BELGIAN CINEMA FROM FLANDERS 2 You talking to me? 16 young Flemish filmmakers in conversation By Nick Roddick
Gilles Coulier Pieter-Jan De Pue Bas Devos Adil El Arbi & Bilall Fallah Jonas Govaerts Malin-Sarah Gozin Robrecht Heyvaert Tim Mielants Peter Monsaert Robin Pront Eshref Reybrouck Nathalie Teirlinck Jakob Verbruggen David Verdurme David Williamson
BELGIAN CINEMA FROM FLANDERS 2
–––– Nick Roddick
BELGIAN CINEMA FROM FLANDERS 2 You talking to me? 16 young Flemish filmmakers in conversation
interviews Gilles Coulier Pieter-Jan De Pue Bas Devos Adil El Arbi & Bilall Fallah Jonas Govaerts Malin-Sarah Gozin Robrecht Heyvaert Tim Mielants Peter Monsaert Robin Pront Eshref Reybrouck Nathalie Teirlinck Jakob Verbruggen David Verdurme David Williamson
22 32 40 48 56 64 72 80 88 96 104 110 120 128 136
2016 â€” The Land of the Enlightened, Pieter-Jan De Pue
School’s out: Flemish films and filmmakers COME OF AGE Belgian. Cinema. Flanders. Three words which are the subject of the 15 interviews in this book. Let’s start with Cinema, because that’s the one that links the other two – and the one we all think we know best. Or do we? Try thinking of cinema as a dense and fertile forest through which you can follow different paths. The names of these paths – or some of them – are genre, nationality, finance, stardom, auteur, theme, chronology, theory, short, fiction, feature, documentary… And, now that the barrier between the two is more fluid, let’s add some well-trodden tracks from TV like miniseries, series, long-form and soap. Well, maybe not soap. Sometimes these paths converge for a while into broader avenues, then wander off again: US nationality and stardom were pretty much fused in Hollywood from the 1920s to the 1970s; but then star names became less important to audiences than the superhero outfits they were wearing. New paths open up from time to time: queer cinema, for instance, has hacked a significant trail in recent years. And the path labelled documentaries is no longer quite as clear-cut as it once was, as exemplified by Pieter-Jan De Pue’s intriguing new film, The Land of the Enlightened.
Dramatic reconstruction is now a regular part of the documentarian’s toolbox. new growth When it comes to examining that part of the forest labelled ‘Belgian cinema’ – a small but significant corner of European filmmaking – we could nowadays follow most of the paths mentioned above, although the one called ‘stardom’ wouldn’t get us far. Mathias Schoenaerts is the only Belgian actor whose name has made a significant impact on the international cinematic consciousness of late. Well, maybe not the only one, but Audrey Hepburn is dead and JeanClaude Van Damme falls outside our remit. Stardom apart, an examination of the Belgian forest would reveal obvious areas of new growth, with Flemish noir joining Scandi noir. Inspired it may have been by a series of distinctive Danish TV series, but it has blossomed in Belgium into feature films like Pieter Van Hees’s trilogy [Left Bank, Dirty Mind and Waste Land] and Robin Pront’s debut feature The Ardennes. Flemish genre movie Cub, meanwhile, has travelled as much if not more than many a more ‘respectable’ example of auteur cinema, attracting
2008 — Left Bank, Pieter Van Hees 2011 — North Sea Texas, Bavo Defurne
audiences other Flemish films have not been able to reach. Gay coming-of-age story North Sea Texas likewise travelled to a dozen or more festivals and played to paying audiences in half-adozen countries. And Sammy the little sea turtle has delighted children and ecologically-minded adults around the world, most of whom would have little idea where Flanders is. with a little help… What made all this happen? Well, let’s not ignore the role of money: cinema could never have flourished in a region of just 6.5 million people speaking a version of an already minority language [Dutch] without a carefully targeted, constantly adjusted system of subsidies. These have been developed over the past couple of decades by what is now the VAF [Vlaams Audiovisueel Fonds, or Flanders Audiovisual Fund] and are basically designed to keep Flemish film culture not just alive but also living, not frozen into the series of literary adaptations and period dramas that characterised so much of indigenous cinema in the 1960s and 1970s. Especially effective in bringing out new talent has been the VAF Wildcard scheme, which earmarks funding for the follow-up film by a young filmmaker who has impressed with his or her student short. Mostly – and there are 10 or so examples in the pages that follow – this enables these filmmakers to hone their skills on a final short before their first feature. Sometimes, against the ‘rules’, a filmmaker will use the Wildcard cash as a foundation for the scraped-together funding for a first feature, as Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah did with Image. What is more, Belgium as a whole has been in the forefront of developing a fiscal system – the Tax Shelter – which rewards commercial as well as cultural filmmaking. So, too, does the icing on the cake: the Screen Flanders economic fund, which can be accessed alongside the Tax Shelter. This is not the place for a long discussion of how these schemes work: we’d need a couple of pages for that. Suffice it to say that the various economic incentives, designed to attract foreign producers to both parts of Belgium, has – among other things – enabled young filmmakers to gain experience by working with highly-skilled foreign
