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Splitscreen Nabs Rights to Visions du Réel Competition Title ‘Where the Trees Bear Meat’ About Argentina’s Gaucho Culture (EXCLUSIVE)

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Zagreb-based doc specialist Splitscreen has boarded Argentinian gaucho tale “Where the Trees Bear Meat” by Alexis Franco ahead of its world premiere at Swiss documentary film festival Visions du Réel. It is one of 15 films vying for the top prize in the main international competition.

Set in the Argentine Pampas, the film follows Omar, a farmer, whose cows are dying as a result of a prolonged drought. Other prominent characters include Omar’s ageing mother, who has started planning her own departure, and his four-year-old granddaughter, whom he takes care of in her father’s absence.

Omar is Franco’s uncle, and the world he portrays in every lovingly crafted shot is the one he grew up in. This intimacy gives the film an authenticity that transcends the stereotypes and clichés often associated with gaucho culture. The story it tells is one of a family’s resilience in the face of adversity.

“It’s about how love binds a family despite the difficulties, the ability to endure and adapt even in very difficult circumstances,” Franco tells Variety. “How we can still have love – that’s what I miss from my family, there’s a lot of love between generations. It doesn’t matter how difficult it is outside: we are together. I came to the U.S., I became an architect, but I still love my family and I came back to make a movie about them because I think they deserve it.”

The film is produced by Italian director and screenwriter Roberto Minervini, whose sophomore feature “The Damned” has been selected to compete in the upcoming Cannes Film Festival’s Un Certain Regard Section, and whom Franco describes as his mentor – Franco worked with him as an assistant on films like “Stop the Pounding Heart,” “The Other Side” and “What You Gonna Do When the World’s on Fire?”

Franco explains that as he was scouting for protagonists for Minervini’s character-driven films, he had identified his uncle and grandmother a while back but always thought Minervini would make that film.

“I was trying to work out whether they are real characters or whether it was my love for them that made me think they were characters. I was doing a lot of scouting and had many other parallel stories. But then Roberto said, ‘This is your film, this is your family, no one is going to make this film better than you’,” says Franco.

It was a short shoot – just five weeks – as the budget was tight, and it took Franco a few weeks to see the story that was unfolding, and the parallel between the dying cows and his grandmother, who insists on having her sons prepare her grave – a conversation they shy away from.

“I was going to focus more on gaucho folklore, but then I realized that I have a powerful story with my own family. This movie is about the reality of death. When my uncle talks about death, he’s also talking about her,” he tells Variety, adding: “It doesn’t matter whether it is set in Argentina or not. We’re talking about the environment and how climate change affects poor people in the middle of nowhere who feed us with meat.”

Precious meat that is hung from the few trees that grow in the middle of the Pampas so that wild animals won’t eat it – hence the title.

Commenting on the acquisition, Splitscreen founder Marcella Jelic said: “We felt a strong connection with this poetic tale about the circle of life, about complex human interactions with animals and between themselves, and the unexpected ways climate change can influence life and our emotions. We were impressed with Alexis’ subtle, profoundly humanistic portrait of the film’s protagonists, as well as the strong visual style. This is a really outstanding debut and we are happy to be involved in bringing the movie to audiences worldwide.”

“Where the Trees Bear Meat” will have its world premiere at Visions du Réel on April 17. The festival runs in Nyon from April 12 through April 21.