VARIETY October 9, 2018 | Elsa Kesslassy
Sameh Zoabi’s “Tel Aviv on Fire,” the critically acclaimed Israeli comedy that world premiered at the Venice Film Festival, has been acquired by Cohen Media for the U.S., along with a flurry of distributors in key territories.
Paris-based sales company Indie Sales has also sold the pic to Italy (Academy Two), Spain (Surtsey Films), Switzerland (Trigon Film), and Greece (Seven Films). Indie Sales is now in final negotiations to close deals for Canada, Benelux, Germany, and Austria.
The politically-charged comedy world premiered at Venice in the Orizzonti section, nabbing the best actor award for Kais Nashif. It went on to play at fests in Toronto and Haifa, where it won best film and screenplay prizes.
“Tel Aviv on Fire” reteams actor Kais Nashef and Lubna Azabal (“Incendies”), who co-starred in the foreign-language Oscar-nominated “Paradise Now.”
“Tel Aviv” follows the journey of Salam, a charming 30-year-old Palestinian man living in Jerusalem who works as an intern on a hit 1967-set soap opera produced in Ramallah about a Palestinian female spy who has a love affair with an Israeli general.
Salam’s life takes an wild turn after he meets Assi, who runs the Israeli checkpoints that he has to drive through every day. Assi starts asking Salam to change the show’s storyline to please his wife, who is a big-time fan. Thanks to Assi’s ideas, Salam’s career takes off, but when the show’s financial backers start disagreeing on how the series should end, Salem gets caught in the middle.
The distribution deal was negotiated by John Kochman, the executive vice president of Cohen Media, and Georgia Poivre, the company’s head of acquisitions, as well as Indie Sales co-founder and CEO Nicolas Eschbach.
“‘Tel Aviv on Fire’ is that rare movie — a big-hearted satire about Israeli-Palestinian relations, fueled by cheerful self-mockery from both sides,” said Cohen Media founder and chairman Charles S. Cohen.
Kochman, meanwhile, described Zoabi (“Under the Same Sun”) as “an exciting new voice” and said this film was “a must-see for anyone following Mideast politics or the state of modern world cinema.”
“The market is responding very well to this fresh and smart comedy. It takes hope as its driving force with exciting precepts: laughter can reconcile the irreconcilable,” said Eschbach.
“Tel Aviv” was produced by Samsa Film (“Möbius”), TS Productions (“Incendies”), Lama Films (“Paradise Now”), and Artémis Productions (“I Am Not Your Negro”). United King and Haut & Court will distribute the movie in Israel and France, respectively. The French release is planned for Feb. 27.
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