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Interview with Writer, Director, Producer Maria Pulera for "Between Worlds" @ Cannes


Writer, director, and producer Maria Pulera's mystery thriller Between Worlds debuted at the film market of the 71st Cannes Film Festival. Between Worlds, stars Nicolas Cage, Franka Potente, and Penelope Mitchell. The story follows Joe, (Cage), a down-on-his-luck truck driver haunted by the memory of his deceased wife and child. He meets Julie (Potente), a spiritually gifted woman who enlists Joe in a desperate effort to find the lost soul of her comatose daughter, Billie (Mitchell). But the spirit of Joe's dead wife Mary proves stronger, possessing the young woman's body and determined to settle her unfinished business with the living.

Maria simultaneously launched her production and distribution company Rise Up LLC with partners Eric Banoun and David Hillary. The company is backed by a Spanish-Israeli finance fund with the goal to shoot and distribute three to four globally diverse stories told through a range of different voices per year. Its first production is Between Worlds.


I interviewed Maria while at Cannes. Here is what she had to say:


What was it like working with Nicolas Cage, Franka Potente and Penelope Mitchell?

MARIA: When someone with the kind of talent that Nicolas Cage has comes along with so much creativity, he brings another dimension to the movie. He helped make a really unique piece of work. And with Franka, she and Nicolas were excellent together. Penelope as well. Basically, we had the the two ladies and him and it was a really great relationship between all of them. You'll see the power of all the different dialogues and scenes. They're fantastic with really magical, sorrowful, heartfelt scenes.


How did this story come into your life?

MARIA: I like thrillers, mysteries and the supernatural. I come a very rural place in Wisconsin. That's where I grew up. Everything I do comes from that world. I mean, we have truckers, cheese, Jack Daniels and Harley Davidson. So that's kind of my inspiration for the characters, taking them and giving them some kind of magical powers. But the movie is more than that. It's about betrayal and the breakdown of the human spirit. It's also about loss and devastation. There are deeper themes running through it even though it has the structure of a thriller. It really takes us into some interesting directions so it's not a linear movie. It's different and gritty and dirty looking as we don't shoot in a very classical frame. The whole flavor and tone has parts that are very dark comedically. We also had Angelo Badalamenti and Skinny Puppy do the music so that adds for a very interesting texture. It was so fun to make.


How long did it take you to get made from script to editing room?

MARIA: We wrote it in January of 2017. We cast it in April and we shot it in September. It sounds quick but back in the 90's when I entered film, it was very hard to get something made; now with the advent of different types of releases, it makes it more accessible to do things quicker. I hope it gives more people the chance for a voice.


Who were your biggest influences as you were studying film?

MARIA: I like Lynch and Polanski's work. Loved Almodovar's “Kika”. Also Kubrick. Music wise I like Alan Jackson but also Skinny Puppy because it's combining a lot of variables together. For me, a lot of visuals and musical elements help inspire the story as well.


How did everyone work together on the film? Was it hard at times or seamless?

MARIA: Obviously, we were on a very tight time frame so we worked very quickly and very smoothly. There were a lot of intimate scenes in the movie so we had to have respect for the actors in those scenes. Everyone worked pretty well together. We were lucky. We were shooting in Alabama and three hurricanes came around us at the same time but missed us. So, it was pretty much luck at that point because a hurricane will send you out for a week or so.


How has living in Spain affected your world view, life and art?

MARIA: I tell you, I love being there. It gives me perspective. The people that I'm around there are not necessarily from the film world. I have small children so it's nice to have a different perspective on things. Spain is also a very friendly country. People are very open and warm and they are excited about filmmaking. We're shooting my next movie in Spain. It's a Spanish neo-noir film very much inspired by French neo-noir in the 60's. I'm really excited because we're going to use a small Spanish crew. It'll be interesting because I've never shot outside the US before.


Can you give a little bit of your background? How did you get into writing and directing?

