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You could call the 40 executives on THR‘s inaugural International Women in Entertainment — Film list “the survivors.” As seismic disruptions rocked the indie world, from COVID shutdowns to the decimation of the special cinema market, these women have found a way to secure the money and the partners to keep making the stories they care about — often told by filmmakers from ignored or underrepresented groups — and get them out to the audiences that love them, worldwide. In a business that lionizes ego, these bosses — some who run pan-national mini-studios, others who oversee boutique operations with a handful of employees — have made an art out of collaboration, understanding that only by pooling their resources, by co-producing, co-financing or distributing one another’s movies, and by mentoring and encouraging young (often female) filmmakers, can the polyglot world of international indie cinema survive.
CEO, EbonyLife Media (Nigeria)
Abudu got her start as producer and host of pan-African talk show Moments With Mo, before expanding into local and international TV and film with her EbonyLife studio, which operates its own theater chain, produces and releases female-centered dramas (Fifty, Òlòtūré) and mainstream franchises (The Wedding Party, Chief Daddy), and has development and production deals with Sony, AMC, Lionsgate, Will Packer Productions and Will Smith’s Westbrook. Nigeria’s media mogul is determined to expand African cinema worldwide: “It can’t be that Black Panther and The Woman King are the only two African stories to reach an international audience.”
Maren Ade and Janine Jackowski
Co-founders, Komplizen Film (Germany)
Ade and Jackowski set up Komplizen Film in 1999 and have built the boutique outfit into an art house champion, with a focus on German festival-favorite directors (including Ade, whose Oscar-nominated Toni Erdmann was a Cannes 2016 breakout) and international co-productions, such as Pablo Larraín’s Spencer, Marie Kreutzer’s Corsage and Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s Cannes 2023 competition title About Dry Grasses. “The biggest challenge is finding courageous partners who are willing to take risks,” says Jackowski.
Head of Production, Film i Väst (Sweden)
Under Börjeson’s guidance, Trollhättan-based Film i Väst has become a pivotal financing and production partner for ambitious European features, from Thomas Vinterberg’s Another Round and Joachim Trier’s The Worst Person in the World to Bill Nighy starrer Living and Ruben Östlund’s Cannes-winning Triangle of Sadness. “One of the biggest challenges facing the indie film industry right now is how to reach an audience, [which can be] quite hard choosing what films should aim for the big screen, which belong on the streamers and which shouldn’t be made at all,” says Börjeson.
Co-owner, Eon Productions (United Kingdom)
Broccoli is a producer who needs little introduction, having presided over what is arguably the world’s most famous franchise for almost three decades, aiding its successful transition into the modern age (with record-breaking box office tallies to boot). While Broccoli and Eon Productions move into other genres (it produced last year’s historical drama Till), all eyes will be on her in the coming months as she helps answer one of cinema’s burning questions: Who will be the next James Bond?
Founder, Heimatfilm (Germany)
Brokemper worked her way up from the bottom — “I started as a Kabelträger [cable schlepper] on German TV,” she says — to one of Europe’s leading producers of award-winning and crossover art house, with a side gig as Lars von Trier’s German co-producer. Given such specialty credentials, it might be surprising that she names the childhood experience of seeing Steven Spielberg’s E.T. as her cinema touchstone. “I had never seen grown men crying before,” she says. “I remember thinking how powerful a movie can be.”
Kristina Ceyton and Samantha Jennings
Co-founders, Causeway Films (Australia)
Ceyton and Jennings launched Causeway Films in 2014 with the Sundance sensation The Babadook and produced director Jennifer Kent’s follow-up feature, The Nightingale, which won the special jury prize at the Venice Film Festival 2019. A string of hits and festival darlings has followed, including Rodd Rathjen’s Buoyancy (Australia’s 2020 Oscars submission) and recent Sundance favorite Talk to Me, picked up by A24 for release later this year.
