Frontières International Co-Production Market – back to an in-person event after four online editions – has unveiled this year’s projects, including 18 titles in its official selection, all in advanced development stages or now financing.
Ranging from the highly personal to absolutely outlandish, they make for a varied lineup. It is packed by female-centered stories, from “Camp,” about a woman so dependent on her new friends that she fails to notice their sinister agenda, to “Beasts of Prey,” “Bugul Noz,” “Jane” or Canadian offering “Bloody Bunny” by Kat and Karissa Strain.
“There simply aren’t enough women in the film industry, especially the indie film scene in Canada, for us to draw on as mentors and collaborators. We hope ‘Bloody Bunny’ can play a part in the change we would like to see,” they said, calling it a film “for women by women.”
Mètis filmmaker Laura Tremblay will produce, while the directors are committed to hire only females for all key roles behind the scenes.
“Men often get more leadership opportunities because women, raised to be polite little girls, simply do not ask. We have got our big girl panties on, we are geared up for the market, and we are asking!”
Complicated – or plain dysfunctional – family issues are also investigated. In Zam Salim’s “Stray,” for instance, the arrival of an albino cat severely affects a family, with terrifying consequences.
Personal experiences also inspired “The Palace” and “The Killing of a Beast,” while “A Boy-Shaped Void” introduces the concept of “queer virus.”
“When I began writing in 2017, COVID was years off and AIDS was closer to mind as a model for an epidemic weaponized to isolate and stigmatize,” admitted the director, noting that such recent events as #MeToo and the Jeffrey Epstein case have informed subsequent drafts of the script.
But nothing could beat “Space Beers” on the weirdness scale, hailing from the Netherlands and telling a story of a Scot and former alien abductee with a gift for excessive beer drinking, handed an ultimatum to turn over his local pub landlord by one of the universe’s most feared humanoids.
“With the help of his friends – not all of them human, or especially sane – he must save the world, and a wee bit of the universe, from a reality-altering alien with abandonment issues,” explained the filmmakers, calling the film their own “wacky space adventure.”
“I Call Upon Thee,” “Cacs,” “Foxblood,” “Quantum Suicide,” “Switchback” and “The Trail of the Wolf” round up the selection.
In the Forum section, indigenous stories by Benjamin Ross Hayden – who brought “The Icetalker” – and actor-turned-director Kaniehtiio Horn are also given the spotlight.
Kelsey Egan’s “Outer Edges” and Tillo Spreng’s “Wound” are also selected, with Mia’kate Russell’s “Penny Lane is Dead” promising an “homage to the horror genre, with gore, blood, rock’n’roll, and a female perspective.” In “Firecrackers at Midnight,” Christa Boarini recalled the harrowing experience of her mother’s kidnapping for ransom.
“I was there as my father negotiated her release with the help of trained specialists. My mother ultimately escaped, but we learned that my sister was the original target,” she said.
“Through this movie I want to convey some of the realities of Guatemala and what it’s like to go through a kidnapping, but also the complicated question of privilege, victimhood and the lessons this experience taught me.”
Shorts to Features Lab consists of three Canadian projects, Philippe McKie’s “Breaker” about a mercenary hacker in Tokyo and David Émond-Ferrat’s “Nocturnal,” the portrayal of a family forced to face a shapeshifting creature.
In “Lucid,” a riot girl embarks on a morbid quest for pure self-expression when she creates a self-portrait for her classmates.
“We are going for a hyper-visual approach that propels every frame like primary-colored pop rockets,” teased Deanna Milligan and Ramsey Fendall, who will direct the 90s set story.
“Our story has an undeniable universality to it, especially from a female perspective: Being constantly judged, rarely taken seriously and pitted against each other in certain competitive environments. This is an empowering revenge narrative with a genre twist.”
Additional five projects, all from Canadian female filmmakers, are selected for the Genre Film Lab, including “$aint Mark’s Eve” by Penny Eizenga and Luvia Petersen’s “Human Nature.”
“I will take the common tropes of the cabin-in-the-woods genre and deconstruct them to tell a story firmly rooted in my queer female perspective,” she stated.
“Now, more than ever, viewers are hungry for filmmakers to tell genre stories through a feminine lens; I am that filmmaker and ‘Human Nature’ is that story.”
Dionne Copland’s “Riding Shotgun” will see a lonely man taken hostage by an exotic dancer and her two friends, who plan to use him as their fall guy after stealing drugs from their sadistic boss.
“Emerging voices from across Canada have always been a priority at Frontières and we are thrilled to be continuing this collaboration,” summed up executive director Annick Mahnert.
“Let the pitchings begin.”
