Variety

Content Blazes New Tracks

Shingle expands its audience with a lion drama and a rhino poaching comedy

- By Ed Meza

As it continues to produce high-end films and TV programs that examine the wonders of the natural world, science and history, Terra Mater Factual Studios is also seeking to broaden its audience and educate viewers about the precarious state of life on Earth.

Whether it’s the poaching of endangered African elephants for China’s illicit ivory trade or the planned plunder of Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge by America’s oil industry oligarchs, the planet’s precious wildlife is facing dangers that threaten its continued existence. Terra Mater has achieved great success with its theatrical and television output over the past decade in showcasing such issues, but the Austrian company is aiming to attract and inspire new viewers with less traditiona­l production­s, including an unlikely comedy.

To that end, Terra Mater is turning its focus to impactdriv­en environmen­tal topics while also creating mainstream appeal for its production­s, says Michael Frenschkow­ski, Terra

Mater’s head of features and special projects.

Among the company’s feature film projects in developmen­t is a comedy about rhino poaching. “Out of This World,” penned by Andy Briggs, follows a team of wildlife protecters trying to keep rhinos safe from poachers. With the script nearly finished, the project will soon be packaged and ready for market, with plans to shoot on location in Africa.

“It’s a quite different approach,” Frenschkow­ski says.

Terra Mater COO Dinah Czezikmüll­er adds that this comedic approach to a serious subject triggers emotions and makes the message more palatable for audiences, while also creating awareness of wildlife crime. It’s about telling a story in a manner that reaches people in another way, she says.

“Wildlife crime is, at the moment, growing stronger than even drug traffickin­g and it’s bigger than human traffickin­g,” notes Terra Mater CEO Walter Koehler.

Similarly, “The Bastard King,” is a hybrid documentar­y-narrative film that tells the story of how a lion cub becomes king of two prides. Terra Mater’s newest production, directed by Owen Prümm and featuring the voice talent of David Oyelowo, combines real footage of lions in the wild shot over a -year period.

The film follows the young lion as he unites prides against a greater beast — the humans who are destroying their habitat. It’s not only a film about lions but also a story that explores themes of racism, Koehler says.

“The Bastard King” is a co-production with Paris-based Bonne Pioche and Prümm’s Shibumi Films in Berlin.

Terra Mater is also working on a wildlife crime series created by South African filmmaker Dereck Joubert and co-produced with his Wildlife Films, and “Hummeldumm,” a feature film comedy based on the German bestseller by Tommy Jaud, about a chaotic group trip through Namibia. Jaud is also penning the script.

Upcoming documentar­ies include Rupert Murray’s “Patrick and the Whale,” the story of an encounter between an animal and a human, and Rebecca Cammisa’s “A Menace to Society,” about reproducti­ve rights pioneer Bill Baird.

Wildlife crime is, at the moment, growing stronger than even drug tra cking and it’s bigger than human tra cking.” — Walter Koehler

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