Pro Darkroom: back to black

29 January 2024

Darkroom concept still: Mongrel


Pro Darkroom: back to black

29 January 2024

After its successful roll-out in 2023, IFFR Pro’s Darkroom is back, a work-in-progress initiative designed to support, encourage and enhance, via individual top-level mentoring sessions, six former CineMart and Hubert Bals Fund-supported projects (feature works and immersive) that are now in their last stages of completion.

IFFR Pro talks to Maarten van der Ven, producer of the black comedy work-in-progress The Idyll, Weijie Lai producer of the Taiwan mountain-set Mongrel, and Lilian Hess, director of the dynamic new VR Duchampiana.

Aaron Rookus’s The Idyll revolves around six characters, all at different phases of life but united in their loneliness. While trying to get a grip on the smaller and bigger things of daily life, they are screaming inside, but dare not ask for help. When each of them is confronted with a certain form of death, they realise the future is not something they can mould, and so they are forced to deal with their current circumstances, whether created by faith or formed by their own previous choices.

“We have to embrace the unforeseen, as it's the only thing that will never let you down.”

Producer van der Ven (Studio Ruba) elaborates on his film and its unique properties. “How often do you get an enormous statue of an ostrich hanging from a helicopter flying over a city where a naked man walks over cars in a traffic jam citing an Allen Ginsberg poem?” he asks. “Besides that teaser, we think that the film, just as the script, will seduce the viewers to identify with multiple characters aged seven to 90 in their quest for happiness. That they will smile and cry in the end, knowing that we are all looking for something that is not there, as it's hardly realistic to live up to our own expectations. And that we have to embrace the unforeseen, as it's the only thing that will never let you down.”

The project received Boost NL development mentoring at IFFR in 2020, three years before director Aaron Rookus world-premiered his feature debut Goodbye Stranger in Rotterdam in 2023.

“Being a beautiful but very ambitious project, The Idyll had the challenge of being financed as a 'second film' without a predecessor,” van der Ven explains the anomaly. “We really needed to sell it on the unique script that we had developed during [my] EAVE workshop. Boost NL gave the project its international standing, after which multiple co-producers got interested. In the end the film funds of Belgium and Estonia stepped in, even before Goodbye Stranger premiered at IFFR last year. In that sense, IFFR has important significance, and let's hope we will return here next year bringing the film to the IFFR audience.”

“Focussed on finding the best composition within our life-affirming mosaic drama.”

The producer underlines how they are still in the thick of editing, “so until April we will be focussed on finding the best composition within our life-affirming mosaic drama.” Furthermore, the project has been selected for the prestigious First Cut Lab. 

“We are looking forward to learn a lot and find the exact balance between the drama, humour, magical realism and music elements in the film,” van der Ven adds. “And, as we are in concrete talks with a very good and fitting sales agent, we are looking forward to get the film to them most idyllic festivals and distributors from the second part of the year.”

Also selected for Darkroom 2024 is the HBF-supported work-in-progress Mongrel (France/Taiwan/Singapore), directed by Wei Liang Chiang and produced by Weijie Lai of E&W Films. In the film, Oom, a Thai illegal, is the newly trusted aide of Chang, who runs a human trafficking operation connected to care-giving in rural Taiwan. But the caregivers are planning a mutiny, and caught in the crossfire Oom will have to pick sides.

Concept still: Duchampiana

Concept still: The Idyll

“We couldn't have made this film without IFFR's support all these years.”

“This is the first time that we are sharing some of the footage we have,” reveals producer Lai. “As we hope to release the film this year, the timing of Darkroom is perfect for us to receive feedback and advice on how to prepare the film for release and how to better consider audience design in our plans. We are very excited to learn from the industry mentors that IFFR Pro has matched us with.”

The project has received script development and co-production support via the Hubert Bals Fund. “We couldn't have made this film without IFFR's support all these years,” says Lai. “In the long journey of making a film, everyone who shows their belief in it boosts our faith and confidence, spurring us to give our best to the work and see it come to fruition. It therefore means so much to us that we are able to show the first look of Mongrel at IFFR Pro Darkroom.”

Immediately after IFFR, the team is looking to finish the sound mix for the film and to finalise collaterals such as the poster and trailer.

“This film is a continuation of Wei Liang's long-term engagement with the difficulties faced by migrant workers,” producer Lai underlines of the film’s appeal. “Shot in mountainous regions of Taiwan, the film shows the interactions between undocumented caregivers who seek stability and people living in the mountains who need care-giving support. The film raises questions on humanity and dignity in the face of hard choices.”

Departing from Marcel Duchamp’s infamous painting “Nude Descending A Staircase No. 2,” Duchampiana VR by Lilian Hess tells the story of a woman on the day that she decides to turn around and climb the stairs instead. The protagonist's journey up an infinite staircase turns into a poetic exploration of what it means to claim one's place in the world, the log-line reads.

“It is a blessing to be granted an industry framework to showcase this piece.”

“Duchampiana is an immersive installation, which invites the experiencer to use their body as the driving force of its abstract narrative,” director Hess tells IFFR Pro. “It is a blessing to be granted an industry framework to showcase this piece, which is very conceptual and relies on atmosphere, light, sound, and movement – and therefore a person to be inside the headset to fully comprehend and feel the artistic intent.”

Hess’s interactions with Rotterdam over the years have thus far been fruitful. “I’ve had many great experiences, such as securing significant funding for a previous project (Cosmos Within Us), and of course receiving the 4DR prize in 2022 for Duchampiana,” she says. “The festival team is truly special and unusually dedicated and invested in every single project. Moreover, granting creators an opportunity to win prizes and awards at early stages in the creation of a project is a very unique and immensely helpful strategy. Our journey at IFFR certainly evoked press attention and highlighted Duchampiana in a way that has aided us in securing funding.”

Hess further explains her VR’s qualities, why programmers should programme it and why audiences should choose it over other interactive experiences.

“They [programmers] are the interlocutors for a medium that is still figuring out its place in the world,” she says. “Beyond the fact that Duchampiana explores the timely topic of body politics, it is a VR experience exploring new methods of interaction, defying the notion that VR is for gamers only, both through its highly artistic aesthetics and its thought-provoking storytelling. It is a project that I hope shows that VR can be a “grown up”, valid, sophisticated medium for artistic expression in its own right.”

Duchampiana speaks to a diverse audience of artistically inclined visitors to cultural venues, the politically engaged feminist, the design aficionado, and the tech enthusiast. Plus it makes for a visually striking installation to house at a venue,” she signs off.


Pro Darkroom 2024

12 December 2023

Work-in-progress screenings of former CineMart and HBF-supported projects, taking place on Tuesday 30 January

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