Utopia Media, the fledgling sales and distribution company co-founded by filmmaker Robert Schwartzman, has picked up North American rights to artist Amalia Ulman’s debut feature ‘El Planeta.’ The dark comedy was one of the buzz titles at Sundance’s World Dramatic competition.

Danielle DiGiacomo, Utopia’s Head of Content commented: “Amalia Ulman’s “El Planeta” is a pure, transportive cinematic experience that is deceptively simple in its construction, yet so layered with wit, heart, and humanity that it leaves a profound impression akin to the work of many great auteurs.”

“It is a true gem of a film; Utopia couldn’t be more enamored of Amalia, her vision, and overjoyed about the ability to partner with her on its distribution,” added DiGiacomo who joined Utopia Media early last year.

Set in the industrial northern Spanish city of Gijon during the country’s economic crisis in 2009, “El Planeta” turns on mother and daughter grifters, played by Ulman and her real mother, Ale Ulman, who resort to ever more desperate schemes to keep up their erstwhile middle-class lifestyle and survive the financial crisis.

Written, directed and produced by Ulman, the black-and-white dramedy also stars Zhou Chen and Nacho Vigalondo.

In his review for Variety, Guy Lodge wrote: “this pithy, distinctive debut feature from artist-turned-filmmaker Amalia Ulman eschews kitchen-sink realism for a deadpan vein of black comedy somewhere on the very wide spectrum between Lena Dunham and early Pedro Almodóvar.”

Ulman said: “This is a very special project for me and I’m happy that Utopia, who are as enthusiastic and passionate about this movie as I am, will be distributing it in the U.S. It’s been an exciting time since the premiere at Sundance and I can’t wait for more people to be able to watch the film.”

“El Planeta” is produced by Ulman, Kathleen Heffernan, and Kweku Mandela, and co-produced by Riccardo Maddalosso, and by Sebastian Pardo for Memory (whose doc “All Light Everywhere” also debuted at Sundance this year). It features an original score by Chicken, aka Burke Battelle.

Film dovetails with the kind of titles the boutique label has been distributing, which includes such recent pics as official Sundance 2020 selection “Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets”; fashion doc “House of Cardin”; Oscar winner Errol Morris’ “American Dharma” and the 4K restoration of Hal Needham’s 1986 cult-classic, “RAD,” among others.

As Schwartzman said upon launching Utopia in 2018, the company is a “for the filmmakers by the filmmakers” company. “Each film will receive curated support based on its strengths and what we know the film needs to be successful,” he asserted.

The deal was negotiated by DiGiacomo for Utopia with UTA Independent Film group on behalf of the filmmakers. Amalia Ulman is represented by UTA.

Ulman’s work as an artist encompasses video, sculpture, installation work and singular performances that incorporate the use of social media, magazine photoshoots, interviews, self-promotion and brand endorsements. Ulman’s performance “Excellences & Perfections” (2014) was archived by Rhizome and the New Museum (New York) and exhibited at the Tate Modern and Whitechapel Gallery in London. Her most recent works include the video essay “Annals of Private History” (Frieze Live, 2015), “Buyer Walker Rover “(Wuzhen Biennial, 2019) and “Sordid Scandal” (2020), commissioned by the Tate Modern.

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