Rough Cut Service

Six documentary projects from around the world are selected for the Movies that Matter Rough Cut Service 2024. They all address relevant and urgent topics and issues with great cinematic and narrative storytelling. Read more about the selected projects via the drop-down menu below. 

On Sunday 24 March, each filmteam privately met with a panel of mentors with the aim of getting feedback on their rough cuts and further improving the structure and narrative of their story. The Rough Cut panel consisted of:

The participants received online feedback on their rough cut from the panel of mentors.  

The Docs Up Fund Award, presented by Alex Szalat, was awarded to Panic Button by Samara Sagynbaeva. 

Selected Projects

  • Coexistence, My Ass!

    Project title: Coexistence, My Ass!
    Director: Amber Fares
    Writer: Rachel Leah Jones
    Editors: Rabab Haj Yahya
    Producer: Amber Fares, Rachel Leah Jones
    Production Company: Teezi Productions, Home Made Docs, Little Big Story
    Countries of Production: USA, France
    Production Status: first rough cut
    Expected Release Date: 20-1-2025
    (Estimated) Final Length: 90′
    Shooting Language: Arabic, Hebrew, English


    COEXISTENCE, MY ASS! follows activist-turned-comedian Noam Shuster Eliassi as she writes, lives, and stages her one-woman show (of the same name) about racism, sexism, war, peace, and… her ass. But can her potent political satire, dished out in a mouthwatering and thought-provoking blend of Hebrew, Arabic, and English (with a touch of Farsi), help steer us away from the feel-good fallacy of co-existence toward a more substantive, solidarity-based co-resistance? And what happens when one devastating day, everything she’s ever fought for is suddenly deemed irrelevant (though it’s more relevant than ever) and worse yet — criminalized? COEXISTENCE, MY ASS! navigates the serious terrain of Middle East peace (or lack thereof) with a healthy dose of humor offering an entirely new perspective on the struggle for justice and equality in the most divided land in the world — one joke at a time.

    Director’s Statement:

    I first met Noam a decade ago in the West Bank, when she was working for the UN and I was living there making my first film, SPEED SISTERS. I had never met someone as fluid (and fluent) in their ability to move between groups that appear to be mutually-exclusive.

  • The Guest

    Project’s English title: The Guest
    Project’s original title: Gość
    Director: Zuzanna Solakiewicz, Zvika Gregory Portnoy, and co-director Michał Bielawski
    Writer: Zuzanna Solakiewicz, Zvika Gregory Portnoy
    Editors: Zuzanna Solakiewicz
    Producer: Maria Krauss
    Production Company: Plesnar & Krauss FILMS
    Countries of Production: Poland, France, Qatar
    Production Status: at rough cut stage
    Expected Release Date: 10-2-2025
    (Estimated) Final Length: 84′
    Shooting Language: Polish, English, Arabic


    Maciek lives in the Polish village close to the Belarus territory. It is winter 2021 and the crisis at the border is intensifying. The whole area becomes a military zone, which is the closed district patrolled by the border guard and army searching for “illegals” and pushing them back to Belarus. One day Maciek’s mother is leIng an exhausted Syrian refugee to their house. His name is Alhaytham. He slowly starts to unwind as he feels a welcomed guest.. Day by day the men are establishing the bond. And each single day of hiding puts them both in danger – Maciek could be accused of smuggling people and Alhaytham would be pushed back to Belarus again, which could cost him his life. They both know that Alhaytham needs to flee from the zone. The Pme is running and an inevitable decision needs to be made. Would Maciek risk even more and drive Alhaytham himself outside of the zone to the German border? Would Alhaytham let him do that?

    Director’s Statement:

    The Guest storytelling development could be compared to a water ripples effect whereas at its center we have eight dramatic days in the lives of two men that got into a situation they hadn’t planned to get into. But the story has a wider context, when many other people like Alhaitham are struggling in the forests, and others, who carry them humanitarian help. These are the moments, where the intimate story goes out the house and dives into a forest situations, where Maciek is a witness of endless injustice, pain and brutality. It is a compilation of pain that gives a new dimension to the sense of dignity and what does it mean to be human being.

