to the EFM, there is plenty to get buyers buzzing, including new features with Dave Bautista, Margot Robbie, Tilda Swinton, Bob Odenkirk, Cillian Murphy, and Christoph Waltz.
DIRECTOR Morgan Matthews
STARS Bill Nighy, Roman Griffin
BUZZ Living and The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel star Nighy is the estranged grandfather to JoJo Rabbit breakout Roman Griffin Davis in this road movie about a broken family forced to come together, adapted by What Richard Did screenwriter Malcolm Campbell from Mark Lowery’s novel Charlie and Me. The promise of a heartwarming family drama with a dash of British wit should find specialized buyers far and wide.
SALES Beta Cinema
DIRECTOR J.J. Perry
STARS Dave Bautista, Samuel L. Jackson
BUZZ Action and sci-fi can be an explosive combo on the international market, and this future-set adventure tale, featuring Bautista as a treasure hunter tasked with recovering valuable objects in a world where all technology has been wiped out, could get play with theatrical buyers – if the streamers don’t get there first.
SALES Black Bear, CAA Media Finance
DIRECTOR Ralph Fiennes
STARS Ralph Fiennes, Indira Varma, Charles Babalola, Alison Oliver
BUZZ Fiennes re-teams with his The Constant Gardener producer Gail Egan in this contemporary U.K. drama, directing and staring alongside a pack of up-and-coming British talent in the story of Joshua Nyaga (Charles Babalola), who came to London as a child refugee from Uganda and sets off for a weekend in the English countryside with his girlfriend’s upper-class family.
SALES Cornerstone, CAA Media Finance
A Big Bold Beautiful Journey
STARS Margot Robbie, Colin Farrell
BUZZ The plot of this new package is still being kept under wraps but the talent attached — particularly a post-Barbie Robbie — together with After Yang and Pachinko director Kogonada, helming from an original script from The Menu writer Seth Reiss, should have buyers salivating.
SALES 30West, CAA Media Finance, Neon International
DIRECTOR Alonso Ruizpalacios
STARS Rooney Mara, Raúl Briones
BUZZ Emmy-winning FX series The Bear demonstrated an insatiable appetite for intense back-room kitchen drama and buyers will be sure to sample Alonso Ruizpalacios’s English-language debut, a modern-day adaptation of Arnold Wesker’s 1957 stage classic The Kitchen, with Mara playing an American waitress whose relationship with Briones, an undocumented Mexican grill cook, is put to the test during the lunch rush at the high-stress Manhattan restaurant The Grill.
SALES HanWay Films, Fifth Season, WME Independent
DIRECTOR Joshua Oppenheimer
STARS Tilda Swinton, George Mackay, Moses Ingram, Michael Shannon.
BUZZ Oppenheimer’s feature debut after the Oscar-nominated documentaries The Act of Killing and The Look of Silence was snatched up by Neon stateside and looks to have a similar crossover appeal as Ruben Östlund’s capitalism satire Triangle of Sadness. The “post-apocalyptic musical” is set in an underground bunker among a family of 1 percenters who directly contributed to the end of the world. Just the promise of a singing and dancing Michael Shannon, who plays the family patriarch, should be enough to get buyers on board.
U.S. DISTRIBUTOR Neon
SALES The Match Factory
DIRECTOR David Mackenzie
STARS Aaron Taylor-Johnson
BUZZ The new crime thriller from Hell or High Water director Mackenzie sees him reunite with his Outlaw King collaborator Taylor-Johnson in a U.K.-set genre mash-up that combines a bank heist movie with a high-stakes story of an unexploded bomb. The mix could prove explosive for international buyers hungry for elevated action that can play theatrically.
SALES Anton, UTA Independent Film Group, WME Independent
DIRECTOR Ben Shirinian
STARS Naomi Watts, Tye Sheridan, Michael Imperioli, Norman Reedus
BUZZ The A-list cast and enticing true-story premise — based on a New York Times journalist who tracked down a suspected Nazi officer living in Queens — should draw in indie theatrical buyers who will see upscale audience potential in this psychological period drama.
SALES Neon International, CAA Media Finance
DIRECTOR David N. Weiss
STARS Adam Devine, Elsie Fisher, J.K. Simmons, Sam Richardson
BUZZ Berlin arguably helped spark the global craze for anime after Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away won the Golden Bear here back in 2001, helping prepare the market for what is now a genuine blockbuster genre. This English-language film, from the producers of One Piece Film: Red and The First Slam Dunk features a story and characters co-created by Sonic the Hedgehog game designer Naoto Oshima and veteran anime producer Joseph Chou (Ghost in the Shell) with Shrek 2 and The Smurfs screenwriter David N. Weiss directing.
DIRECTOR Tom Tykwer
STARS Lars Eidinger, Nicolette Krebitz, Tala al Deen
BUZZ The first feature film from A Hologram for the King and Cloud Atlas director Tykwer in eight years is an event. Smaller in scale to his genre efforts, this new German-language drama looks closer in feel to his 2010 effort 3, telling the story of a dysfunctional middle-class family whose world is disrupted and enlivened when a new housekeeper, Farrah (Tala al Deen), from Syria, enters their lives.
SALES Beta Cinema (outside North America, France and German-speaking Europe)
The Magic Faraway Tree
DIRECTOR Ben Gregor
BUZZ The first in a planned franchise of family films based on the popular book series by Enid Blyton, The Magic Faraway Tree arrives to market with the cachet of a script by Wonka and Paddington 2 screenwriter Simon Farnaby and the backing of award-winners Neal Street Productions (1917, Call The Midwife).