CEO, Indigo Film (Italy)
Cima is best known for her work with Paolo Sorrentino, including the Oscar-winning The Great Beauty and Youth, which the former journalist produced through the company she co-founded in 2002 with Nicola Giuliano. More recent productions include Mario Martone’s The King of Laughter and Laetitia Colombani’s upcoming drama The Braid.
CEO, Lilies Films (France)
As Céline Sciamma’s producer — Couvreur has worked with the acclaimed director of Portrait of a Lady on Fire and Petit Maman since her 2007 feature debut, Water Lilies, which lent its title to her Paris-based outfit — Couvreur has been at the forefront of the new generation of female French filmmakers.
CEO, Inicia Films (Spain)
Delpierre’s Inicia Films has been a key component in Spain’s female-led new cinema movement, supporting up-and-coming women filmmakers including Carla Simón (director of the 2017 Berlin best feature winner Summer 1993), Estibaliz Urresola Solaguren (Berlin Silver Bear winner 20,000 Species of Bees) and Pilar Palomero (2023 Goya best film winner La Maternal).
CEO, Gaumont (France)
Since taking over the reins of the world’s oldest film studio from her father in 2004, Dumas has expanded internationally — with operations in L.A., the U.K. and Germany — as well as into television, but has not abandoned Gaumont’s dedication to mainstream audiences, whether it’s with French blockbusters (2011’s The Intouchables, 2013’s Belle & Sebastian) or English-language features (Timo Tjahjanto’s upcoming Train to New York, a remake of Korean zombie hit Train to Busan). “I’m always proudest when the movies or series we produce find a large audience,” says Dumas.
Founder, Mer Film (Norway)
Ekerhovd and her Bergen-based Mer Film shingle have proven adept at bending budgets and co-production treaties to the needs of European art house originals, whether it’s in service of inventive, low-budget fantasy-horror (Eskil Vogt’s The Innocents in 2021), socially realist drama (Iram Haq’s What Will People Say, 2017) or animated documentaries (Jonas Poher Rasmussen’s 2021 Oscar-nominated Flee).
Cécile Gaget (Top International Woman in Film)
Head of Film Group, Wild Bunch (France)
All eyes in the international indie film world are on Gaget, who, since taking over as head of film at Wild Bunch in September, has been charged with steering Europe’s leading indie film studio into the future. Corporate maneuverings at the pan-European producer-distributor, created in 2015 by the merger of France’s Wild Bunch and Germany’s Senator and now majority-owned by German entrepreneur Lars Windhorst, are in the hands of former NBCUniversal vice chairman Ron Meyer and ex-beIN Media Group executive Sophie Jordan (see below), the company’s new CEO and co-CEO, respectively. But it is Gaget who will be in the film trenches, developing and producing the slate that will define the new Wild Bunch era.
There are big shoes to fill. The original Wild Bunch — run by Vincent Maraval, Vincent Grimond and Brahim Chioua — was an irresistible force on the international festival and film market scene, handling global sales for a string of auteur A-listers, from Hayao Miyazaki to Gaspar Noé, Julia Ducournau to Ken Loach. Maraval and Chioua’s newly branded sales outfit Goodfellas (formerly known as Wild Bunch International) ended its three-year pact with Wild Bunch in November. Although the two companies will continue to work together on select projects, Gaget is expected to push into more international, particularly English-speaking, projects alongside Wild Bunch’s bread-and-butter business of acquisitions, distribution and local-language production across its European footprint.
Gaget is more than equipped for the challenge. At French studio Gaumont, where she worked for more than a decade and rose to head of international production and distribution, she helped turn features like Éric Toledano and Olivier Nakache’s The Intouchables (2011) and Yeon Sang-ho’s Train to Busan (2016) into a global hits. At French production/financing outfit Anton, where she served as president of international production and distribution, Gaget ramped up film production with Ric Roman Waugh’s Greenland: Migration; the Kristina Buozyte/Bruno Samper-directed sci-fi drama Vesper; and Mothers’ Instinct, the upcoming psychological thriller starring Jessica Chastain and Anne Hathaway, which will mark the directorial debut of acclaimed French cinematographer Benoît Delhomme. That list of credits could point to a more mainstream approach for Wild Bunch under Gaget’s leadership, though she will be keen to maintain the company’s reputation for backing cutting-edge risk-takers.