    We documented this events in the constitutive moments. Local inhabitants of the borderland faced moral dilemma: to follow the official xenophobic line or start to act and help refuges; men, women and children starving for food, fresh water; lost in the borderland forest. Many of them decided to help. But the fear of being accused of smuggling people and the terror of military zone caused that material has been shot in conspiracy, in the paranoid fears of the borderland zone where none was sure any more what was legal. There were cases of arresting journalist that entered the zone. The access to the zone was limited only to its inhabitants. However we found the way how to omit the obstacles. Being filmmakers not journalist and having a support of local community we became its official inhabitants, and we got access to what was happening there. One of the local inhabitants of borderland zone is our protagonist Maciek. One of the refugees is our second protagonist Alhaitham. And thanks to that we can tell their intimate drama that happened there between two peers in a brutal reality. Due to the fact that Maciek engaged himself in searching for people in forest we can show the bigger picture the background of our protagonists story.

    Contact: Maria Krauss

  • Panic Button

    Project title: Panic Button
    Director: Samara Sagynbaeva
    Writer: Samara Sagynbaeva
    Editors: Hedvika Hansalova
    Producer: Veronika Janatkova
    Production Company: Pandistan (CZ), Media Hub (KGZ)
    Countries of Production: Czech Republic, Kyrgyzstan
    Production Status: post-production
    Expected Release Date: 1-9-2024
    (Estimated) Final Length: 80′
    Shooting Language: Kyrgyz, English, Czech, Russian

    What would you do if you were offered the following deal: “I will give you 1 million US dollars and a parliamentary position in exchange for you agreeing to not investigate my corruption cases, and to certainly not write about them!” Investigative journalist Ali Toktakunov, husband of director Samara Sagynbaeva, turned down such an offer, and both witnessed and publicly exposed the case of how $700 million was illegally exported from Kyrgyzstan.

    Since 2019, Samara has diligently documented Ali’s experiences, shedding light on both their public and private life amidst the myriad challenges encountered throughout this ongoing case.

    The film delves into the profound tale of being an investigative journalist in a nation abundant in corruption, while its citizens grapple with limited freedoms. Undeterred by relentless accusations, mounting pressure, and menacing threats against his own life and the safety of his loved ones, Ali tenaciously clung to his investigation and challenged the ruling nomenklatura by exposing to the public a case of corruption within the government.

    Ali and Samara took great risks with their privacy and security, and as a result received several death threats. What risks must one journalist take, both in his professional and private life, in order to fight for free speech and a free, independent media? PANIC BUTTON (WT) discusses the value of public good, freedom and free speech at the cost of sacrificing the private life of one family.

    Director’s Statement:
    There is a tradition in our Kyrgyz community: if you are a woman, you must give birth, be an honest wife to your husband, stay at home and take care of the household.

    According to the Kyrgyz community, I am not an honest wife to my husband Ali – I have not given birth yet, I do not want to stay at home, and I hate housework. However, Ali accepts me as I am. He supports my desire to learn and acquire new skills, and he has a tremendous understanding of the problems of Kyrgyz women. He is an investigative journalist who fights for reform of the system, democratic values and change for the better. We are ideological and professional partners.

    While I was studying at FAMU, my husband was conducting investigations exposing corruption schemes of the customs authorities in the Kyrgyz Republic. These corrupt officials threatened his life, and we had to go into hiding. We feared for our lives, and our day to day existence was turned upside down. I decided to start documenting Ali and his investigation when I saw how his efforts were changing people’s minds

    I view this film like a bridge. The Kyrgyz people may know and follow the results of the Ali’s investigation, but they don’t see the personal challenges and difficulties behind it. I believe that this film can reveal this aspect and contribute to a dialogue with the wider public, for our situation is not uncommon to other journalists who have also risked their lives in exposing truths.

    I want to share publicly what it is like to be an investigative journalist exposing corruption cases in Central Asian countries ruled by dictators. There is an element of Kyrgyzstan where influences from both China and Russia are strongly evident, and I want to discuss common issues such as human rights, freedom of speech and independent journalism with the world, and what one has to sacrifice for this fight.

    As a director, I want to honestly portray the many ups and downs in such a story, not just the successes, but also the setbacks. The main character of the film can be a mirror of Kyrgyzstan itself, or even Central Asian or other post-Soviet people who are fighting against corruption.

