LOS CABOS, Mexico — David Schurmann, the director of Brazilian foreign-language Oscar candidate “Little Secret,” is developing two features: “Dot,” a thriller inspired by the true-life murder of Sister Dorothy Stang, a courageous social rights activist in the Amazon; and “Blood Rose,” from a screenplay by Andrew McKenzie, who co-wrote 2013 Sundance entry “Sweetwater.”
Pitched Friday at Los Cabos’ inaugural Film Investor Summit to top-of-the class film financiers from U.S., Mexico and Europe – AG Capital, Amazon Studios, Anonymous Content, Anton Capital begin the roll-call – the projects confirm the ambitions of one of Brazil’s most singular filmmakers thrown into the limelight when his movie, produce by Joao Roni at Ocean Films, was selected as Brazil’s Academy Award submission, beating out Cannes competition entry “Aquarius.”
Schurmann comes from an extraordinary background, forming part, as a kid, of the first Brazilian family to sail round the world, accompanied by parents Vilfredo and Heloisa Schurmann, brothers Pierre and Wilhelm and, on a second circumnavigation, the Magalhaes Global Adventure, five year-old Kat. He studied at the New Zealand Film and Television School alum, in a film culture far removed from Brazil.
It is the life story of Kat Schurmann which gives “Little Secret” much of its heartfelt power.
Schurmann’s sailing trips look to have left a legacy in other ways. “Little Secret” was financed, much as extreme sports expeditions, by a mix of public and private capital. And Schurmann’s stories range over the map, involve characters charting unknown waters, in psychological terms, learning compassion and connection in the process.
A longterm passion project of “Little Secret” producer Roni, “Dot” – Stang’s nickname – is inspired by one such figure: 73-year-old Stang, an American-born, Brazilian member of the Congregation of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, in Para, shot dead by two sicarios hired by Amazon forest “developers.”
Dorothy Stang had worked since 1965 in the Amazon, battling a conservative Catholic church, later a dictatorship, deforestation and the persecution of humble peasants farming small land-plots in the forest, harassed, evicted or killed by criminal gangs working for ranchers who wanted their land.
“For me what is fascinating about this story is what made this woman tick. Why did she defend these people even when she knew she could get murdered?” Schurmann asked.
Project is a co-production between Ocean Films, Schurmann Films and U.S. producer Raymond C. Reed at Global Media Village.
“Sweetwater” starred Ed Harris and Jessica Chastain. Inspired by a true story and a “mix between ‘Dr Zhivago,’ ‘The Professional’ and ‘La Femme Nikita,’” Schurmann said, McKenzie’s screenplay for “Blood Rose” is set mostly in Russia during WWII on the cusp of the German invasion.
A first draft of “Blood Rose” is complete.
Written by Brazil’s Marcos Bernstein, who penned Walter Salles’ Oscar-nominated “Central Station,” “Little Secret’s” weaves three apparently disparate life stories: New Zealander Robert swept off his feet by Jeanne, a local girl in the Amazon who then suffers a tragic accident; in New Zealand, a domineering woman’s self-pitying abandonment to drink, from her pain at a husband and son who, by her reckoning, have betrayed her; young teen Kat Schurmann’s struggle to adapt to school days on dry land in Brazil’s Florianopolis, and growing worry she’s not growing up like other girls.
As the stories come together, so does the film’s themes, such as the unpredictability, sometimes cruelty of fate, of lives swept by currents beyond their control.
In “Dot,” structure looks key once more. Rather along the lines of “Last King of Scotland,” Schurmann’s take on the material is to create a semi-fictional character, a journalist who travels to Brazil to interview Stang, seeing in her work a life purpose. When she is murdered, the film records his desperate attempted flight from the Amazon, conveying the danger Stang faced when she lived, as he thinks back over the story she told him.
“She always knew she could be killed at anytime. I think this tension needs to be brought to the movie,” Schurmann said.
Both “Dot” and “Blood Rose” looks set to pursue two of “Little Secret’s” cardinal principles.
“The big challenge in Brazil is that you are either on one side of the spectrum or the other, making a huge blockbuster comedy or a beautiful but dense arthouse film which is limited in audience. There is a kind of huge desert between them which people have rarely explored.”
The stories of both new films suggest they will plumb that mid-ground again.
On “Little Secret,” Schurmann brought top-notch tech talent to the table: German art director Brigitte Broch, a production designer on “Amores perros,” “21 Grams,” “Babel” and “Moulin Rouge!” – for which she won an Academy Award; Peru’s Inti Briones, a Variety Cinematographer to Watch who lensed Sundance World Cinema Grand Jury Prize winner “To Kill a Man” and won an Intl. Film Critics Feodora Award at 2013’s Venice Festival for his cinematography on “The Quispe Girls,” serves as d.p.
The tech talent shows, as in an Amazon-set scene in “Little Secret,” where the camera weaves between dancers at a humble bar built on wooden planks above the Amazon, capturing the bliss of Robert and Jeanne dancing together as they sense their life destiny together. Maybe, they will rarely be so happy again.
Already, Schurmann is taking about teaming a U.S. screenwriter and two Brazilian scribes to develop “Dot,” “so you get the truthfulness and dialogue but also a structure.”