After winning the top two grand jury awards at the cancelled SXSW, the directors of An Elephant In The Room and Shithouse are now embarking on the next phase amid unprecedented times as their sales agents work out how to get the films seen by as many people as possible.
Danish filmmaker Katrine Philp’s An Elephant In The Room won the documentary feature competition after she and her fellow contenders opted in to have their films judged online when SXSW got cancelled at the onset of the coronavirus outbreak in the US.
Philp, a CPH:DOX audience award winner in 2018 for False Confessions, had been looking forward to showing a live audience the world premiere of her latest film, which focuses on a non-profit child grief centre.
“The families from the film were mean to be there,” Philp told Screen over the phone from Denmark. “I wanted to reunite with them and wanted them to see it on the big screen. The crew is all from Copenhagen and we were almost on the way when we were told it was cancelled.”
However there is a silver lining. “It’s amazing to receive this award,” she said. “We’re all in the same boat. When they cancelled SXSW it was the beginning and now a lot of festivals have cancelled. People are under a lot of pressure, so an award like this is extremely important. The children are truly inspiring: these brave little humans are not afraid to talk about their feelings. We can learn a lot about them and as the world struggles with the virus it’s important to care for each other and connect and share out feelings and stories.”
Philp shot An Elephant In The Room at the Good Grief therapy centre in New Jersey from summer 2018-summer 2019. It follows children who have lost a parent and undergo free, holistic support that includes play-based therapy in different themed rooms (volcano, sand) where they can act out various emotions. The SXSW award concludes a personal rollercoaster ride for the Dane, whose father died while she was shooting An Elephant In The Room. The film is dedicated to him.
“Everyone is trying to discover the new normal”
Now Philp and Josh Braun of worldwide sales agent Submarine are working out next steps. “We’re very fortunate to have Submarine on board. I hope it will go to the New York area because that’s where the children from the film are based and it would be fantastic to invite them and the Good Grief community.”
Braun added, “Everyone is trying to discover the new normal knowing we’re not going to get the benefits of showing a film in a room full of people at a festival. This is the perfect example of a film that would work no matter how they see it or where they see it.”
Braun and his team have reported a surge of interest from buyers since the awards were announced on Tuesday. They are making the film available on Vimeo and other platforms via links that are activated during specific time slots.
“We’re trying not to do this indiscriminately,” said Braun. ”We know buyers are going to be moved by the film and they’re actually screening it.”
In terms of Philp’s next film, the director said she was in the early stages. “I hope to make a trilogy about children so I am now researching a follow-up in a way.”
Cooper Raiff directed the SXSW narrative feature competition winner Shithouse, which is represented by Jessica Lacy of ICM Partners.
The rom-com about a homesick college freshman who spends the night with a sophomore includes Jay Duplass in the cast, who had worked with ICM Partner’s Lacy and triggered the agent’s involvement.
“I opted in [to eligibility in the online voting process] as I was hearing from other filmmakers that they were opting in,” said Raiff. “I obviously feel very lucky.
”It’s a movie that wants to hug you and I’m feeling so grateful that the jury leaned into the hug. I’m also just so grateful Janet [Pierson, SXSW director of film] and the SXSW team members gave Shithouse such an amazing home.
“I also just think it’s incredible that Janet and SXSW are continuing to highlight the 2020 SXSW films despite this angry virus. The SXSW Instagram page and Twitter page are both highlighting all of the works and the artists every day and like Janet is retweeting tweets and posting stuff every day.”
Raiff said Lacy was “completely in charge and I couldn’t trust her more” about the plan going forward to expose the film to buyers, and added that the film’s team was sending links to select press.
Beyond that, he is planning his next creative moves. “I have this TB show that I’ve been writing for a long time now called Hal & Harper. I’m going to try to show it to people. I’ve also been trying to write this screenplay that I want to get Abby Quinn and Eva Victor to act in. I really want to work with them and I think they’d have a lot of chemistry on screen.”