As Gaget noted on taking the job in September, together with Meyer and Jordan, she wants to make Wild Bunch 2.0 “a home for bold filmmakers and creators.”
Dyveke Bjorkly Graver
Co-founder, Eye Eye Pictures (Norway)
Cannes breakout The Worst Person in the World, which launched the career of star Renate Reinsve, spurred Graver, then a producer at Oslo Pictures, to launch independent shingle Eye Eye Pictures with partner and fellow Worst Person producer Andrea Berentsen Ottmar. “The company feels like a place for us as producers [to] develop and produce the content that we’re passionate about in the way that feels right for us,” says Graver, including upcoming feature Ø from Hope director Maria Sodahl.
Co-President, Film Forge (Canada)
As a feature film producer, Harnisch oversaw the 2015 breakout drama Sleeping Giant by director Andrew Cividino. As co-president of Film Forge, she has cemented her place in the top tier of indie Canadian film with recent and upcoming titles like Brandon Cronenberg’s Infinity Pool, writer-director Eva Michon’s Mizeria, and the limited series Cutblock from Cividino and Trey Edward Shults.
CEO, Telepool (Germany)
The Japan-born, Germany-raised exec took the top job at Germany’s Telepool in January after Westbrook Inc. assumed full control of the Munich-based distribution and sales giant. A primary goal will be building the group’s production business through in-house projects, German co-productions and English-language productions. “The biggest challenge facing the independent film business is to keep up the magic of theatrical cinema: That quality TV and streaming and theatrical cinema can exist and flourish together in the future.”
Hungry Eyes Media (Canada)
Holness has become a Canadian indie film stalwart by producing and co-writing theatrical dramas by her husband and business partner, Sudz Sutherland, like Home Again and Love, Sex and Eating the Bones. She also co-created the TV series Shoot the Messenger and wrote and directed the documentary Subjects of Desire in 2021.
Head of Films, Fabula (Chile)
Jadue has put Chilean cinema on the international map with such features as Sebastián Lelio’s Oscar-winning A Fantastic Woman and Maite Alberdi’s 2023 Sundance grand jury prize winner The Eternal Memory. It was seeing Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s Amores Perros in a theater when she was 15 years old that convinced her Spanish-language cinema could go global: “It opened up a possibility that I had not considered, [that] I could produce films in the Spanish language that can resonate worldwide.”
Founder, Big Bowl Entertainment (China)
The Chinese multihyphenate began her career studying the traditional Chinese stand-up comedy form known as xiangsheng (aka crosstalk) and later gained nationwide fame for her regular appearances on hit variety shows. She co-founded Big Bowl Entertainment in 2017, going on to produce several hit comedy stage shows and TV projects. But Jia’s huge breakthrough came in 2021 when she wrote, directed and starred in Hi, Mom, which earned $822 million worldwide and remains the highest-grossing film directed by a woman.
Co-CEO, Wild Bunch (France)
Since taking over Wild Bunch (with CEO Ron Meyer) in November 2021, the former beIN Media Group and Canal+ executive has been charged with taking the onetime indie startup to the next level. With secure funding from German white knight investor Lars Windhorst; a production and distribution operation that spans France, Germany, Italy, Spain and Australia; a library of more than 2,500 titles; and in-house French VOD/SVOD service FilmoTV, Jordan has all the components to transform Wild Bunch into a true pan-European studio.
Sisse Graum Jorgensen and Louise Vesth
Producers, Zentropa (Denmark)
From Zentropa’s headquarters on the outskirts of Copenhagen, Jorgensen and Vesth have built a European indie film powerhouse as adept at delivering international art house award winners — Thomas Vinterberg’s Another Round, Susanne Bier’s In a Better World, the films of Lars von Trier — as it is at turning out local blockbusters, from Anders Thomas Jensen’s Riders of Justice to the Danish Department Q franchise.
