ANNECY, France — French production house Maybe Movies has a long and fruitful relationship with the Annecy Intl. Animation Festival, which was further strengthened this year by a works in progress presentation for the studio’s upcoming feature, “Calamity, a Childhood of Martha Jane Cannary.”
Co-producing on the feature is Denmark’s Nørlum along with French company Sacrebleu Productions and broadcaster France 3 Cinéma. Nørlum is also handling animation with French studio 2 Minutes. Gebeka Films has French distribution rights with broadcasters Canal Plus, France 3 and Ciné Plus also on board. International sales are handled by French powerhouse Indie Sales.
“Calamity” is a stylized origin story of American historical figure Martha Jane Cannary, better known as Calamity Jane. It kicks off in 1863 with she and her family part of a convoy heading west. Martha’s father is injured on the journey, and it falls on the young girl to drive the wagon and care for the animals.
The going gets tough, but Martha gets going and discovers a freedom she’s never known. For the sake of practicality Martha swaps her skit for pants and rolls up her sleeves, much to the chagrin of the party’s leader Abraham. He accuses her of theft, forcing Martha to head out on her own into a world that will challenge her in ways she can’t imagine.
Producer Henri Magalon talked with Variety after the film’s work in progress session about inspiration, research and the studio’s connection to Annecy.
What was it about the story of Calamity Jane that appealed to you, that inspired you to make this film?
“Long Way North,” our previous feature with Rémi Chayé, was already a quest to portray women in a different way. Tolerance and equality of opportunity between men and women is a favorite theme for Rémi, and as we practice gender equality in the production it is uniting all of us in the team. Calamity Jane is a great historical figure who contributed to opening minds. We agreed that developing a story around her youth was an ideal way to depict to children how a free spirit can be born. Off course, the road to the West, with pioneers in quest of a new future, and the beautiful landscapes of America were the perfect setting to follow Calamity.
What sources did you use in writing the story? How much of it is based on recorded history and how much did you have to create?
Screenwriters Rémi Chayé, Sandra Tosello and Fabrice de Costil started by first reading and watching all the existing material on Martha Jane Cannary. They had to examine the different sources and make sure to extract the true facts in the middle of so many fictional stories about her. She made a living from books and shows that she inspired or invented when she was performing in front of an audience. On the one hand it was a hard task to sort out the truth from the different biographies and versions of her legendary life, but on the other it gave the writers a freedom to invent and structure a story that paid tribute to her open spirit. Sandra, Rémi and Fabrice invented their own version of how she became a free woman in a man’s world.
What is the intended audience for the film? Not just age, but what kind of audience?
The film is intended for kids 4+ and their parents, with the goal to offer them important values on tolerance and open their minds both in terms of story and visual experience. We aim at an original proposition for kids and their family, a different experience from what they are used to watching. It’s aimed to appeal to girls of course, but also strongly to boys with all the ingredients of the adventure, the Western, the wild nature… All countries have their own figures who helped changing the way we view women, but we think Calamity Jane left a universal mark that can resonate with all cultures around the world.
What kind of research did you do for the film? Did you spend time in the American Southwest?
The research done from books, movies, archive footage and documentaries was enormous. We couldn’t afford a trip in the West for the team, but they spent days navigating in Google maps to compensate. Most of them have visited the Wild West on personal trips, and have a devotion to the diversity of the region. We did all do a horseback riding class however.
What state is the film in now? How far along in the production are you?
We spent two years writing the script before sending it to the financial partners of the film. After that it went very fast as everyone loved the story. We started working on the film mid-2015, preparation started fall 2017, we entered production in the summer of 2018 and the delivery of the final version is January 2020. We are currently at 60% of the production completed.
What do you hope to get out of this Annecy presentation?
Annecy sets most of the milestones of the lives of our films. On every film we’ve produced, from “Ernest & Celestine” through “Zombillenium,” which opened Annecy two years ago, and of course “Long Way North,” which won the Audience Award, Annecy brings a passion to our team all along the way. This year, with the WIP for “Calamity,” it’s the opportunity to share our work and our spirit of production for the first time on that specific film. It’s a big step to boost us in the final stage. The warm feedback from students, industry leaders, international press and off course buyers from the market, is now fueling our passion to deliver the best work we can achieve.