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30 Jan – 9 Feb 2025

Hubert Bals Fund development selection 2023

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The Hubert Bals Fund (HBF), IFFR’s film fund, has chosen ten feature film projects to each be awarded a grant of €10,000 to support their development. Read the full selection below!

HBF selected project concept stills

The fund underscores its commitment to fostering new and diverse voices from across the globe, backing a majority in the selection who are embarking on debut or second fiction feature projects, as well as supporting seven female voices. A committee of international industry experts selected the projects from more than 760 applications.

“This stage of filmmaking is where stories are conceived, ideas take flight, and the very essence of a film is defined.” 

“In these complex times, when uncertainty seems to reign, the significance of impactful storytelling becomes even more pronounced,” said the HBF’s incoming head Tamara Tatishvili. “In the midst of a fiercely competitive round and guided by the diligent efforts of the HBF selection committees, I am delighted to extend a hand of companionship to the creative teams that’s about more than just financial backing. This stage of filmmaking is where stories are conceived, ideas take flight, and the very essence of a film is defined.” 

HBF supported filmmakers 2023

Vanja Kaludjercic, IFFR’s Festival Director added: “The Hubert Bals Fund remains a steadfast ally for emerging talent and a vital tool in championing storytelling worldwide. It’s truly encouraging to find both new faces and familiar filmmakers who’ve previously showcased their work at the festival among our selections. We take immense pride in supporting their creative journeys.”

About the selection

On the true but forgotten events of the Zambian space programme is Afronauts, the first feature by Ghanaian filmmaker Nuotama Frances Bodomo, whose short of the same name screened at IFFR 2017. Senegalese-French filmmaker Katy Léna Ndiaye turns from the past to the shockingly present, with a story that touches on the climate crisis. In her debut fiction feature Lënd, rising waters threaten the lives of the residents of the fishing neighbourhood as a family battles to preserve their way of life. 

Self-taught Vietnamese filmmaker Le Bao continues a trend of projects in the selection that deal with water, flows and displacement. The Sea Is Calm Tonight is his follow-up to the Berlinale Encounters jury prize-winning Taste (2021), about a meeting at sea between the spirits of Vietnamese boat people and Rohingya refugees. Mimicking the flows between the more than seven thousand islands that make up the Philippines, Martika Ramirez Escobar follows her Sundance-winning Leonor Will Never Die (2022) with three distinct stories featuring a fisherman’s daughter, a dying mermaid and a documentary filmmaker in Daughters of the Sea

Ana Elena Tejera’s Corte Culebra addresses the ancestral trauma of the communities displaced on Gatun Lake, the artificial heart of the Panama Canal. Her first feature, the film poem Panquiaco, had its world premiere at IFFR 2020.

Shengze Zhu, whose documentary Present.Perfect. won the Tiger Award at IFFR 2019, is another of the filmmakers with an IFFR history in the selection. Her fiction debut A Distant House Smokes on the Horizon will explore the violence of the everyday with the recent phenomenon of juvenile murder cases in China. Night and Fear by Lipika Singh Darai, who is from the Ho indigenous community in eastern India, was in competition at IFFR 2023. She follows it with her feature debut, the lucid dream-infused Birdwoman. The film will be made in the Odia language.

Egyptian filmmaker Nada Riyadh’s feature fiction debut Moonblind will be rooted in an arena of traditional Egyptian healing rituals, as the non-binary Badr reckons with their escape from a sexually abusive father. With I Recognized Him by His Hands, Omer Capoglu presents a humorous but heartfelt take on the Turkish culture around martyrdom. Nadir Öperli is the producer of the project, as he also was for the celebrated IFFR 2023 Limelight title Burning Days

Brazilian filmmaker Leonardo Martinelli takes on the gig economy in musical style, protesting against the anonymising and casualisation of labour by making the delivery drivers in his film the loudest they can be, singing and dancing in the streets. Fantasma neon is the follow-up to the short of the same name, which had its premiere at Locarno where it won the short film Pardo d’oro.

Script and Project Development Support 2023 complete selection:

Afronauts, dir. Nuotama Frances Bodomo, Zambia, United States

It’s 1964. Northern Rhodesia has just become Zambia. With a job well done, former freedom fighter Mukuka Nkoloso decides to take on his next big feat: the Space Race. Nkoloso leads his unlikely followers to a camp to set up an astronaut-training program and announces that he will send teenage girl Matha Mwamba to the moon in a homemade rocket. Nkoloso has led many “impossible” projects before, but has he gone too far this time?

Birdwoman, dir. Lipika Singh Darai, India

A man tries to better understand his young wife – her ability to fly like a bird. Underneath, is the metamorphic journey from village to city, from dream to reality, from love to sexuality, and from a woman to a bird.

Corte Culebra, dir. Ana Elena Tejera, Panama

Panamanian soldiers from School of Americas clean the waters of an artificial lake where the communities of Corte Culebra used to live. Ernesto has a visceral relationship with this place. One day he meets Celia, one of the former inhabitants, who awakens his vulnerability. Then gives himself to her with the desire to heal the wound of the land and violence. 

Daughters of the Sea, dir. Martika Ramirez Escobar, Philippines, Spain, Brazil

Daughters of the Sea weaves together three stories: a fisherman’s daughter deals with the disappearance of her father, a fish shop owner tries to keep a dying mermaid alive, and a documentary filmmaker unknowingly meets her biological father for the first time.

Supported with the NFF+HBF Co-development Scheme 

A Distant House Smokes on the Horizon, dir. Shengze Zhu, China, United States

On a sweltering summer day, three troubled young teens set out on a reckless plan to escape the confines of their small town.

Supported with the NFF+HBF Co-development Scheme 

Fantasma neon, dir. Leonardo Martinelli, Brazil

João Lázaro works on the streets of Rio de Janeiro as a bike delivery man in the so-called gig economy. A musical tale about inequality in contemporary labour and the cost of fighting for a decent life.

Supported with the NFF+HBF Co-development Scheme 

I Recognized Him by His Hands, dir. Omer Capoglu, Turkey

In a small village, a room in elderly Nazime’s house is transformed into a memory museum where the belongings of her martyr son, Tarik are exhibited. At the opening ceremony, the governor donates a wax statue of Tarik to the museum and Nazime begins to live with it.

Supported with the NFF+HBF Co-development Scheme 

Lënd, dir. Katy Léna Ndiaye, Senegal, France, Belgium

In Guet Ndar, a fishing district in Saint-Louis, Djibril, a dedicated fisherman, spends his days working tirelessly to protect his community from the encroaching ocean. One night, their neighbours house floods, and Djibril and his wife Marie help save the family. Marie wants to leave because of the danger, but Djibril, a fisherman deeply rooted in the community, refuses to abandon it.

Moonblind, dir. Nada Riyadh, Egypt

12-year-old Nour escapes the city after stabbing her sexually abusive father. Finding refuge in a remote village, Nour becomes Badr, a quirky androgynous teenager. Badr serves a blessed woman who heals girls with mysterious illnesses. Badr grows fond of one of the girls, Salma, a playful 15-year-old. When Badr realises Salma’s uncle had abused her, Badr descends into a violent path.

The Sea Is Calm Tonight, dir. Le Bao, Singapore, Vietnam 

At sea, Vietnamese boat people of 40 years past have a miraculous meeting with Rohingya refugees of the present in their extraordinary parallel journeys to find peace.

Supported with the NFF+HBF Co-development Scheme 

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