Balaji Motion Pictures (India)
Kapoor founded Balaji Telefilms, a powerhouse of Indian screens small and big, with her parents in 1994 and has grown into one of South Asia’s most prolific TV producers. Kapoor and her family launched a filmmaking subsidiary, Balaji Motion Pictures, in 2001. The label is generally responsible for several high-profile Bollywood titles each year, such as the forthcoming social comedy drama Kathal, scheduled for release May 19 on Netflix.
Co-founder, Number 9 Films (United Kingdom)
With a back catalog that includes multi-award winners such as The Crying Game, Little Voice, Carol, Youth and last year’s critically acclaimed Living, Karlsen is a hugely respected, BAFTA-winning icon. The U.S.-born Brit — who started out on the groundbreaking 1986 LGBTQ drama Parting Glances (“as a proofreader for $6 an hour”) — says that one of her proudest achievements has been seeing “young people, particularly young women, who started with me as lowly assistants, go on to have stellar careers.”
In a Japanese industry notorious for its low gender parity, Kawase has been a trailblazer, becoming the first woman from her country to compete in Cannes’ main competition and the first to win the festival’s Grand Prix (for The Mourning Forest in 2007). Through her company Kumie Inc., founded in 1996, she has produced and distributed her own work as well as those of emerging Japanese indie filmmakers.
Co-CEO, Barunson Entertainment (South Korea)
Kwak began her career in the late 1990s as a film journalist covering the explosion of creativity sweeping Korean cinema. Through production outfit Barunson E&A, she has risen to become one of her country’s most influential female producers, culminating in a best picture Oscar win for Bong Joon Ho’s Parasite in 2019. She returns to Cannes this year with Cobweb, the much-anticipated feature from longtime creative collaborator Kim Jee-woon.
Deputy Director, Le Pacte (France)
Elevated genre with crossover potential is a speciality of Labadie, whose work at Le Pacte includes Joachim Trier’s fantasy-horror Thelma (2017), Rodrigo Sorogoyen’s thriller The Beasts (2022), Amat Escalante’s horror-mystery The Untamed (2016) and Matteo Garrone’s grown-up fables Tale of Tales and Pinocchio. Her latest project, Kensuke’s Kingdom, from directors Neil Boyle and Kirk Hendry, will see her stretch further into family animation.
Vice Chairwoman, CJ Entertainment (South Korea)
Lee has long been a dominant force in her home country’s movie business, but she has set her sights on even greater global influence. She became recognizable to all of Hollywood when she accepted the best picture Oscar for Parasite in 2019, and she has continued making bold moves beyond Seoul, such as a $100 million investment in David Ellison’s Skydance Media in 2020 and a deal the next year for CJ to purchase 80 percent of U.S. production-distribution company Endeavor Content, which was later renamed Fifth Season.
Co-president, Elevation Pictures (Canada)
May, a Canadian film distribution veteran, runs indie outfit Elevation Pictures along with co-president Noah Segal. They stepped into indie production with titles like the Michelle Pfeiffer-led French Exit and Anna Kendrick’s Alice, Darling. Recent theatrical releases include Everything Everywhere All at Once, The Whale, Triangle of Sadness and Clement Virgo’s Brother.
Cleona Ní Chrualaoi
Producer, Inscéal (Ireland)
While The Quiet Girl may have missed out on the best international feature Oscar, the record-breaking, history-making ascent of the low-budget, Irish-language drama — the feature debut of producer Ní Chrualaoi — was one of the biggest indie success stories of the past 12 months. “I am particularly proud that the film has sparked a renewed interest in our native language, and I continue to be inspired by its journey,” says Ní Chrualaoi.
