LOCARNO, Switzerland — Ursula Meier, one of Europe’s most highly-rated women film directors, will make her English-language debut with “Quiet Land,” a noirish drama-thriller set in the U.S. and backed by high-pedigree producers.
Produced by Switzerland’s Bandita Films, France’s Cinéfacture and U.S.-based Animal Kingdom Films, the movie, Meier’s third full feature, marks a palpable attempt to raise the ambition, reach and budget of a striking women auteur’s career. International sales on “Quiet Land” will be handled by Paris-based Memento Films Intl, which has represented two Cannes Palme d’Or winners, “The Class” and “Winter Sleep.”
In an early confirmation of the excitement surrounding the project, “Quiet Land” won a weighty SFR1 million ($1 million) grant from Suissimage, the Swiss authors’ rights collection society.
Targeting women filmmakers, the Suissimage grant was announced Sunday morning at Switzerland’s Locarno Festival. at, not coincidentally, a breakfast of the Swiss Women’s Audiovisual Network (SWAN). It shows that some institutions are beginning to walk the walk, forcefully backing movies by women filmmakers of scale and ambition.
“Receiving this grant is a signal that we are right to be ambitious and to dare break the glass-ceiling,” said Pauline Gygax who produces “Quiet Land” out of Bandita Films with Max Karli.
“Quiet Land” turns on an aging cop who, photographing automobile accidents with an old Reflex camera, comes to team up with a pugnacious woman in a desperate quest for justice – though the cop begins to ask whether the “web of crime” he has stumbled on is fruit of his paranoid imagination and onset of age.
Set in a remote Montana of ponds and lakes, as in the director’s previous films, “Quiet Place” is “inextricably linked to a place,” Meier said.
But the film “takes a symbolic turn by tackling a different kind of movie: an American story, set on a road. It is a cruel tale, dark and romantic.”
“Yet like my previous films it’s also filled with dark humor and plays with the absurd,” Meier added, observing that “Quiet Land” “depicts the fight of an old and freedom-loving America against a younger America which has become a slave to money.”
“Quiet Land’s” screenplay is being written by Meier and Michel Caulea. The producers aim to bring on board a U.S. screenwriter to complete the script, Gygax said. For key cast, the producers envisage great character actors that would also be regarded as Hollywood stars.
With two features in actively advancing development, “Quiet Land” and “Au Sud” (South), the latter by Switzerland’s other best-known movie director, Lionel Baier (“Vanity,” “Another Man”), Bandita Films marks a joint venture to make full-on international movies, both fiction and doc-features between Bande à Part Films’ Lionel Baier, Jean-Stéphane Bron (“The Paris Opera”), Ursula Meier and Frédéric Mermoud (“Moka”) on one hand and on the other Gygax and Karli’s Rita Productions, producers of the Academy Award-nominated animated feature “My Life as a Courgette.”
“They have the artistic talent, we the industry talent, and we all have different experiences and expertise. Together we can go further, creating a virtuous circle,” said Gygax, adding that “diversity was not the main goal of the company but Bandita will be pushing women as much as men.”
The Paris-based Cinefacture is headed by Emilie Georges, managing director of Memento Films Intl., and Naima Abed. Cinefacture’s recent credits include Luca Guadagnino’s “Call Me By Your Name” which earned Georges an Oscar nomination.
Launched in 2012 by Josh Astrachan and David Kaplan, Animal Kingdom Films hit the ground running, producing “Short Term 12.” Other credits include “It Follows” and “Louder Than Bombs.”
At the same Suissimage awards, Carmen Jacquier’s period drama, “Foudre,” about a young nun returning to her native mountain village in around 1900, where time has stopped, won a best first feature cash award of SFR400,000 ($400,000). The Suissimage Award will still allow Bandita to apply to normal federal Swiss funding reaching, exceptionally, another SFR1 million ($1 million) to co-finance “Quiet Land.” The award is made to an “iconic figure” in Swiss filmmaking, Point Prod producer Davoid Rihs said, presenting the prize to Meier and Gygax at Locarno.
The award will help Bandita to remain majority production partners on the project and for Meier to have the artistic freedom she needs to make well such a singular project, he added.
In development for two years, Baier’s “South” is “almost on the verge of having a script version which can be used to secure financing,” said Karli.
A comedic drama which will shoot in French, English and Italian, “Au Sud” will focus on “Southern Europe and its problems with immigration, but via all the bureaucratic problems that Europe has to deal with this crisis,” Karli commented.
Written by Baier and Laurent Larivière “the story is not about the migrants, but they will be the witnesses of our lack of know-how of how to deal with the influx of immigrants,” he added.
The two main characters, two women in their ‘40s, work for a company that prepares countries to receive migrants.