UTA Boards David Gordon Green Exec Produced ‘Hippo’ by Mark H. Rapaport (EXCLUSIVE)

UTA has boarded world sales on Mark H. Rapaport’s Fantasia premiere “Hippo.”

“We are very excited for this one,” said UTA’s Billy Offer, admitting a number of distributors have already expressed interest.

“It’s so oddly relatable and so singular in its approach, and vision, that I really wanted to help make sure it got the right platform to shine. Fantasia is a perfect launchpad for this type of film.”  

Produced by Kinematics in association with Rough House Pictures, it counts Danny McBride and David Gordon Green among its executive producers. 

“Hippo’s’ strange and dark humor is quintessential viewing and a wonderful reminder of why we all got into indie filmmaking in the first place,” Gordon Green told Variety, calling it “a brilliant feature debut.”

In the film, Hippo (Kimball Farley, who also co-wrote the script) and his adopted sister Buttercup (Lilla Kizlinger) live in complete isolation with their unstable mother. But Buttercup keeps dreaming of having a child of her own, even though neither of them really knows what sex is. 

“The Rough House guys were a godsend, because it’s a tiny movie. We shot in my grandmother’s house!,” admits Rapaport.

“It’s a little slice of Americana, a little ‘Napoleon Dynamite’-ish and I think that’s what they were drawn to. They definitely helped shape it. [As a director] David came from this serious dramatic place and then he did ‘Pineapple Express’ and ‘Halloween.’ He is so inventive and I really admire that.”

Inspired by Wes Anderson’s staging and framing, and Yorgos Lathimos’ dialogues, Rapaport also referred to filmmakers who embraced black and white cinematography, from Bergman’s “Persona” to Pawlikowski’s “Cold War.” 

“I thought it would be fun to bring that into my work. These striking, moody images,” he says.

“Also, I just love weird people. Hippo is narcissistic and hard to talk to, he has a bit of that Republican conservatism where as long as you protect your family, it excuses your behavior. I tried to make a thriller and then it became funnier, but in these tense moments it’s still terrifying. I want to shock and disturb people but also to keep it light.” 

In order to do that, he turned to personal stories that still make him squirm. 

“I grew up Orthodox Jewish in this country that’s so averse to sex and talking about it, and I was a product of that world. My mother really did say to me: ‘Goo will come out of you.’ Luckily, I had a sense of humor about it, but what if I didn’t?,” he wonders. 

“I am hiding behind a lot of made-up details, because I want the audience to have a good time. But Hippo is the person I think I am, that’s how I see myself. It took many years for me not to feel ashamed about sex. Now, I can try to look back and make peace with my teenage self.” 

As the story unravels, however, it’s Buttercup – not her brother – who slowly starts taking the reins. 

“Her becoming a hero wasn’t my initial intention, but this story is about her, even though it’s called ‘Hippo,’ which is a play on Gus Van Sant’s ‘Elephant’ and Greek tragedy ‘Hippolytus.’ At first, it was ‘Hippo or The Spectacular Detonation of an American Nuclear Family,’ but I didn’t want people to think I was copying Iñárritu,” he laughs. 

“It’s a fucked-up fairytale. You see this family implode.” 

All the while listening to Eric Roberts’ calm delivery, as he provides the narration. 

“He has such a grandpa-like voice and it mimics the innocence of the characters. The ‘father’ character in the film is non-existent and not to make my dad hate me, but that’s how I felt too. We still needed him, though. He just couldn’t be visible,” says Rapaport, admitting that at the moment, he is planning to stick to personal films. 

“My short [‘Andronicus’] covered my dad, ‘Hippo’ covered my mum, but the root of a lot of it has to do with growing up with religion. I have a lot to say about that and I will do it in my next project,” he adds.

“I don’t see myself making a $100 million movie anytime soon, but with Kimball, who is also my best friend, we joke that if we were ever to sell out, it would be to DC, not Marvel. I would sell out for ‘Joker’.”

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