Yemeni Abortion Drama and Poland’s Answer to ‘Call Me by Your Name’ Among Karlovy Vary’s Works in Progress Projects

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Karlovy Vary Film Festival’s industry section Eastern Promises wrapped Tuesday, with Yemeni abortion drama “The Burdened” winning the top prize in the Works in Progress section. This followed a presentation of the projects on Monday, where a diverse lineup was on show.

Ten projects, in late stages of production or post-production, vied for the post-production service package and two cash awards of €5,000, given out by jurors Dennis Ruh, director of European Film Market, Beta Cinema’s Cosima Finkbeiner, TRT Cinema’s Esra Demirkiran, sound designer Michaela Patríková, and Ewa Puszczyńska, one of the producers of Oscar winner “Ida,” and also behind Karlovy Vary festival title “Fools.”

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“I want to welcome you all after talking to you online for two years. Which was fun for us, but I am not sure how fun it was for you,” noted industry head Hugo Rosák, kickstarting the presentations, which included the likes of Poland’s “Elephant,” about a country boy falling in love with another man. The film, already sold to the U.S., the U.K., Germany, France, Switzerland and Austria, will premiere at New Horizons Film Festival later this month.

Amr Gamal’s “The Burdened” - Credit: Courtesy of KVIFF
Amr Gamal’s “The Burdened” - Credit: Courtesy of KVIFF

Courtesy of KVIFF

“We like to think of ‘Elephant’ as ‘Call Me by Your Name’ happening in a little Polish village, with all the consequences [that come with it],” said Jakub Mróz, co-founder and CEO of Tongariro Releasing, a distribution company focusing on LGBTQ+ films. The film marks its first move into production.

“Since I decided to become a film director, I knew that my debut film will be a queer story. First of all because I am gay, so these topics are important to me, but also because I saw this big void in Polish cinematography,” added director Kamil Krawczycki.

“When I was younger, I needed this kind of film and I have never seen it. Now, we know that representation matters. I am glad we can be a small part of that change.”

Once again mixing fiction and documentary projects, this year’s WIP selection welcomed a slew of highly personal projects, including Amr Gamal’s “The Burdened” (Yemen, Sudan), based on a true story and zooming in on a struggling family trying to get an abortion despite its community’s conservative stance.

“We actually witnessed that dilemma,” said producer Mohsen Alkhalifi, opening up about the difficulties of shooting in Yemen.

“It’s a country with no cinema industry, where no one believes in cinema and the resources are limited. But there are many stories to be told to the world. It’s a long journey and a difficult one, but hopefully we will succeed in getting our voices heard.”

On the documentary front, Georgia’s “Part of Society” will also reflect on the state of the LGBTQ+ community – this time in the Caucasus region. Following his short “Prisoner of Society,” nominated for the European Film Award in 2018, Rati Tsiteladze comes back to the harrowing story of transgender Adelina, locked away for 11 years by her parents.

Veronika Lišková’s “The Visitors”
Veronika Lišková’s “The Visitors”

“When Adelina shared her story with me, it moved me in a profound way. I was touched by her raw honesty,” noted the helmer. The film, co-written and co-produced by ArtWay Film’s Olga Slusareva, will be released in September 2023.

“I knew we had to make this film, no matter the consequences. To be different, it means you are faced with a choice: to be invisible for the sake of society, or to fight for who you are, even if it may cost you your life,” he added.

“Windless,” a Bulgarian-Italian co-production, will also explore a somewhat complicated relationship with one’s past. Veselka Kiryakova produces for Red Carpet, alongside Alessandro Amato and Luigi Chimienti.

“It’s about a boy who comes back to the place where he spent his childhood, but he hates his childhood. He comes back to the place where his father used to live, but he hates his father. He comes back to his roots, but he hates his roots,” said director Pavel G. Vesnakov, also noting the film’s “philosophical” aspect. Its first cut is expected at the end of July.

Sonia Ben Slama will take a closer look at traditional wedding musicians in her documentary “Machtat” (Lebanon, Tunisia, France, Qatar), as three women keep on performing despite their personal struggles. It wasn’t the only female-centered story, however, with Anna Dziapshipa returning to her complicated family history in another doc from Georgia, “Self Portrait Along the Borderline.” Dziapshipa will direct, shoot and produce her feature debut for Sakdoc Film.

“The Visitors’” helmer Veronika Lišková also embarked on a journey, deciding to follow her former classmate – and fellow anthropologist – to the world’s northernmost town, Longyearbyen.

“When I saw the first photos from that place, I thought: ‘I am looking at a moon colony. My fascination was also driven by her courage,” said Lišková about the Czech-Norwegian-Slovak co-production, described as an intimate testimony about the sense of belonging. Kristýna Michálek Květová produces for Cinémotif Films, with The Thousand Images and Peter Kerekes Film also attached. The film will soon celebrate its world premiere at Locarno’s Critics’ Week.

In another documentary, “The Ice That Still Supports Us,” Arko Okk will take on an old Estonian tradition: opening ice roads in winter time.

“Ice road is a ghost road – nobody knows when it will appear and where. It erases borders between people,” he said, with producer Sandra Heidov adding: “It upsets daily balance and creates tensions. It’s interesting to see how frozen water melts something inside people’s minds.”

The filmmakers also mentioned their dream collaborator, who could hopefully provide the narration: Australian actor Geoffrey Rush, who will be awarded KVIFF’s Crystal Globe at the closing ceremony.

“Endless Summer Syndrome” - Credit: Courtesy of KVIFF
“Endless Summer Syndrome” - Credit: Courtesy of KVIFF

Courtesy of KVIFF

“We need to ask the festival for help. Could they arrange a meeting?,” wondered Okk, cooling his audience with the film’s winter imagery.

Still, the atmosphere warmed up once again thanks to “Brutal Heat” and “Endless Summer Syndrome.” In the latter, produced by Gem Deger, Eva Larvoire, Cédric Larvoire and debuting director Kaveh Daneshmand, one family’s quiet life comes to a halt after a deeply troubling revelation.

“Brutal Heat” – a road movie produced by Czech Republic’s nutprodukce and Slovakia’s Punkchart Films – will see a bored, lonely boy, tired of the hot weather and scared of the catastrophe that might or might not happen in the near future.

“When he finally reaches his destination, he realizes he doesn’t belong there anymore. But he is ready for whatever comes next,” said director Albert Hospodářský, calling the film, featuring his own brother, a “low-budget labor of love and friendship.”

“We are playing around with the idea of presenting this film exclusively in open-air summer cinemas next year,” added producer Lukáš Kokeš.

“So that the audience can really feel the heat.”

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