Berlin: After 'La La Land,' EFM Turns Up the Volume on Movie Musicals

Courtesy of AMBI
'Basmati Blues'

Projects with Brie Larson, Adam Driver and Rooney Mara are vying for buyers at the fest.

The European Film Market is hitting all the right notes. On the heels of awards darling La La Land’s recent success, several projects, each with a high-wattage star — including Brie Larson, Adam Driver and Rooney Mara — are among the highest profile packages at the market this year.

While the films being touted in Berlin are different in many ways to Damien Chazelle’s ambitious musical starring Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling (which has earned $272.1 million worldwide to date and a record-tying 14 Oscar nominations), they are benefiting from the way Lionsgate’s La La Land has proven an appetite for unique, original stories from strong filmmakers that are enhanced by the magic of music.

“I think La La Land showed there’s a huge audience for this kind of film,” says producer Monique Caulfield, whose musical Basmati Blues is screening in Berlin. “It’s a stressful time in the world, and musicals transport you like nothing else. And they let you open up to things in a different way than a normal film, and there’s magic in that.”

Like La La Land, Basmati Blues has a notable star singing original music, showing fans a side of her that they haven’t seen before. Recent Oscar winner Larson plays a scientist who travels to India to sell the genetically modified rice she created, and sings the original songs that director Dan Baron had created by a collection of diverse musical artists, including Pearl Jam, Sugarland and Indian musician Sonu Nigam. AMBI Distribution has sold the film in various territories including Australia and New Zealand (Village Roadshow), Latin America (Alpha Filmes), Spain (Avalon) and India and Malaysia (MVP), among others.

"Basmati Blues is an uplifting musical — a romantic comedy with an international twist,” says Larson, who was cast in the pic before her breakout with 2015's Room.

Driver also will soon be crooning on the big screen in Annette, a music drama about a widowed stand-up comedian that Kinology has at EFM. And another of the market’s hottest packages, Vox Lux, also has a notable actress: Mara, who will play a pop star whose journey is traced over 15 years. Along with Mara, the movie, directed by Brady Corbet (who received critical acclaim for his Venice film The Childhood of a Leader), has another strong selling point: multi-platinum artist Sia, who wrote all the original songs.

"These days as people are struggling to find a theatrical audience, you do need a uniqueness factor to cut through, and I think this story and the music of Sia makes it an event movie,” says Bold Films CEO Gary Michael Walters, a producer on Vox Lux. "She’s very popular with the young audience, which can be very difficult to reach."