SALES Palisades Park Pictures, CAA Media Finance
DIRECTOR Ben Wheatley
STARS Bob Odenkirk
BUZZ Odenkirk re-teams with his Nobody screenwriter Derek Kolstad (who also penned the John Wick franchise) in this offbeat actioner, playing Ulysses, a substitute sheriff in the sleepy town of Normal, population 4,890. When the town’s bank is robbed, Ulysses uncovers a criminal conspiracy that shows all is not right in Normal. WME is launching pre-sales on the Normal package in Berlin.
SALES WME Independent
The Quiet One
DIRECTORS Delphine, Muriel Coulin
STARS Vincent Lindon, Benjamin Voisin, Stefan Crepon
BUZZ Pierre, a devoted father in his 50s, raises his two sons alone. The three of them are very close. As Louis, the youngest, is about to leave home to attend the Sorbonne in Paris, Fus, slightly older and not as successful academically, becomes more and more secretive. Driven by a fascination for violence, he gets entangled in far-right extremist groups at the very opposite of his father’s values. Between them, there is love and hate, until tragedy happens.
DIRECTORS David and Nathan Zellner
STARS Riley Keough, Jesse Eisenberg, Nathan Zellner, Cristophe Zajac-Denek
BUZZ A year in the life of a family of bigfooted sasquatches, told without dialog and with a large dollop of slapstick humor, will most definitely not be for everyone, but the off-beat comedy boasts an impressive cast and a weird enough concept to lure in specialty buyers.
U.S. DISTRIBUTOR Bleecker Street
SALES Protagonist Pictures
Small Things Like These
DIRECTOR Tim Mielants
STARS Cillian Murphy, Eileen Walsh, Michelle Fairley, Emily Watson
BUZZ Cillian Murphy’s first film post-Oppenheimer is a low-key Irish drama helmed by his Peaky Blinder collaborator Mielants and based on a Booker Prize shortlisted novel by Claire Keegan, author of The Quiet Girl, whose adaptation was a 2023 Oscar nominee. Co-produced by Matt Damon and Ben Affleck’s Artist Equity shingle, the 1980s-set drama about trauma and abuse is a world away from Christopher Nolan’s blockbuster but could attract attention from arthouse buyers at the Berlinale, where it is this year’s opening night film.
SALES FilmNation Entertainment
The Stranger’s Case
DIRECTOR Brandt Andersen
STARS Omar Sy, Yasmine Al Massri, Ziad Bakri, Constantine Markoulakis
BUZZ The first feature from veteran producer Anderson (Everest, American Made) is an ambitious story of the global refugee crisis that interweaves stories involving five different families in four different countries, from Aleppo to Paris to Chicago. The recent success of refugee dramas Green Border and Io Capitano suggests such politically-charged drama is in demand in the arthouse market.
SALES Mister Smith Entertainment/WME Independent
DIRECTOR Clint Bentley
STARS Joel Edgerton, Felicity Jones
BUZZ Adapted from Denis Johnson’s Pulitzer Prize-nominated Hemingwayesque novella, this is one of the few projects at Berlin this year with a truly epic scope. Edgerton will play Robert Grainer, a day laborer in the American West in the early 20th century who, battered by tragedy and trauma, struggles to adjust in a changing world.
SALES Black Bear, WME Independent
DIRECTOR Julia Von Heinz
STARS Lena Dunham, Stephen Fry
BUZZ In 1990s Poland and follows Ruth, an American music journalist, and her father, Edek, a charmingly stubborn Holocaust survivor, on a journey to his homeland. While Ruth is eager to make sense of her family’s past, Edek embarks on the trip with his own agenda.
Producers: Seven Elephants and Lena Dunham’s Good Thing Going
U.S DISTRIBUTOR FilmNation Entertainment/ Bleecker Street
SALES FilmNation Entertainment
Wilder & Me
DIRECTOR Stephen Frears
STARS Christoph Waltz, Maya Hawke, John Turturro, Jon Hamm
BUZZ Berlin, Billy Wilder’s old stomping ground, is an ideal spot to pitch this biopic starring double Oscar winner Waltz as the Austrian directing legend known for Some Like It Hot, Sunset Boulevard and The Apartment. Adapted by The Father screenwriter Christopher Hampton from Jonathan Coe’s novel Mr Wilder and Me, and set around the shooting of Wilder’s Fedora, the project features Turturro as Wilder’s lifelong friend and screenwriting partner I.A.L. Diamond, Hamm as Fedora star William Holden and Hawke as a young musician who falls in love with cinema and life while working on the set.
SALES HanWay Films, CAA Media Finance
Winter of the Crow
DIRECTOR Kasia Adamik
STARS Lesley Manville
BUZZ Oscar-nominated Phantom Thread actress Lesley Manville stars as a British psychiatric professor working in Warsaw as a guest lecturer who finds herself cut off from the world on December 13th, 1981, when martial law is imposed. But as chaos engulfs the city, she witnesses, and photographs, a brutal murder carried out by the secret police. Based on a short story by Nobel Prize-winning Olga Tokarczuk, Winter of the Crow promises a similar mix of thriller, politics and mysticism as Tokarczuk’s adaptation Spoor from Agnieszka Holland, which won Berlin’s Silver Bear in 2017.
SALES HanWay Films
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