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Venice 2022: Queens

“This is the new Thelma and Louise,” says KeyFilm boss Hanneke Niens of Moroccan Yasmine Benkiran’s feature debut Queens, which will close Venice Critics Week in 2022.

Set in Casablanca, a trio of women with the police on their tail embark on a quest that takes them across the rugged red terrain and flower-filled valleys of the Atlas finally to reach the Atlantic ocean. The film involves a mother and the daughter she is desperate to rescue from care, and a young woman whose truck they hijack as they flee the authorities. All three eventually form a close bond as they continue to avoid capture on their journey towards freedom.

For Dutch co-producer Niens, the decision to board the film was a no-brainer, she explains. Dutch acquisition exec Aranka Matits told her about the project, but she was already a keen admirer of the projects of lead producer Jean des Forêts of Paris-based Petit Film, whom she met during the first EAVE+ producers workshop. The business/creative proposal he sent her was intriguing, comprising Benkiran’s previous short films, the script, a great mood board, music already composed for the film and a casting tape of the three main actresses - all of which Niens was very impressed by.

“Then when I read the script I was a thousand per cent sure I wanted to come on board because I thought this is such a strong project,” Niens stresses. “It was all so well thought out that it even did not feel like a debut film. When Yasmine came over to Holland to meet with us she was very calm and very intelligent, and she was really listening to other people, but you felt that she was in charge. She knew exactly what she wanted to make.”

Niens persuaded the Netherlands Film Fund to contribute via minority co-pro support and the Netherlands Film Production Incentive. She also persuaded Benelux distributor September Film to join the project. Approximately 11% of the budget was sourced from The Netherlands, she confirms. Eurimages also came on board as a backer. “For me, minority co-productions that are lower budgeted must always be really from the heart,” Niens adds. “That is what I need to feel when I read the whole package, the whole project.”

The Dutch producer further comments on her love for the film. “Of course, you know it cannot end perfectly, like a fairytale,” she says. “But still, the ending is so poetic. When I saw the first edit, I said to Yasmine, ‘you really nailed it, you really made me feel it.’”

The Dutch elements in the co-production include the soundtrack written by Jozef van Wissem, whom director Benkiran had discovered even before Niens was involved. The other Dutch crew were Ranko Paukovic who created the sound design, and the French-speaking (essential on this film) make-up artist Marleen Holthuis.

This is a particularly busy period for KeyFilm whose Soof 3* will finally premiere September 15 in The Netherlands after its postponement for almost two years due to Covid. The first part of the feelgood Soof trilogy attracted 800,000 admissions and the second part 900,000 admissions, so Niens has high hopes for the latest instalment, although she bears in mind that local admissions are still down by approximately 40% on pre-Covid numbers.

Two other minority co-productions that KeyFilm are involved in are Palestinian Muayad Alayan’s A House in Jerusalem, which will be ready for early 2023 (the company co-produced Alayan’s much-awarded The Reports on Sarah and Saleem, 2018); and the Italian feature Dark Matter by Stefano Odoardi.

In production is Line of Fire`* by Roel Reiné, about the decorated army veteran Marco Kroon whose life has become an emotional rollercoaster following his post-traumatic stress, and the scorn he is subjected to both from the public and the political establishment. Going into production next month is the musical Just Like in the Movies by Albert Jan van Rees and Dorien Goertzen, which contains many of the much-loved Dutch hits of the 1980s and 1990s.

Saskia Diesing’s post-WW2 feature Lost Transport*, a co-pro with Luxembourg and Germany and concerning the unexpected friendship that emerges between Russian sniper Vera, village girl Winnie and Jewish-Dutch woman Simone, will be released in Spring 2023 in The Netherlands and Germany.

Queens is produced by Petit Film (FR) in co-production with KeyFilm (NL), Mont Fleuri Productions (MA), Deuxième Ligne (FR) and Need productions (BE). Sales are handled by Kinology. For more information on the selected Dutch projects, click here.

*Film is supported by the Netherlands Film Fund and Production Incentive

Source: SEE NL
Image: Queens