    Contact: Veronika Janatkova

  • To Set a Prisoner Free

    Project title: To Set a Prisoner Free
    Director: Joachim Vogel
    Writer: Joachim Vogel, Ola Fredholm
    Editors: Marcus Rosén
    Producer: Ola Fredholm 
    Production Company: Vogelperspektiv AB, Kinshazzaville Media AB
    Countries of Production: Sweden, United States
    Production Status: approaching Fine Cut stage
    Expected Release Date: 1-7-2024
    (Estimated) Final Length: 90′
    Shooting Language: English, Spanish

    Natalie’s world is turned upside down when a pickup truck smashes head-on into her car late one evening. Shawn, her husband, and their five-month-old daughter, Sage, are instantly killed while Natalie ends up in a coma.

    After a long rehabilitation process and the harrowing trial of Edgar, an irregular immigrant from Mexico, who drove heavily intoxicated against traffic on the highway, Natalie surprises herself by forgiving him.
    The hatred towards Edgar, however, comes seeping back. After seven years of destructive thoughts, Natalie realises that she must truly forgive the perpetrator to save herself.

    She starts visiting Edgar and they become friends. Natalie even speaks in favour of Edgar’s release during his parole hearings. But will she be heard?

    Through conversation and observation, To Set a Prisoner Free strives to depict the consequences of a tragic event, the parallel societies we live in and the powerful act of forgiving the unforgivable.

    Director’s Statement:

    Two individuals who live in the same geographical place, but in completely different worlds, literally collide and are thrown out like solitaires. They feel like strangers in their own environments and instead turn to each other – for no one else shares their unbearable common experience.

    The story is simple on the surface. We have a young, innocent family on their way home from a school concert. Towards them, a drunken illegal immigrant is racing at high speed. He is so intoxicated that he is driving on the wrong side of the road. The guilt is evident – or does the story have other dimensions?

    The conflict in the film works on two levels. Firstly, the immediate, personal, inner conflict within Natalie, which will also be felt by us watching. Can she forgive? Should she forgive? Would I forgive? Secondly, the conflict that emerges within the story; between those who have the resources and a voice in society and those who lack the means are set to serve in silence.

    The vision is that the impact of the immediate story will captivate the audience to the extent that their curiosity will bring them into a world they might not otherwise have a relationship to.

    Edgar starts off as the obvious antagonist but during the film he transcends into a more multifaceted person. His backstory, his willingness to help his fellow prisoners and his desire to be there for his children should arouse some sympathy along the journey. His parole hearing, with Natalie witnessing on his behalf, will be the dramatic turning point.

    Natalie’s broken character, reassembling piece by piece but shattering occasionally, gives another dimension to her portrayal. Her journey is naturally in itself central to the story.

    As we draw closer to the film’s climactic moment, the sense of heightened tension and urgency is depicted with a more nervous handheld camera, by three of Edgar’s fellow inmates, who were making a film about the Covid epidemic inside prison. Through a series of tutorials, we conveyed the essentials in film making and so managed to have a team operating within the prison walls, despite us not even being allowed into the country at that time, giving this film a unique perspective, as well as a voice to those long-term serving prisoners that are not even allowed to vote.

    Contact: Joachim Vogel

  • Touch the Colour

    Project title: Touch the Colour
    Director: Baby Ruth Villarama
    Writer: Baby Ruth Villarama and Chuck Gutierrez
    Editors: Chuck Gutierrez and Jaye Jacinto
    Producer: Chuck Gutierrez
    Production Company: Voyage Film Studios Inc.
    Countries of Production: Philippines, South Korea
    Production Status: Post Production
    Expected Release Date: 1-10-2024
    (Estimated) Final Length: 90′
    Shooting Language: Tagalog


    Licad is a toy vendor in Manila. In her 40s, she finds a two-year-old boy lost in the the crowd. She decides to keep him for a while thinking someone would pick him up.

    No one showed up for months.

    After one year, Licad goes home to Marawi, Mindanao for Ramadan. She tries to leave the boy to authorities, but wild stories on how abandoned kids are sent to youth detention centers alarmed her.

    The boy has grown close to Licad over time until one day, Licad’s sister Raga saw a newspaper ad about a missing boy.

    Licad immediately calls the number and the mother – Teresa Basario asks if they can meet in Manila to pick up her son. Licad cannot afford to go back to Manila. Teresa says that she will just pick up the boy in Mindanao.

    As soon as the mother gets hold of her son, the two sisters are arrested for child kidnapping. Licad and Raga are sentenced to lifetime imprisonment.

    The sisters have been inside for 18 years now. This Christmas under a new President, their papers are being reviewed for a possible parole on one condition: that Teresa agrees to forgive them.

