XYZ Films Boards North American Sales on Ukraine War Screenlife Drama ‘StayOnline’ (EXCLUSIVE)

XYZ Films has acquired North American sales rights to “StayOnline,” from Ukrainian director Anton Skrypets, which uses the innovative Screenlife format to tell the story of a young Kyiv woman who risks her life to help a boy whose parents have gone missing after the Russian invasion.

“StayOnline” was co-written by Skrypets and Eva Strelnikova, who also served as director of photography. It was produced by Marina Kvasova and Alla Lypovetska of the Organization of Ukrainian Producers (OUP) together with Anatoly Dudinsky of AMO Pictures. The film begins when a young woman volunteering in Kyiv is given one of the thousands of laptops donated by ordinary Ukrainians to support the war effort. She’s asked to install a sensitive military application and deliver the laptop to her brother serving on the frontline.

But the woman receives a mysterious video call from a young boy searching for his father, the laptop’s previous owner, who went missing during the Russian army’s brutal massacre of innocent civilians in Bucha. Reluctantly, she agrees to help find his missing parents — a decision that will ultimately force her to risk the lives of her own loved ones.

“StayOnline” was made using the Screenlife format, which takes place almost entirely on characters’ smartphones and computer screens. While that decision was in part born out of the practical difficulties of making a movie in a time of war, said the OUP’s Igor Storchak, the technique also made artistic sense in how it depicted its characters’ lives.

“The beginning of the war was characterized by the fact that Ukrainians spent most of their time online — volunteering, waging an information war, keeping up to date with the news in telegram channels,” said Storchak. “This is the first war that was largely fought online, which is a rather unique experience worth talking about.”

This isn’t the first time XYZ Films has rolled the dice on the Screenlife format: Last year the company partnered with Pulsar Content to handle sales on the Japanese horror movie “Bloat,” starring Ben McKenzie (“Gotham”) and Bojana Novakovic (“Devil”), which is co-produced by the Bazelevs banner of Screenlife pioneer Timur Bekmambetov.

The genre specialists have had a busy Cannes, launching the New Visions slate with Zarrar Kahn’s Pakistani-Canadian horror “In Flames,” which is playing in Directors’ Fortnight. The New Visions initiative is designed to spotlight bold new voices in world cinema.

Other titles on the New Visions slate include the psychological thriller “Reckoner,” starring Christina Hendricks, which is being introduced to buyers this week in Cannes, and Czech sci-fi feature “Restore Point,” directed by Robert Hloz, which will have footage screened at the Cannes Market as part of the Fantastic 7 lineup of upcoming genre projects.

This year Cannes unveiled its new, genre-focused Fantastic Pavilion at the Marché du Film, highlighting the increasingly crucial role that genre plays in the global market.

Todd Brown, XYZ Films’ head of international acquisitions, recently praised the pavilion’s launch to Variety, saying it “will not only amplify the best and brightest voices working in the space but also provide a home for creators and talents to mix, to meet and to form new relationships.”

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