Venice's Biennale College Filmlab Officially Presents 15 Semifinalists

Getty Images

Three finalists will be selected from among the 15: each will be given $200,000, expert production advice, and a guaranteed spot at the Venice Film Fest.

VENICE, Italy – The Venice Film Festival’s new film lab initiative, Biennale College, officially presented its 15 semi-finalist projects Thursday, including comprehensive public pitches from each of the director-producer teams culled from the 433 projects from 77 countries submitted to be part of the initiative.

Next, Biennale College organizers will select three projects from the group to receive €150,000 ($202,000) in production money each, expert production help, and a guaranteed screening at the 70th edition of the Venice Film Festival, which will take place Aug. 28-Sept. 7. That decision could come as soon as next week, organizers said.

Along with the Venice Film Market, the Biennale College is one of the two main innovations introduced by Venice artistic director Alberto Barbera, who was appointed to the position 13 months ago.

PHOTOS: Top Ten: Venice Film Festival

On Thursday, Paolo Baratta, president of the Venice Biennale, the film festival’s parent organization, said he is so pleased with the Biennale College so far that he is mulling a similar initiative for Venice’s famous music event, and perhaps, eventually, to other parts of the Biennale, which also includes art, theater, dance, and architecture.

“We are interested in giving opportunities to those who have yet to cross the road to become established” within their art form, Baratta said during Thursday’s presentation.

Barbera, who previously headed the Venice festival between 1998 and 2001 and who is the head of Turin’s National Film Museum, agreed.

"Film festivals can no longer be passive and just wait for the films to come.” He said, speaking on the sidelines of the event, adding that it was a “duty” of major festivals like Venice to play a larger role in the creative process.

STORY: Venice Votes to Expand Film Fest Juries, Adds Two New Prizes

The Biennale College does that. By the time the three finalists are completed, the Venice initiative will have played a year-long role in bringing them from the stage of ideas to final products ready to screen to the public.

Thursday’s presentation represented the end of the latest phase of the project: each of the teams had participated in a ten-day workshop aimed at fine tuning their proposals with the help of a team of script consultants, production consultants, a pitching trainer, and experts in areas ranging from cross-media initiatives, distribution, and micro-budget filmmaking.

Each of the two-person teams behind the projects presented Thursday gave a summary of the story from film they’d like to make, along with site details, technical issues, and, often, relevant photos or film clips, casting ideas, and details on how they would effectively use the money they’d get from the Biennale College if selected as one of three finalists. Most anticipated around three weeks of shooting, and two to three months of editing in order to be ready to screen during the festival.

STORY: Venice's Biennale College Filmlab Selects 15 Semi-Finalist Projects

“It’s been a great process so far,” said Yves Montand Niyongabo, the Rwandan director behind Slim Land, one of the 15 film projects, echoing remarks from most of the participants. “Every project has been improved by this process. We want all [the projects] to be a success.”

Barbera said depending on the final three projects, the films could screen in any of the festival’s official selections, from the main international competition to the Horizons sidebar, to a possible special sidebar created specifically for the finalists.

“Wouldn’t it be something if one of the films made this way screened in the main competition and won a major prize?” he asked.

STORY: Venice's Biennale College Filmlab Project Draws 433 Submissions from 77 Countries

The 15 finalists, in alphabetical order by film, including the director and producer, and a brief summary of the project’s story and background:

Abu Naim (from Israel) – Mich’ael Zupraner (director) and Naama Pyritz (producer): A hybrid of fiction and documentary, the film will tell the story of the title character, a Jew living as an Arab in the Palestinian territories, based on a real West Bank myth. Zupraner, the director, also lived in the area and will use an actor to play the lead, interacting with real Palestinian families he know in order to tell the story.