    Director’s Statement:

    With the recent developments on how the justice system works in the Philippines, with several questionable cases that makes me deeply reflect on the value of human life, knowing the story of Licad and Raga moves me in so many levels about love, justice, forgiveness and intentions.

    As a storyteller, I wish to reflect on these thoughts and investigate if this kind of justice system can sustain to rehabilitate not just convicted felons but us as a struggling nation, us as global citizens of the world, and us as human beings trying to win our own misgivings and faults.

    The journey to forgiveness is a strong point I wish to explore in visual storytelling in an effort to just embrace the truth to it; to reflect on which is easier – to love or to forgive? I know that it takes a strong person to admit their sins, but it takes even a stronger person to forgive and change something good for the future.

    Contact: Baby Ruth Villarama

  • Yalla Parkour

    Project’s English title: Yalla Parkour
    Project’s original title: يلا باركور
    Director: Areeb Zuaiter
    Writer: Areeb Zuaiter
    Editors: Phil Jandaly
    Producer: Basel Mawlawi
    Production Company: Kinana Films
    Countries of Production: Sweden, Qatar, Saudi Arabia
    Production Status: Post-Production
    Expected Release Date: 1-9-2024
    (Estimated) Final Length: 90′
    Shooting Language: Arabic, Swedish


    Areeb’s first encounter with the sea occurred in Gaza, a departure from the usual setting of her mother’s exclusive smiles during their annual visits to their hometown in Nablus. On this particular day, however, the authenticity of her mother’s smile found resonance with the sea of Gaza. This vivid memory resurfaces decades later through a video depicting young parkour players confronting bombings. Haunted by her desire to go back to that moment, Areeb reaches out to Ahmad, one of the parkour players.

    Ahmad guides Areeb on a journey through Gaza, initially centered around parkour. Gradually, he reveals the vibrant Palestinian spirit, rekindling memories of the sea and the warm smiles. Areeb is confronted with conflicting emotions as she grapples with harsh realities she had never personally encountered. Beyond her own sense of confinement away from her hometown, Areeb becomes acutely aware of the insidious prison within which Ahmad is trapped.

    Ahmad eventually escapes for success and comfort in Sweden, but the void of leaving that big soul behind lingers, and resonates with Areeb’s own story of leaving her little self along with her mother’s true smile by the sea. Unable to return, Ahmad virtually connects with Gaza while Areeb watches with tender eyes, having been there in Ahmad’s shoes before; experiencing the solitude and the distance.

    Six years later, Ahmad, now a Swedish citizen, visits Gaza, pledging to revisit annually. His commitment resonates with the former vow Areeb once made to herself. Yet, the lingering question remains: will he be able to uphold this promise?

    Director’s Statement:

    I am Palestinian, but I’m in the US; worlds away. My first encounter with the sea was a moment when the genuine smile of my mother met with the sea. It was as if the world conspired to create magic. My mom left her hometown as an adult and had to live out for most of her life. With the distance, my mother’s smile faded away until it became very rare to see. I would only identify her smile when she went back to her hometown or met with her childhood friends.

    During one of the assaults on Gaza, I found a video that featured a colossal bombing while a young man flipped towards the horizon, as if throwing himself into the maelstrom. He was followed by another, then another. I watched the video repeatedly. I found a young man smiling a smile that looks like my mother’s. The smile and the people evoked a blend of emotions; nostalgia, and an overwhelming guilt for not being with them or with the sea.

    I am one of these people. Because of the complicated logistics that are assembled around my identity, I have no access to Gaza. But still, I am one of them. I was deprived from the world where I belong; where I saw my mother express her utmost expression of belonging; the smile. I want to feel that feeling of belonging. I want to live and experience the world where I know I belong. I want to make my film about the spirit and the community I belong to, about its unique way of resistance. I want to film the world that I value so much and to which I have no access. I looked for resources, and I formed a filming crew in Gaza. I started to communicate. I used messenger. The exchange conveyed no personal feel. But with time, a friendship developed beyond the formal “how are you doing?”. I got to know the person who was leading the exchange as Ahmad.

    The conversations with Ahmad take me to a world that expands beyond the smile that met with the sea. The euphoria I hold in my memory is a dystopia to those who live in it. I realize Ahmad’s desire to leave. It’s hard for me to accept that he is taking a decision that my mother took and that lead her smile to fade away.

    Contact: Basel Mawlawi