professionals. These schemes matter: €12.5 million may not be a tiny acorn nor Flemish cinema a mighty oak, but the investment has paid off in all areas and has become part of the European cinema scene. And then there is television. It is becoming increasingly difficult to talk about Flemish film without looking at what is going on on the small screen, not to mention the impact Flanders’ native sons have made on UK and US television. For the time being, however, let’s stick closer to our terms of reference – Belgian cinema from Flanders – and note that it is now no longer possible to talk about a linear history in which ‘this film led to that film’. There is too much diversity these days with picnickers on many of the forest’s paths, drinking the blond beer and enjoying the moules-frites of Flanders. pop-up factories So, if we are to do justice to our subject as to the history of any cinema, the most valuable route is the one which does not lose sight of the three landmark elements without which no cinema [and no film] can exist: money, creativity and technology. Cinema is not [or is very rarely] an art form that flourishes in the personal sphere, like poetry or painting: it requires teams of people – pop-up factories of artists, accountants, technicians and writers – to conjure it into existence. ‘Money into Light’ – the title of John Boorman’s 1985 account of the making of The Emerald Forest – is a neat phrase, but it leaves out the hardware that brings about this alchemy: the cameras that need to be manipulated to create, not just an image, but the right image; the computer programmes [replacing the editing consoles] that shape those images; and, most significantly of all these days, the ever-evolving technology that delivers the resulting film to your local cinema, living room or hand-held device. Among the many words used to describe cinema over its 120 years of life which have gradually grown out-ofdate, the term ‘film’ itself could well be the next to go in the digital era. But whatever the delivery method, cinema from Flanders will surely be part of the cargo. These are challenging times: online technology cuts both ways, favouring the blockbuster while
offering opportunities to smaller films. Film releases cross national boundaries: ‘Benelux’ has been a customs union since 1944, and ‘theatrical rights’ [the right to distribute a film to a cinema] have often taken advantage of this freedom of movement, with a film released simultaneously throughout the three territories. But, while the historical tendency in Europe has been towards consolidation, cultural policy has often gone in the opposite direction, creating institutions and practices which protect and promote those smaller national cultures and national languages under threat in a globalised world where everyone speaks English. The petrol-tanker of cultural history takes a while to turn around. mind your language With Belgium’s French-speaking community culturally aligned with France, Flanders – emphatically not aligned with the Netherlands – got its first Culture Minister in 1964 and its first subsidised Flemish film a couple of years later. Since then, as my colleague Staf Vanden Abele charted in an earlier version of this book published some seven years ago, Flemish cinema – or cinema made in Flanders – has made increasingly frequent appearances to ever-increasing acclaim on the international scene. In 2012-13, for instance, The Broken Circle Breakdown was selected for the Berlin Panorama; was seen by over 400,000 people back home; made it through to the final Foreign Film selection at the Oscars; picked up the César for Best Foreign Film; and saw lead actress Veerle Baetens take Best Actress at the European Film Awards. But that confidence can sometimes be a little fragile. Belgium threw off the yoke of Holland in 1830; was the ‘battlefield of Europe’ through two world wars; and was troubled 40 years ago by a series of escalating conflicts between its own two linguistic communities. As I quickly discovered when I lived in Brussels in the 1960s, the term ‘Belgium’ consists of conflicting communities: the one where they spoke French; the one where they spoke Flemish; and the capital, Brussels, where they’re supposed to speak both. But the ties did not always bind.
