Establishing herself as one of the world’s few Arctic Circle feature film producers, having set up shop in Norway’s Tromsø, former Mer Films production exec Elisa Fernanda Pirir is launching her own production company, Staer, which is backing productions by Morocco’s Nabil Ayouch and Colombia’s Juan Carlos Arango, among others, as she also develops her first titles by Sami talent.
Born in Guatemala, Pirir is joined at Staer by KriStine Ann Skaret, behind the award-winning film “Villagers and Vagabonds” (2020), the co-production “Aswang” (2019) and the premiere-ready “Not That Kind of Guy” (2022).
Born in Guatemala but moving to northern Norway in 2007, Pirir joined Mer Film, the company behind Jorunn Myklebust Syversen’s “Disco” Eskil Vogt’s “The Innocents” and Ole Giæver’s “Ellos eatnu – Let the River Flow,” which plays in Nordic Competition at this year’s Goteborg Film Festival. Mer also co-produced Jonas Poher Rasmussen’s Oscar-nominated documentary “Flee.”
At Mer Film, where Pirir headed up non-European co-productions, TV and its talent program, she reached out to her native Latin America, associate producing Cirro Guerra and Cristina Gallego’s Directors’ Fortnight hit “Birds of Passage” and co-producing Laura Mora’s San Sebastian and Zurich top prize winner “Kings of the World” and Emilija’s Skarnulyte doc feature “Burial,” which played Visions du Réel and Hot Docs.
Staer looks set to continue this bold line in international co-production. Staer’s first slate:
Staer is co-producing “Touda,” from Ayouch (“Ali Zaoua,” “Horses of God,” “Casablanca Beats”), Morocco’s foremost filmmaker, which is set up at his Casablanca production house, Ali ’N Productions.
Bringing Ayouch’s sharp sense of power dynamics to the table plus love and despair for his native country to the table, it turns on Touda, 35, who is a sheikha traditional singer performing in dingy bars as she struggles to bring up her deaf-mute son. As a 2022 Sørfond Jury noted, awarding the film a grant, Touda’s voice is heard and appreciated, but not respected.
‘Where The River Begins’
Lead produced by Paola Pérez Nieto at Colombia’s Inerica Films, “Where The River Begins” weighs in as a jungle set relationship drama between and an Embera woman and young white gang member. It marks the third feature from on-the-rise Colombian auteur Arango, director of Cannes’ 2012 Un Certain Regard title “La Playa D.C.” and the multi-prized “X500.”
‘Calls from Moscow’
First-up of slate titles, it world premieres at February’s Berlinale Forum. The debut feature from Cuba’s Luís Alejandro Yero, the doc turns on four young Cubans, currently dossing down in a Moscow prefab housing estate, designed as a refugee transit stop. As Russia invades Ukraine, their phone calls home show how their outlook radically transforms.
‘The Nights Still Smell of Gunpowder’
Produced by Mozambique’s 16mm Filmes, France’s Ida Ida, Germany’s Kasque Films, Portugal’s Duplacena and Staer, pic sees director Inadelso Cosa return to his native village to find its inhabitants still traumatised by memories of Mozambique’s bloody Civil War. The film is backed by IDFA’s Bertha Fund, HotDocs Blue Ice and the Marrakech Festival’s Atlas Workshops.
A Sami Film Driver
At one and the same time, however, Staer is setting out to become one of the drivers of a local Sami film industry. “Our plan to be the first feature production house that is actually based here, focusing especially on indigenous films and international co-productions,” Pirir told Variety.
At Mer Film, Pirir produced short “Sami Boy,” from Elle Sofe Sara. She is now producing the Sami filmmaker’s social issue musical “Arru,” Norway’s first feature directed by indigenous female director, Pirir said.
“Arru” is also executive produced by Jim Stark, producer of Jim Jarmusch classics such as “Down By Law” and Night on Earth” and more latterly partner of “Roma” producer Nico Celis at Mexico-based Pimienta Films, producing Tatiana Huezo’s “Prayers for the Stolen.”
“Where The River Begins,” like Toudo, received a 2022 grant from Sørfond, established in 2011 by the Stiftelsen Festivalkontoret and Norwegian Film Institute to back movies from developing countries. Movies made out of Tromsø, however, can also tap funding from regional sources, Pirir noted.
“There’s currently not any new companies in [Norway’s] Arctic that produces future films,” she said. “We need more and more companies to come. [Sami films] are extremely interesting cinema. We can make a lot of movies here in the Arctic. It is a part of Norway that’s unexplored. It’s going to be amazing in a few years,” Pirir enthused.
Pirir will also continue to work with new Scandinavia voices, she added, citing Marte Vold (“Out of Nature”), Anders Emblem (“A Human Position”), Sara, Linda Bournane (“Never Look Back”) and Dalia Huera Cano (“Carne que recuerda”).
“Stær” means starlings in Norwegian, Pirir noted. The birds “flock together to support and protect each other when they fly from Scandinavia to South Europe and back. Together they stay strong and reach their goal after a long and demanding journey,” she said.
It the “inspiration and heart of Staer,” she added – and a metaphor for a company which, rooted in its Arctic home, looks to make a virtue out of an increasing industry necessity: International co-production.