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The Hubert Bals Fund backs ten new feature projects

The Hubert Bals Fund (HBF) of International Film Festival Rotterdam (IFFR) has chosen ten feature film projects to each be awarded a grant of €10,000 under its Script and Project Development Support scheme. 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.

Tamara Tatishvili, incoming Head of the Hubert Bals Fund: 

“In these complex times, when uncertainty seems to reign, the significance of impactful storytelling becomes even more pronounced. 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.”

About the selection

Two projects are supported from the African continent. 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. Another of the filmmakers in the selection to have screened their work at IFFR is Shengze Zhu, whose Present.Perfect. competed in the Tiger Competition at IFFR 2019. 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. Lipika Singh Darai’s short Night and Fear was in competition at IFFR 2023, now followed with her feature debut the lucid dream-infused Birdwoman, to be produced in the language of the Ho indigenous community from Odisha in India.

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 in 2021 where it won the short film Pardo d’oro.

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