into the woods Anyone passingly familiar with cinema made in Belgium – either bit – will have noticed that linguistic tensions still occasionally bubble to the surface in films, and do so in several of those referred to in this book. In The Ardennes, for instance, when Dave and Kenny head off into that densely forested area, part playground, part torture-chamber, they find themselves surrounded by people who [a] are not that pleased to see them: and [b] speak French. In TV series Clan, the odious Jean-Claude not only has a French name but also a chalet in this same French-speaking area [not that it provides that much of a safe-haven for him]. Most sinister of all, the forces that threaten Sam and his fellow scouts in Cub are, once again, French-speaking, starting with the two bullies on the quad-bike and soon getting much, much worse. “I got a lot of flak for that,” laughs director Jonas Govaerts, “but when I was a kid I remember our scout leaders saying something like – ‘There are evil locals afoot, so better stay in the camp!’” The original title of the 2014 Flemish film Belgian Rhapsody is Brabançonne, the name of Belgium’s national anthem, which can be sung in French or Flemish [or German or English]. The film tackles the rivalry between two brass bands, one from Flanders, the other from French-speaking Wallonia. “There was a big difference,” says the film’s star, Amaryllis Uitterlinden, recalling the press tour. “When we did the premiere in [Flemish-speaking] Antwerp, there were 30 or 40 press people and it was a big event: it was in all the newspapers and magazines, and on the news on every channel. Then, the day after, we went to [French-speaking] Mons and it was really mellow – there were, like, three reporters.” genuine genre, genuine flemish Although Belgian Rhapsody makes the issue explicit with the brass-band competition, the language conflict is rarely to the fore in Flemish films: like class in a British film, it is taken for granted – a permanent thread in the weave of local life. It is something with which the film makers interviewed for this book have grown up, their characters able to switch between languages like Rudy speaking French to his friend Rachid
2014 — Belgian Rhapsody, Vincent Bal 2012 — The Broken Circle Breakdown, Felix van Groeningen
2008 — Moscow, Belgium, Christophe Van Rompaey 2005 — Forever, Jonas Govaerts 2014 — Marsman, Eshref Reybrouck
in Offline, or the ‘new Belgians’ on the streets of Brussels in the films of El Arbi and Fallah, who are equally bilingual – and even trilingual. There is a kind of paradox at work here. There is, on the one hand, a real need for the details of Flemish life to be accurately portrayed, for the place itself to be at the centre of the story, or at the very least granted citizenship in the world of cinema. In his interview, Robin Pront pays tribute to Govaerts for revealing, in his student short Forever, that you could make a genuine genre film with a genuine Flemish setting. Likewise El Arbi and Fallah, together with their DOP Robrecht Heyvaert, ensure that their films’ palette captures the heat and colour of the streets of the Molenbeek quarter of Brussels in Image and Black. At the same time, the tattoo parlour in Forever or the Gare du Nord at the end of Black are the settings for stories which seek to go far beyond the frontiers of Flanders. The Chinese tattooist Dr Lee in Forever would be equally at home in any city [or any episode of The Twilight Zone], while the Romeo & Juliet story in all its universality – the love that is stronger than death – is the dominant theme in Black. This is more than just to reiterate the old cliché that the more locally specific a story is, the more chance it has of being universally understood. Rather, it is to say that the filmmakers interviewed in this book accept that their style of filmmaking owes much to American cinema of the 1970s and 1980s [Martin Scorsese is a frequently acknowledged inspiration], but the environment is specific. Universal, but Made in Flanders. It is cultural imperialism in reverse – or, if you prefer, casual and unashamed appropriation. home-town truths Not all the filmmakers interviewed here aim to emulate Scorsese. Ken Loach would be a more appropriate model for Peter Monsaert, whose Offline is set fairly and squarely in the director’s home town of Ghent and draws much of its strength from the observation of an ordinary person in an ordinary milieu. So, too, in different ways, does Christophe Van Rompaey’s Moscow, Belgium [Moscou is a suburb of Ghent]. The Coen brothers are cited as an influence on the
TV series Marsman by director Eshref Reybrouck. For Fien Troch and Bas Devos, Flemish suburbia – safe, neat and prosperous – hides real tensions beneath its surface. Caroline Strubbe finds a bleak poetry in the industrialised outskirts of Antwerp in Missing Persons Area – but then reproduces the same effect on the south coast of England in I’m the Same, I’m an Other. If these examples seem self-contradictory – genre co-existing with social realism, shock effects with poetic imagery, suburban anomie with post-industrial beauty – it is because the filmmakers interviewed in this book have varying agendas and diverse styles. The above generalisations seek to examine motivation and approach, not to lay out the template for a typical Flemish film. There isn’t one. a kaleidoscope of voices There is a kaleidoscope of voices in this book, with 16 individuals grouped around 15 filmographies [the difference is accounted for by the fact that, so far, every foot of film signed ‘Adil El Arbi’ is also signed ‘Bilall Fallah’]. The interviews all start from the same point – why film? – and are published in question-&-answer format to keep the voices as authentic as possible. Obviously they have been edited: none of the interviewees is speaking his or her first language. More importantly, conversations often loop back on themselves in a way which is clear when spoken but less so when put down on the page. So, yes, we have edited the interviews, but we have done our best to preserve the individual voices with their enthusiasms and insights intact. The interviews were conducted between December 2015 and early March 2016, some time before the bomb attacks on Zaventem airport and the Brussels Metro. That explains why there is no reference to the most dramatic event in recent Belgian history. More prosaically, these dates straddle a number of major film festivals, notably Sundance, Rotterdam and Berlin, where several of the films discussed were screened and at which some won prizes. This was not always known at the time of the interview. So far as this book is concerned, ‘today’ is Monday April 11, 2016 – the day it was delivered to the printers. Intriguingly, this turns out to be a significant date
