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‘Two Strangers Trying Not to Kill Each Other,’ About Photographer Joel Meyerowitz, Artist, Author Maggie Barrett, Nabbed by Cinetic (EXCLUSIVE)

U.S. content management, financing and sales banner Cinetic Media has secured world rights to the life affirming doc “Two Strangers Trying Not to Kill Each Other,” about legendary photographer Joel Meyerowitz and artist and author Maggie Barrett, his wife.

Rising filmmaking duo Manon Ouimet and Jacob Perlmutter of London-based Manon et Jacob are making their documentary debut, with Ouimet serving as producer alongside multi-Oscar nominated Danish producer Signe Byrge Sørensen of Final Cut Four Real (“Flee,” “The Look of Silence,” “The Act of Killing”).

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“Two Strangers Trying Not to Kill Each Other” is having its world premiere March 16 in the Dox:award main competition at Copenhagen’s leading documentary festival CPH:DOX, and also screen in the international competition section of Thessaloniki Documentary Festival on the same day.

Pedigree co-producing partners attached include Fremantle-owned doc label Undeniable, helmed by Mandy Chang, and long-time Final Cut for Real U.S. partners Louverture Films.

The character-driven documentary chronicles the loving yet complicated relationship between the strong individuals Maggie and Joel, aged 75 and 84 respectively. Bronx-born Joel is a legend, pioneer of street photography and color photography, still super active and in high demand to hold exhibitions and talks. British-born Maggie is a talented versatile artist, yet longing for recognition. When she suddenly breaks her femur, he becomes her caregiver. In the shadow of mortality, the couple start to reflect on what brings them together and apart, while trying to find a shared inner-peace.

“The film explores how to honor the self as an individual, while supporting the other through lifelong searches, struggles and successes,” Ouimet and Perlmutter, themselves a couple in life, explain.

A chance encounter of Perlmutter in London with his street photographing hero Joel and Maggie was the starting point for the film. “I was taken aback by their relationship; they radiated love and respect and this stayed with him,” says the co-director and cinematographer.

A few years later, during COVID, he read an article about the couple’s life in Tuscany and contacted them, with the idea to document their inspiring relationship. “I invited Manon to join me [as co-director and sound recorder] and the four of us set a kind of manifesto, based on openness. We would stay in their house to film them, and set off on this year-long journey into the unknown.”

“Rapidly trust developed between us, and deepened over time,” continues Perlmutter, who felt the two pairs shared similar values, despite their wide generational gap.

Aesthetically, his intention with Ouimet was to “derive as much as possible from the protagonists’ own talents, using for instance Maggie’s piano compositions as inspirations for the score, or Joel’s photos and own quote ‘two strangers trying not to kill each other’ for the title.”

Perlmutter’s own pleasing visual style for the film was inspired by Meyerowitz’s famous sense of frame and composition. “It’s all about understanding center-framing. But what happens at the edges can be as important, so for each frame, I tried to anticipate what each scene might be about,” the co-director tells Variety.

To get the pic off the ground, Ouimet and Perlmutter approached seasoned Danish editor Janus Billeskov Jansen, long-time Thomas Vinterberg collaborator and co-founder of Final Cut for Real, who agreed to come on board as editing consultant and executive producer, while Byrge Sørensen jumped in as producer, next to the filmmaking duo.

To get fresh eyes on the near-final film, the production partners held test screenings that were “conversation starters,” according to Byrge Sørensen, and gave an indication of the pic’s cross-generational appeal. “Our audiences saw themselves in Jacob and Manon’s portrait of Maggie and Joel, no matter their age or the kind of relationships they were in. I think this happened because across generations, we all share the struggle for love and recognition, the issue of how we see and care for each other, and the urgency that comes with acknowledging that our time on this earth is limited,” she says.

“Two Strangers” was pre-sold to the public stations DR in Denmark, SVT in Sweden and NRK in Norway. Byrge Sørensen says together with Cinetic, she will be looking for theatrical, TV and streaming release opportunities after the film’s world launch at CPH:DOX.

Cinetic Media’s sales lineup includes the docs “Summer of Soul,” “RGB,” “Descendant,” “The First Wave” and “Collective.”

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