A Case of the Dismals (USA) – Kim Spurlock (director) and Mai Spurlock (producer): The Spurlock sisters are West Virginia-raised products of a father with deep 300-year-old roots in the state and an Asian-born mother, and they say their insight as both insiders and outsiders in the region will help them tell the tale of mothers and daughters in an Appalachian town being evacuated mountain removal project.

The Death of J.P. Cuenca (Brasil) – João Paolo Cuenca (director) and Marina Meliande (producer): Based on the real-life story of Cuenca, the director and an established novelist, who discovered in 2010 that a man found dead in a run-down part of Rio de Janiero had been using Cuenca’s identity, for unknown reasons.

I Dreamt of Empire (Egypt) – Kasem Kharsa (director) and Moustafa Zakaria (producer): Billed as “the first Arab sci-fi time travel film,” it will recount the tale of an Egyptian professor in 1980 who discovers how to travel back to the 1967 Sinai War to save his soldier son’s life. He inhabits the body of a soldier at the time, while the soldier starts to live as the professor whose life he learns about due to the professor’s visits to the past.

Into the Light (UK) – Rowland Jobson (director) and Alastair Clark (producer): Jobson, who said he’d been homeless twice in his life, will explore the life of a London-based homeless man haunted by a blacked-out part of his past as a soldier that he rediscovers thanks to a young immigrant boy he meets on the streets.

Memphis (USA) – Tim Sutton (director) and John Baker (producer): The film will explore the unraveling of a folk singer said to sing, according to Sutton, “with the voice of God.” The film will tap into Memphis’ musical and urban history, and will cast Chicago musician Willis Earl Beal in the protagonist role.

Nervous Translation (Philippines) – Shireen Seno (director) and John Torres (producer): Based loosely on the life of Seno, a self-professed nervous introvert with problems expressing herself, the film will tell the story of an eight-year-old girl who discovers the existence of a miraculous pen that can “translate” the thoughts and feelings of the super-shy.

The Prefect (UK) – Dan K. Smyth (director) and Marcie MacLellan (producer): The film will tell the difficult tale of a teenager whose father is revealed to be a mass murderer in a non-linear story line that will use different filming techniques and color filters to differentiate between the two time periods covered by the film.

Room 0 (South Africa) – Jenna Cato Bass (director) and David Horler (producer): Billing the project as an “interactive cinema event,” the film will be a kind of game in which filmgoers will be the guests and staff of a Colonial-era South African hotel, while investigating a mysterious murder.

Slim Land (Rwanda) – Yves Montand Niyongabo (director) and Lee Isaac Chung (producer): Set in Uganda, the film will explore problems that arise between villagers and white missionaries during an epidemic, told through the eyes of a young local.

Sorrow Demons, Joy Blizzards (Israel) – Tomer Bahat (director) and Rotem Faran (producer): The film will recount the real-life story of Israeli musician Oren Barzilay, whose comeback is interrupted by a sudden paralysis and difficult recovery and Barzilay's state of mind during the ordeal.

The Substance (Spain) – Lluis Galter Sanchez (director) and Sergi Moreno Castillo (producer): Set in Salvador Dali’s isolated home town in Spain, the story recounts a real-life plan from a Chinese company to reconstruct a replica of the village in China, in an entirely different context.

Tramontane (Lebanon) – Vatche Boulghourjian (director) and Caroline Oliveira (producer): A blind Lebanese man discovers he is not who he thinks he is, and the film will tell the story of his travels across the country to uncover his own past in a tale that mirrors Lebanon’s own identity issues.

The Year of June (Thailand) – Nawapol Thamrongrattanarit (director) and Aditya Assarat (producer): The film will be “adapted” from one year of Twitter feeds from a young real-life Thai girl who does not (yet) know about the project.

Yuri Esposito (Italy) – Alessio Fava (director) and Max Chicco (producer): The only Italian film in the selection, the project is a fake documentary about a man who for an unknown reason moves at one-fourth the speed of the average person, and how his slow-paced life changes when his wife becomes pregnant.