“A Boy-Shaped Void”
Dir. Lucas Amann
Otherworldly queer virus infects a gay high schooler after his hookup with an older man. When a portal opens, uniting their bodies, he must fight before their connection implodes. “That I’ve imagined intimacy as a consumptive viral force speaks volumes about my own neurosis,” noted Amann. “But [my protagonist] sees through the wilderness to hope. And it’s that light I want to leave audiences with.”
“Beasts of Prey”
Dir. Andrea Corsini
Described as a “film about the consequences of change, a parable of rebirth and self-acceptance,” “Beasts of Prey” focuses on a lonely woman whose life changes when a feline predator kills her newborn daughter. The film is produced by Federico Grisi and Giorgia Priolo (EDI), as well as Per Damgaard Hansen and Laura Elizabeth Ruiz of Paloma Productions, recently behind Palme d’Or winner “Triangle of Sadness.”
Dir. Kat and Karissa Strain
It’s time for double trouble as twin madams seek vengeance towards a rival brothel out of retribution for their mysterious past. Brought by the duo behind “The Sugar Cougars Present: Welcome to the Pussy Palace,” the film will be a vigilante story about women taking back their sexuality. “Although we started this project three years ago, the themes represented in it and the social justice angle it advocates for couldn’t be more relevant,” they stated.
Dir. Stéphanie Joalland
Joalland’s supernatural horror, to be shot in English and French, will see a teenage girl sent to a rural community in Brittany after the death of her mother. She is supposed to attend a language summer program – instead, she falls prey to a woodland creature. “To me, the best genre films are, above all, great stories about the human condition that blend genre elements and powerful themes,” observed the director.
Dir. Nicole Daddona and Adam Wilder
Touching on subjects of environmental issues and alienation, this fantasy comedy – produced by Aelfie Oudghiri – will focus on two teenage cacti brothers, uprooted from their home in the Arizona desert after a storm. Stranded, they walk towards the nearest highway, where they meet a woman who insists on taking them home. Soon, they are busy pursuing all the trappings of human life in suburbia – also as a country-western music duo.
Dir. Avalon Fast
Director Avalon Fast pulls double duty in Montreal this year, as her debut feature “Honeycomb” is currently shown at Fantasia. In her upcoming horror, a young camp counselor suspects her fellow female counsellors of witchcraft in service of a woodland spirit. Produced by the director for Avalon Fast Productions, Michael Peterson (Peterson Polaris Corp), Peter Kuplowsky (Lowsky Productions) and Taylor Nodrick.
Dir. Benjamin Steiger Levine
When Eli inherits a house from his mother, a sexy mysterious neighbor digs up buried secrets that upend his life.
“I Call Upon Thee”
Dir. Michael Anthony Kratochvil
Boasting the participation of “The Babadook” producer Kristian Moliere, “I Call Upon Thee” shows two sisters from an Australian housing commission estate facing the horror of child welfare. When they chant a playground summoning ritual, they don’t anticipate the consequences. “My goal with the film is to explore an intersection between real world horror and supernatural horror,” said Kratochvil, whose two short films were screened at Fantasia.
Dir. Aram Garriga
Garriga’s “esoteric drama” will introduce the audience to a fading starlet who travels to Sicily in 1920 to live with her spiritual mentor and romantic correspondent, one Aleister Crowley. However, she is in for a surprise, as Crowley is not alone at a beach house where adults practice “sex magic,” use heavy drugs and neglect their kids. Garriga stated: “I found Jane’s conflict between expectation and reality extremely attractive.”
Philippines, Japan, Canada
Dir. Mikhail Red
Produced by Taro Imai (Harakiri Films), Micah Tadena (108 Media) and, once again, Michael Peterson (Peterson Polaris), this science fiction tale uses genre as “a vehicle to smuggle a more complex subtext for a wider audience.” Zooming onto a Filipino immigrant in Japan, tasked to destroy the “Quantum Gun” – a powerful device that can transport individuals to a parallel reality. Dodo Dayao will be writing the new draft.
Dir. Bouke van Veen and Maurice Schutte
A group of Scottish drinking buddies, and their alien friends, embark on a wild intergalactic adventure to save Earth – and their local barman – from a god-like alien with abandonment issues. “Science-fiction is not cheap. As filmmakers and entrepreneurs with technical backgrounds, we’re acutely aware that indie filmmakers today must be multi-disciplined, willing to embrace new technologies, and think asymmetrically,” observed the directors.
Dir. Zam Salim
Gabby, looking to do a good turn, innocently invites in a seemingly ordinary albino cat; but its eerie, creeping presence gradually affects her and her family leading to dark and terrifying consequences.
