Ritesh Batra, Talya Lavie and Nora Martirosyan are among the 13 filmmakers due to pitch their Jerusalem International Film Lab projects [July 10]. Melanie Goodfellow reports on the push to develop real-world projects.

When Indian director Ritesh Batra learned he had been accepted as a participant on the third edition of the Jerusalem International Film Lab, he was in the middle of a world tour promoting his international art-house hit The Lunchbox.

Bad timing? Not at all, says Batra, who seized the opportunity to develop Photograph, the tale of an unlikely romance between a poor photographer and a young girl from a wealthy Mumbai family.

“For me personally it was gift. After The Lunchbox premiered in Cannes it was a busy time for me as I accompanied the film to other festivals all the over world,” says Batra.

“The Jerusalem set-up was great for me. They’re wonderful with deadlines and feedback. In the middle of all The Lunchbox craziness, I have been able to generate a screenplay thanks to the lab.”

Photograph is among 13 projects due to be presented at the lab’s pitching event offering some $80,000 in production prizes.

The Jerusalem International Film Lab is an initiative of Israel’s respected Sam Spiegel Film & Television School. It launched in December 2011, with its first edition running through 2012.

“It’s a chutzpah project,” says Renen Schorr, founding director of the Sam Spiegal School who was the driving force behind the lab’s creation.

“We’re the only film school in the world to have initiated a lab in the full sense of the world like Sundance and Torino. The aim from the beginning was to support script development as well as help the projects go into production.”

Schorr notes he expects a high-level of commitment from the lab participants.

“We’re highly demanding. We ask our mentors to be tough with the participants… not deal in platitudes if they think the work’s not there yet… we want them to get the shit out of the participants and you can quote me on that,” he says. “The end game is to develop real projects that get made. The world is full of projects that never take off.”

The initiative is already yielding results. Out of the 12 projects in the 2012 batch, six are finished films and three are in pre-production.

Its influence is also being seen on the festival circuit. Ivorian Phillipe Lacote’s Run, which took the lab’s first prize in 2012, premiered in Cannes’ Un Certain Regard this year and Nadav Lapid’s The Kindergarten Teacher, the 2012 runner-up, was given a special screening in Cannes Critics’ Week.

Aside from Photograph, other projects due to be unveiled in today’s pitching event include Armenian Nora Martirosyan’s Territoria, Icelandic Asa Hjorleifsdottir’s The Swan, Israeli Talya Lavie’s The Current Love Of My Life and compatriot Alamork Marsha’s Fig Tree.

Martirosyan’s Territoria won the Arte International Prize at the Cannes Atelier this year. Set against the backdrop of remote region in the Lower Caucasian Mountains, it revolves around three characters connected by a desire to either remain in or flee the area.

Hjorleifsdottir’s The Swan, which won the VFF Talent Highlight Pitch at the Berlinale this year, follows a neglected nine-year-old who is sent to the remote farm of distant relatives for the summer.

The Current Love Of My Life is the second feature from Lavie after Zero Motivation which won the top prize at Tribeca this year. Her new project revolves around a young Israeli musician in New York who hides in the ultra-orthodox community after he is pursued by the immigration authorities. 

Ethiopian-born Israeli Marsha’s Fig Tree gives a rare insight into the modern-day exodus of Ethiopian Jews to Israel through the tale of a Addis Ababa teenager whose family decide to take up the Right of Return in the early 1990s. 

This year’s jury is presided over by Michele Halberstadt of French distribution and production company ARP and also features Cannes Critics’ Week artistic director Charles Tesson, Sonja Heinen, director of the Berlinale Co-production Market and Berlin-based South African-Swedish director Pia Marais.

Other professionals attending the event include Titus Kreyenberg of German production company Unafilm, Caroline Banjo and Caroline Scotta of France’s Haut et Court and Riina Spørring Zachariassen of Denmark’s Windelov/Lassen.