MARIA: Growing up, I loved the arts and film because it's a combination of all the arts. I wanted to study film but it took me twenty years to get to the point where I could make it. You have to have a lot of determination. Back in the 90's and early 2000s it was very difficult to get people to finance you and have faith in you. I found there was a lot of people who tended to be disingenuous. So you end up wasting a lot of time with that. Hopefully with this kind of recent change in Hollywood, it will eliminate some of that and people will be more genuine with their intentions. Film is something I've always wanted to do but it was hard for so long. But I just kept writing, always kept writing.


You said you want to move back home to US. Where would that be and would you make movies there?

MARIA: Wisconsin. And yes, absolutely. You can make movies anywhere. I grew up on a farm so I grew up in isolation with nature. I like the very primal things of life. It's very basic and introspective to be out in nature alone. You're not as distracted, which I love. I love the emptiness there.


Interview by Vanessa McMahon


Rise Up LLC's first production is Between Worlds. They have seven new projects greenlit for production under their banner – the first of the seven to go into production is the Spanish neo-noir titled El Matador which Pulera penned and will direct this July 2018 in Marbella, Spain. Johnny Thunders is the biopic about American punk rock hero Johnny Thunders of the New York Dolls. The feature film will be directed by Swedish director Jonas Akerlund whose recent film Lords of Chaos was well-received by critics at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival. The Clean Up is a dark, sexy, funny, violent contemporary noir thriller in the vein of Pulp Fiction, written and to be directed by Alex Turner. No-No Boy is based on the only novel published by Japanese-American writer John Okada and to be directed by Musashi Alexander. When the Nines Were Sixes will be directed by Joshua Evans (Che Guevara, Glam).

In addition to the five feature films, Rise Up has two television series in the works: “Gaddafi Stories” a limited series based on Gaddafi’s inside circle and close family accounts, and a reality series called “Finding the Good” created by Dominic Pulera, which takes us around the world to find goodness in humanity, glamour and positivity.

Maria, “David Hillary and I hit it off instantly after producing Between Worlds together. We have the same ideas about what makes a good film and the kinds of stories we want told and to be put out into the world,” shared Pulera. “Together with my producing partner Eric Banoun, we knew joining forces to build our own company and produce our own films on our terms was the natural next step for us. Cannes is the perfect platform to launch our company on the back of the debut of our very first film, Between Worlds. I am very proud of this film and look forward to many, many more.”

David Hillary added, “Our aim is to create high-quality, thought-provoking projects that appeal to the wider audience but more importantly also appeal to our own tastes. We don’t want to make movies that we wouldn’t pay to see ourselves. We have a fantastic slate coming up and I look forward a beautiful and fruitful partnership with Maria and Eric.”



Maria Pulera is a writer, director, and film producer who divides her time between Spain and the US.  She relishes in taking risks and experimenting with both unconventional and traditional narrative storytelling.  Through her avant-garde style, Pulera strives to strategically place the viewer outside of familiarity and entice them to become truly submerged within her atypical universe. A place where thrillers are transformed into something unreal and devastating, and where darkness, desire, and deviance dance into a mélange to bring us beautifully bizarre worlds that explore the sordid, hidden parts of humanity. Pulera’s first film Falsely Accused, starring Rosanna Arquette and Jon Gries, was released by Gravitas Pictures. She made what she considers her true directorial debut with the thriller Between Worlds.



David Hillary is a trailblazer in independent filmmaking. His credits go back to the days as Co-head of production at Muse Productions known for its edgy films such as Sofia Coppola’s The Virgin Suicides, Jonas Akerlund’s Spun starring Jason Schwartzman and Mickey Rourke, and the cult favorite American Psycho starring Christian Bale. Hillary’s credits also include Dog Eat Dog starring Nicolas Cage and Willem Defoe, Nick Cassavetes’ Yellow, the comedy The Clapper starring Amanda Seyfried and Ed Helms, and London Fields. Hillary has also produced the upcoming Peel starring Amy Brenneman and Emile Hirsch and the crime drama Charlie Says starring Suki Waterhouse and Matt Smith.   

Rise Up attended the Cannes market to meet with buyers and collaborators from around the world.




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