Dir. Michael Borowiec & Sam Marine
A pregnant woman’s life is thrown into chaos when a demonic spirit is released upon her home, possessing her family members one by one and turning them against her.
Dir. Melanie Jones
Just as she discovers her pregnancy, a woman comes face to face with her most primal self after a hiking accident leaves her lost and alone on the treacherous West Coast Trail. Enlisting the help of producers Kristyn Stilling and Eli Morris, Jones’ film is about “freedom, wildness and transformation.” “‘Switchback’ encourages us to ask ourselves: Who would you become if you stopped running from your deepest self?”
“The Killing of a Beast “
Dir. Vusi Africa
Reaching for magic realism, the director of “Surviving Gaza” turns to the ancient Nguni ceremony, commonly known as the initiation rite of passage. “For many years, the details of the ritual were kept a secret from the public,” he noted, adding that while many die during the ceremony, their mothers are not allowed to bury them. “I was lucky to survive and no one in my group died. However, we learnt that one boy from another group did not make it.”
Dir. Anil Baral
When a family returns to Nepal to care for a remote Himalayan Palace, they begin role-playing as royalty. It’s fun until their son is possessed. “My great-grandfather was adopted by a prince and suddenly my family was catapulted into a new class,” said Baral. “There’s a danger in assuming the rich and powerful have it better. I’m also fascinated by our need to feel special, so much so that it can become twisted.”
“The Trail of the Wolf”
Dir. Ángeles Hernández
In a non-distant future where birth control policies allow just one child, Javier loses his son. In order to have a second child, he will have to end his own life at the age of 55. “In my previous films, I have been exploring the idea of guilt when it comes to parenthood. My idea is to have a futuristic Western where a daughter becomes the mother of her dying and childish father,” shared the director. David Matamoros, also behind “Platform,” will produce.
Palestine, Jordan, Sweden
Dir. Said Zagha
A revenge thriller in which Abbas, a self-righteous, middle-aged car mechanic living in Palestine’s lawless “Area-C”, where marijuana cultivation is thriving, will do anything to avenge his older son’s death. But Abbas’s task proves lethal when his younger son’s plans get in the way.
“Firecrackers at Midnight”
Dir. Christa Boarini
Another project dabbling in magic realism will see a medical student kidnapped for ransom and exposed to the dark realities of a society with tragic wealth disparities. Produced by Dominic Medina (Hungry Bull Productions) and Christa Boarini (The Bitter End), the film will “feel raw and harsh, keeping the audience at the edge of their seats with brutally realistic intensity, while also interweaving a sense of beauty and wonder,” promised Boarini.
U.K., South Africa
Dir. Kelsey Egan
Stranded on a doomed planet, a group of travellers will come face to face with themselves from another dimension. Egan, also behind folk horror “Glasshouse,” will combine sci-fi with psychological thriller, while the dramatic question of the film becomes not whether the characters will survive, but whether they should. “No matter how far we travel, how many new planets we trespass or strange journeys we undertake, we can never escape ourselves.”
“Penny Lane is Dead”
Dir. Mia’kate Russell
It’s the ‘80s and Penny Lane is celebrating getting into college with her girlfriends. The night does not turn out as planned, however, as her cousin decides a cruel prank is in order. “It’s one of the loudest films you’ll ever see,” said Russell. “Once the action starts, it doesn’t let you stop to catch your breath. It also has a lot of heart. It is a queer love story, after all.” Matt Hearn, one of the producers, is known for “Wolf Creek” and “Rogue.”
Dir. Kaniehtiio Horn
Billed as an indigenous home invasion action-thriller, “Seeds” turns on Ziggy, mid-thirties, a social media sensation on the verge of landing the biggest corporate gig of her life promoting genetically modified seeds, who is called back to the reservation and is forced to reconnect to her indigenous roots in a battle to save her people’s legacy.
Dir. Benjamin Ross Hayden
Hayden combines science fiction with “indigenous futurism” in a story about a man who must voyage across the frozen mountain wilderness for an antidote buried deep inside an ancient glacier. Calling it an “original indigenous tale”, he has been developing the project with Otipemisiwak Métis. “[They] are enthusiastic to support the production in telling the story of their people. They have not had their history known in Canada, until now.”
Dir. Tillo Spreng
Malik and Lina’s desire for each other will cause them to become one. Literally, as they undergo a metamorphosis that binds them together. Spreng, who intends to “fully exploit the aesthetic possibilities of the medium of film,” initiates the search for “self, desire, dissolution of boundaries and loss of control.” “The audience should be drawn into the world of ‘Wound’ with all their senses,” he said.