Venice Critics’ Week to Open With Director Jake Wachtel’s ‘Karmalink’

The Venice Film Festival’s Critics’ Week has unveiled its lineup of nine international first works, all of them world premieres, with U.S. director Jake Wachtel’s Cambodia-set Buddhist sci-fier “Karamalink,” set as the out-of-competition opener.

Set in a near-future Phnom Penh, “Karmalink” (pictured) is about a 13-year-old boy and his street-smart female friend who team up to search for a gold statue from the boy’s past lives, while traveling across town and also back in time.

Wachtel, who grew up in Palo Alto, started developing the film in 2015, while teaching filmmaking in Phnom Penh. He cast two former students as his leads and shot the film on location after living in their community for several years. Pic is produced by Los Angeles-based Valerie Steinberg Productions. Co-producers are Cambodian director-producer Sok Visal of 802 Films and Christopher Rompré of littleBIG Films.

In June U.S. company XYZ Films and Copenhagen-based LevelK jointly boarded the film. LevelK is now handling international sales while XYZ represents North American rights.

The films in the Venice Critics’ Week competition comprise “They Carry Death,” a 1492-set costumer with parallel journeys at its narrative core, directed by Spanish duo Helena Giron and Samuel M. Delgado; “Erasing Frank,” a drama about the leader of of a banned punk band in 1983 Budapest and his rebellion against totalitarianism, directed by Hungary’s Gabor Fabricius; and “Dogworld,” a dystopian drama about the struggle of two 13-year-old orphan boys

 in a Southern Italian gangland, by Italy’s Alessandro Celli.

Rounding off the competition are “Mother Lode,” a magical realist drama about economic oppression set in the goldmines of the Andes, directed by Italy’s Matteo Tortone; “Detours,” a Moscow-set drama about drug dealing using the Internet directed by Ekaterina Selekina; “The Salamandre” a melodrama about an incendiary young couple by Brazil’s Alex Carvalho; and “Zalava,” a ghost story with elements of noir and melodrama set in pre-revolution Iran, directed by Iran’s Arslan Amiri.

Italian director Gianluca Matarrese’s “The Last Chapter,” a two-way conversation between a sixty-something man and his lover described as “a game of dominance and submission that moves through the universe of bondage, the traumas of HIV and the theory of image,” is the section’s out-of-competition closer.

New Venice Critics’ Week artistic director Beatrice Fiorentino –– who succeeds Giona A. Nazzaro, now chief of the Locarno fest –– described the selection as a mix of “auteur and genre films, lyrical or furious, instinctive, intimate, dystopic or carnal. But above all free, authentic and alive.”

All Venice Critics’ Week entries will compete alongside titles in the official selection for the fest’s Lion of the Future prize, worth $100,000.

The official selection lineup will be announced on July 26.

The 78th edition of the Venice fest runs September 1-11.