Chief Creative Officer, Sunbow Productions (Nigeria)
One of the most influential of a new generation of mostly female Nigerian director-producers, Oshin has helped change the face of Nollywood, with mainstream drama and comedies like Fifty and The Wedding Party 2 and, as a director, with such critically acclaimed features as Journey to Self (2013) and We Don’t Live Here Anymore (2018) — the latter one of the first Nigerian films to feature LGBTQ characters.
Pilar Benito Peña
Managing Director, Morena Films (Spain)
Prestige genre has been a touchstone of Peña’s work, from Daniel Monzón’s 2009 Spanish actioner breakout Cell 211 to Carlota Pereda’s Sundance smash Piggy, a high-concept horror film about the bloody revenge of a bullied, overweight teen. The Morena concept sees the producers at the mini-studio working independently while still sharing creative input and know-how.
CEO, Lemming Film (Netherlands)
The collaborations of Petit, a Dutch master of co-production, have included Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Lobster, Ninja Thyberg’s Pleasure, Sergei Loznitsa’s In the Fog, Amat Escalante’s Heli and Fatih Akin’s Rheingold (the latter produced through Lemming’s German subsidiary Hamster). Her talents at cross-border cooperation won her the European Film Academy’s co-production award, the Prix Euroimages, in 2016.
Co-CEO, House Productions (United Kingdom)
During her time at the BBC and later at Film4 (which she ran from 2002 to 2014), Ross became one of the most powerful people in U.K. film and helped steer an incredible run of hits including Billy Elliot, The Last King of Scotland, Slumdog Millionaire, Hunger, Under the Skin and Room. Her House Productions, launched in 2016 and fully owned by BBC Studios, started in TV but has since made a major foray into features, producing Peter Jackson’s doc They Shall Not Grow Old, the recent Florence Pugh starrer The Wonder and Jonathan Glazer’s anticipated Cannes entry The Zone of Interest.
CEO, Haut et Court (France)
The veteran French producer, whose long list of credits includes The Lobster, 2008 Palme d’Or winner The Class and this year’s César champion The Night of the 12th, is the brains behind producers’ alliance The Creatives, a collaboration of European, Israeli and U.S. indie production companies who have pooled their resources — and signed a three-year development deal with Fremantle — to develop a slate of high-end drama series and films while still maintaining their independence.
Co-founder, Distribution Workshop (China)
Shi is among those on the short list of Chinese film producers whose careers have traversed both the golden age of Hong Kong cinema and the latter stages of mainland China’s box office boom era. She founded Film Workshop with ex-husband and influential director Tsui Hark in 1984, and later produced box office hits like Flying Swords of Dragon Gate (2011) and The Taking of Tiger Mountain (2014), as well as spearheading the blockbuster franchise Detective Dee for Beijing studio Huayi Bros. For several years she co-headed sales agency Distribution Workshop, bringing scores of Chinese titles to the wider world.
Producer, MicroFILM (Romania)
A founding member of Romanian production collective MicroFILM, Solomon remains dedicated to the company’s ethos of making “socially relevant films [that] ask questions which are not always comfortable and show perspectives which are not always visible.” The producer of Berlin Festival winners Child’s Play and Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn adds, “I am not rich, nor famous, but I can look into myself in the mirror and say, ‘You’re OK, girl, still nothing to be ashamed of!’ “
CEO, Aurora Films (France)
Since founding Aurora in 2002, Vincent has produced nearly 60 features and shorts, both narrative films and documentaries, with standouts including Evangelia Kranioti’s 2015 Hot Docs winner Exotica, Erotica, Etc., Davy Chou’s 2022 Un Certain Regard winner (and Independent Spirit Award nominee) Return to Seoul and Patric Chiha’s 2023 Berlin Festival entry The Beast in the Jungle.
CEO, Frakas (Belgium)
With a list of co-production credits that includes Julia Ducournau’s 2021 Palme d’Or winner Titane, Mati Diop’s Atlantics, Lukas Dhont’s Girl, and Return to Seoul, Warnauts and her Belgium-based operation Frakas have carved out a place in the elevated art house market for socially critical films that don’t shy away from genre appeal.
This story first appeared in the May 10 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.
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