Montreal-based Item 7 partners Marie-Claude Poulin and Pierre Even have worked on independent features such as C.R.A.Z.Y. and The Hurt Locker. They are in pre-production gearing up to shoot Komona in the Congo jungle this summer.
The producing duo has combined financing, production, distribution and international sales experience. They have also known each other for two decades. Since launching Item 7 in August 2009, they have put three films into production including Jean-Marc Vallee’s next film Café de Flore (in post) and the African love story, Komona, told in a North American style. There are more titles in development.
Screen spoke with the partners by conference call as they were also readying for Cannes “looking to solidify relationships and find new partners” for current and future international co-productions.
Even though Item 7 is a new company, the two of you have known each other since the 90s and worked together wearing different hats under different banners. Can you give us the short version of how you met, how you have worked together over the years, and how your complementary talents are working for Item 7 now?
Marie-Claude Poulin: We go back to the Malofilm [distribution] days where we worked together for 5 years [1990-1995]. I was sales and acquisitions; Pierre was business and legal affairs. And after that, even when we weren’t working together directly, we always kept in touch.
Pierre Even: It’s true that we’ve known each other for a very long time and we have complementary talents that are key to make this productive. We both love reading scripts and it helps that we have a lot of the same sensibilities when it comes to finding projects. We tend to agree; we haven’t disagreed on any projects. And Marie-Claude has a lot of contacts outside of Quebec and Canada that can help finance films. She has experience in sales. I have experience in production. We attract different people and projects. That’s a great combination because it’s a mixture of finance, production and international sales.
Let’s talk about Café de Flore, the next picture from Jean-Marc Vallée, who brought us C.R.A.Z.Y. and The Young Victoria. It’s a co-production with France’s Monkey Pack Films, starring Vanessa Paradis. Would it be fair to say that it explores this cineaste’s intense curiosity about personal relationships?
MC: Café de Flore is a very different story; C.R.A.Z.Y. is about family, a father/son relationship. Café de Flore is a love story about people separated by time and place but connected in profound and mysterious ways. But it’s still about family, relationships and emotions—themes that will touch people on many different levels.
P: That’s really Jean-Marc’s way of writing films. He takes stories from his own experiences but he writes stories about characters that touch everybody. They are about what people have to do to be happy and how they reach a balance in life.
C.R.A.Z.Y. was based on the life of a real person, but Jean-Marc made it something personal. Each character is a part of Jean-Marc. This is even more personal. Yet he writes something that’s very close to him and it becomes universal because of the strength of the characters.
When will we get to see the film? Will you premier it at a festival?
MC: We hope to premier Café de Flore on the festival circuit this autumn and open on Sept. 23 in MTL and all over the province of Quebec with an English Canada release later in 2011 [via Alliance Films; international rights are held by Paris-based Films Distribution.] The French release [TF1 /UGC] will also be in the fall.
Komona is a 100% Canadian film written and directed by young Quebec filmmaker Kim Nguyen that is scheduled to begin a 34-day shoot in the Congo (as an unnamed African country) on July 4, with a spring 2012 delivery. Tell us a little about the film and its history.
MC: Nguyen had been writing it for nine years and came to us with an advanced script. It’s a story about child soldiers. It’s told in a poetic way. It’s nothing to do with anything he lived, but you get a feeling like you know more about what’s going on in Africa. Its soul is African but it’s structured like an American film: it’s a North American way to tell an African story.
Pierre: It’s about this young 14-year-old woman, Komona, who tells her story to her unborn child. She became a child soldier at the age of 12, when she was kidnapped by a rebel army. There, she will meet The Magician, a boy soldier with whom she’ll fall in love. He has to find a white rooster if he wants to marry her, to prove that he loves her. Events will not turn out as they hoped and she will be caught back in the evil arms of the rebel army where she will get pregnant and finally begin her journey towards peace of mind. It’s also a story of redemption that everybody can relate to.
MC: We will have two or three actors from Canada, but it will be a local African cast and we’re casting kids in the Congo right now. We have a casting director who’s finding a lot of them are street kids and orphans.
You’re also in development on Meetings with a Young Poet (d. Rudy Barichello) with distributor KFilms in Canada. What’s this picture about, who is attached and who is handling international sales?
MC: It’s the story of a young man meeting his idol Samuel Beckett and how it affected and changed his life. Charlotte Mickie at eOne is handling international sales.
You’ve told us Item 7 has no output deal with any distributor. What is your strategy?
P: We have a special relationship with Alliance Vivafilm in Montreal, especially with [executive] Patrick Roy, but we don’t have an output deal with them.
MC: We will choose distributors based on the film and its genre, so we’ll find ones appropriate to each. We are currently working with Alliance Films as well as Metropole for something more specialized. The bottom line is that we’ll try to make sure the distributor is as crazy about the film as we are.
What types of films, genres and stories are you looking for?
MC: We will be doing English-language films and international co-productions. We’re looking for stories made for the cinema.
It’s got to be well written. The talent involved with the project is also very important.
The same script directed by ‘director one’ and ‘director two’ can be very different.
P: We’re looking for people with talent. Sometimes we read spec scripts already written. I have to see it; it has to be written in a way that we see what the film’s going to be. We are not necessarily looking for pictures in the tradition of Quebec cinema, which is very realistic, but with something larger than life. Jean-Marc is a good example of that.
MC: As long as it’s a good script, any genre is interesting. We’re not going to limit ourselves to either very commercial or very art-house, as long as the team and the script are good.
How were you were involved with the Oscar-winning The Hurt Locker and what made you certain it would be a hit?
MC: I was the first one to pre-buy the picture. The Hurt Locker producer Nicolas Chartier [of Voltage] was financing and pre-selling it. It’s a good example of what I do which is all about development and finding material that will sell internationally – feature films that will find an audience.
What scripts and projects do you currently have in development?
MC: We’ve got three pictures in development that we can talk about. My Camino , about a woman’s journey on the Road to St Jacques de Compostelle, a Canada/Spain coproduction to be directed by Maria Ripoll (Tortilla Soup).
Birthmarked, a first feature by Emanuel Hoss Desmarais and written by Montreal-based Marc Tulin, is a dark comedy about the most fundamental of themes, “nurture versus nature’’.
There’s also The Hum a supernatural thriller and Canada/UK coproduction about a man named Simon and his adopted daughter Opal, 15, who move into a quiet village to find some peace. But the villagers start mysteriously dying when they get struck by a strange sound and she feels she’s the only one who can explain the phenomena. Of course her investigations attract threats on her life.