Philippa Kowarsky’s Tel Aviv-based doc sales outfit Cinephil is partnering with French production giant Gedeon Media Group and ARTE on major new TV project, The Ark Of The Covenant (working title). Cannes label Flee (pictured) also on slate.
Directed by Thierry Ragobert (Amazonia, The White Planet), The Ark of the Covenant will take a secular look at biblical culture, archaeology and history in the Middle East. “It’s a beautiful film which mixes archaeology and a secular interpretation of the bible,” Kowarsky said of the project, now in post-production.
“They (Gedeon) are a fabulous company and I’ve wanted to work with [company founder] Stéphane Millière forever. Finally, there was a project that would be filmed in Israel about our history. So I found myself deeply involved in this as well,” Kowarsky said of the new documentary which Cinephil is co-producing as well as selling. Although made for television, the project may also have a cinema life. The Israeli broadcaster will be KAN 11.
This is one of several projects on which Cinephil is working as the global lockdown gradually eases. The company is participating in this week’s Cannes Marché with a full slate including Cannes label title Flee. Directed by Jonas Poher Rasmussen, this animated feature doc is the story of Amin, who arrived as an unaccompanied minor in Denmark from Afghanistan and went on to become a successful academic, but has a secret that might undermine the life he has built there.
When asked how the market has been operating during the Covid crisis, Kowarsky is philosophical. “Distributors are buying. It is just different,” she observes. Contracts now routinely have “corona clauses” in case cinemas haven’t re-opened or there has been a second or third wave of the disease preventing films from being the planned given theatrical releases.
“Everything you sign takes longer,” the Cinephil boss notes of the painstaking way business is being done in the pandemic. You’ve got to negotiate and re-negotiate and add all sorts of clauses…it’s not about haggling or anything. It’s about being fair and maximising the potential of the film, trying to make sure everyone stays alive financially. You want your film to get out there. You want the distributors not to die – you want the filmmakers to get fair money for their film and you’ve also got to live yourself. You are juggling so much more than you usually do.”
One upside, Kowarsky believes, is audiences are becoming more open and curious about the films they will watch. Meanwhile, broadcasters and distributors have extra time to make decisions. They are sometimes being more adventurous in their acquisitions. She cites titles on Cinephil’s slate like The Self-Portrait, a documentary about Norwegian photographer Lene Marie Fossen and her battle with anorexia which has won audience awards at online editions of festivals, and Oeke Hoogendijk’s My Rembrandt, which has caught the imagination of buyers during the lockdown.
Cinephil had a notable success at the Berlinale with Victor Kossakovsky’s pig doc Gunda, executive produced by Joaquin Phoenix. The film, which received rapturous reviews and was picked up for North America by Parasite distributor, Neon.
The company is also continuing to work with its regular partners at Danish production outfit, Final Cut For Real, the production outfit behind Joshua Oppenheimer’s The Act Of Killing and The Look Of Silence as well as Cannes title Fleeand Simon Lereng Wilmont’s The Distant Barking Of Dogs (which recently won a Peabody Award).
Kowarsky describes herself as having been “super busy even if I don’t travel” during the lockdown. The Cinephil boss maintains the passion for documentary that has always driven her. Cinephil has now digitised its catalogue to make it easier for distributors to study its line-up.
“I am an optimistic character, you’re always going to get that from me,” she strikes a typically upbeat note as she surveys the challenges which have faced the sector in recent months.