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REPORT: Edinburgh Works in Progress 2017

by Giampietro Balia

Supported through the Scottish Government’s Edinburgh Festivals Expo Fund and Creative Scotland, this year the Edinburgh International Film Festival successfully launched the second edition of its EIFF Works in Progress, which focuses on showcasing upcoming British feature films to an audience of professionals of all different types: sales agents, distributors, producers, investors and festival programmers. 2016 represented a year of testing and experimentations, which resulted in the UK-Taiwanese co-production The Receptionist by Jenny Lu being selected in the Best of British strand. This year, the event was already a well-oiled machine, and ten projects were selected. The representatives of each film presented a pitch and screened footage and/or a trailer of the movie for a maximum of three minutes, in the hope of taking home the Works in Progress Award. Eventually, this prize went to Piano to Zanskar, directed by Michal Sulima.

Here is an overview of the projects presented:

Above the Clouds Leon Chambers
On her 18th birthday, Charlie discovers that the man who raised her is not her biological father, so she embarks on a road trip to the Isle of Skye to find her real dad. She will be assisted on this journey by a curious character by the name of Oz, who will be her “responsible adult”. Above the Clouds is a coming-of-age comedy set to be completed in September 2017, and it marks the feature debut by Kent-based director-producer Chambers.

In Times of Rain (Tiempo de lluvia) – Itandehui Jansen
Adela lives in the city and would like to bring her son Jose to live with her, but her mother, Soledad, a traditional healer, believes he’s better off staying in the indigenous village that they’re from. Director Itandehui Jansen and scriptwriter Armando Bautista Garcia are both from the Mexican region where the film is set. The project started off as a Mexican-Dutch co-production, but midway through shooting, the director moved to Edinburgh, where she now resides, so the film became a joint UK-Mexican effort. Most of the crew are Berlinale Talents alumni, and the lead actors, Harold Torres, Noé Hernández and Angeles Cruz, are well known in Mexico. This is the reason why the director wants to wait until 2018 to release the film, in the hope of securing a spot at a high-profile festival like the Berlinale or Sundance.

Far from the Apple TreeGrant McPhee
When Judith, a shy photographer and gallery assistant, agrees to enter the residency of controversial artist Roberta Roslyn alone, she finds out that she closely resembles Roberta’s estranged daughter. This Scottish folk horror follows Judith as she tries to make sense of it all. With 15 years’ experience working in the camera department, Grant McPhee is no stranger to the Edinburgh audience: his film Teenage Superstar was screened in the Documentaries strand, and his 2015 Big Gold Dream took home the Audience Award. His new film, Far from the Apple Tree, was written and produced in two months and was shot in just nine days. He’s 75% of the way through the rough cut, and he hopes to be finished by the end of the summer in order to enter a festival in autumn 2017.

Rebel Dykes Harri Shanahan, Sian Williams
The first of the two documentaries presented at EWiP focuses on the Rebel Dykes, a bunch of kickass women in leather jackets who created their own punk bands, zines and squat in London in the 1980s. The film is close to being completed, and the directors have been able to bank on a huge following on social media, which has also generated interest from several international festivals and buyers.

The Great Director Christopher Waitt
BAFTA-winning writer-director Christopher Waitt follows up on his A Complete History of My Sexual Failures with what promises to be a hilarious comedy about a film-school professor who sets out to make a cinematic masterpiece with the help of the ghosts of many famous European directors. A complete cut of the film has already been screened to a selected audience in order to get anonymous feedback and make corrections to the edit. The film still needs five more days of pick-up shooting to fill some gaps in the story, and the director hopes to get famous European actors to voice the ghosts of the deceased directors. The completion date of the film is expected to be in spring 2018, just in time to apply to a major European festival such as Cannes or Venice.

Close But No Cigar Tom Hutt
Helmer Tom Hutt is putting together a Big Lebowski-meets-Snatch type of film. Now only two weeks out from completion, Tom and his twin brother Will started working on the project four years ago and made it using nothing but props and equipment they had at their disposal. This is their first feature; they had problems getting the funds they needed, so they decided to make it on their own and were forced to shoot only on the weekends so that they could count on the contributions of their friends and actors who’d dedicate their days off to making the film. The movie should be ready by the end of 2017, and it promises to be a musically heavy caper movie with a strong British identity.

Solo! - Nic Cornwall
Barney inherits a tumbledown cottage in a run-down Spanish village, and he decides to leave London to fix up the house and sell it. But when he meets local musician Paloma, his priorities change. On the first day of principal photography, Brexit was announced, and that had a strong impact on the direction that the film took. This romantic comedy-musical is able to benefit from the notoriety of its Spanish characters and could bag a selection at San Sebastián. The production team is planning to have the film finished by September, but the producer is still looking for sales and distribution deals.

Piano to Zanskar Michal Sulima
The second documentary at this year’s EWiP follows 65-year-old piano tuner Desmond Gentle as he sets out to deliver a 100-year-old upright piano from his workshop in London to a primary school in Lingshed, in the Indian Himalayas, 14,000 feet above sea level. This is Polish director Michal Sulima’s first feature-length documentary, and he bewitched the audience with its gorgeous cinematography and exciting story, a true tale that is difficult to believe. The film is almost completed, and the director is aiming to hit the North American market at the beginning of 2018 – Sundance and SXSW seem to be perfect matches for the movie.

Widow’s Walk Alexandra Boyd
After having acted for more than 30 years in the UK and LA, Alexandra Boyd steps into the realm of directing with a story that tackles war from the perspective of a grieving wife whose life has been at a standstill since her husband died in Afghanistan. Shooting was completed at the end of April, so the producers are still looking for funding to speed up the sound design, music composition and the final VFX. The film is intended to be completed by early 2018.

Jellyfish James Gardner
This is the second project at EWiP that has been written by Simon Lord, who is also credited for Above the Clouds. Sarah Taylor (15) discovers that she may have a hidden talent: stand-up comedy. She channels her failures and personal struggles into it, but the everyday responsibilities she’s forced to face despite her young age risk jeopardising her dreams. Young actress Liv Hill, better known for her role in the British TV mini-series Three Sisters, delivers a stunning performance, and she clearly carries the whole film. The director and most of the HoDs are NFTS graduates. The film has already generated a lot of interest, and it has the makings of a movie that will premiere at a high-profile festival before the end of 2017.

WTW Documentaries
EPI Distribution
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