for two of the 16. Check the dates of birth at the end of each interview! Of the filmmakers interviewed, the majority – 12 – are directors; some are also writers and/or producers; two of the interviewees are cinematographers; one is an editor; and one is a showrunner – a television term which is still quite new in the business, and entirely new in Europe. Their ages range from 27 to 41; their average age is 33. All but one of them went to film school: eight to St-Lukas [properly LUCA School of Arts, Campus St-Lukas, Brussels]; five to RITCS [Royal Institute for Theatre, Cinema & Sound]. Both of these are in Brussels, the latter offering technical as well as artistic training. Two of the filmmakers went to KASK [Koninklijke Academie voor Schone Kunsten/Royal Academy of Fine Arts] in Ghent, a conservatory-style school. Most of them are city boys and girls, growing up in Brussels, Antwerp, Leuven or Ghent, so it seems fair to assume – an assumption confirmed by several of those interviewed – that they were exposed, as teenagers, to much the same cinematic influences as anyone growing up in Europe in the last decade[s] of the 20th century. Of the eight filmmakers who went to St-Lukas, all overlapped by at least one year with one another. Of that same intake, several have remained friends, frequently working on each other’s films. If one institution has helped shape Flemish cinema in the teens of the third millennium, it is St-Lukas. not the usual suspects Each filmmaker has his or her own style, but the St-Lukas mob seem more interested in making films with which audiences will connect, rather than pleasing the critics or winning prizes at festivals. The word ‘mainstream’ carries unfortunate connotations in the world of film criticism, and those who swim in its cinematic waters risk having their work looked down upon. But the St-Lukas filmmakers who made the movies Black, The Ardennes and Cub, or the TV series Cordon or Bevergem [The Natives], seem unfazed by this – indeed, they seem consciously to embrace it. Says Robin Pront, “The people who are making movies now who I knew from school weren’t the ones you would have expected. They weren’t the usual suspects – the ones who were already
into photography and smoked little roll-up cigarettes.” The only really striking exception to this is Bas Devos, director of Violet, who [a] went to St-Lukas; and [b] is happy to swim against the stream, albeit not to the point of muddying the waters. Violet is very much an auteur movie and Devos will, he says, continue “to make films in the same style; but I will also fight to ensure that they are not inaccessible”. KASK in Ghent either appeals to or attracts those with more ‘personal’ styles of filmmaking, whether the issue-driven social realism of Peter Monsaerts’ Offline or the poetic camera of Nathalie Teirlinck. This is, however, a tentative conclusion, since both filmmakers have new films in the pipeline – Monsaert, Le ciel flamand; Teirlinck, Tonic Immobility – which were not available for viewing at time of writing. They will, I suspect, be totally different from each other. Intriguingly, however, the central adult character in both is a sex worker struggling to build or retain a relationship with a young offspring. meet and learn Wherever they studied, the filmmakers interviewed here are unanimous, albeit with different emphases, in their assessment of their filmschool years. For most, the chance to meet and learn from the previous generation of filmmakers – including such established directors as Stijn Coninx, Dorothée Van Den Berghe, Michaël R. Roskam, Fien Troch; cinematographer Walther van den Ende; and editor Nico Leunen – was a vital part of their film-school experience. For some, notably Devos and Teirlinck, the discovery that there was more to cinema than Hollywood was a major part of going to film school. But, like filmmakers everywhere, all of them recall wanting to be doing rather than studying; to be on set rather than in a classroom. Cinematographer Heyvaert speaks for most of his contemporaries when he says “I don’t think they can teach you in a school; they can explain it, but it’s entirely different when you go on set.” Finally, those directors whose career to date has mainly been in television, albeit in high-concept series for the BBC or Netflix, were in two cases out of three graduates of RITCS, where the course focus was on ‘audiovisual techniques’.
2015 — Black, Adil El Arbi & Bilall Fallah 2015 — Problemski Hotel, Manu Riche
2013 — The Verdict, Jan Verheyen 2014 — Waste Land, Pieter Van Hees
Also, among the RITCS graduates are one of the two cinematographers, Heyvaert [who soon linked up, however, with St-Lukas alumni Pront and El Arbi and Fallah]; the only editor, David Verdurme; and the book’s only documentarian, Pieter-Jan De Pue, who shot much of The Land of the Enlightened himself on a wind-up Bolex camera [charging batteries proved almost impossible in the mountains of Afghanistan] and won the Cinematography Award in the World Cinema – Documentary section of Sundance 2016 for his work.
we didn’t get before. Obviously our movie isn’t about terrorism, but there’s some kind of similar mechanism in the psychology of those characters who grow into a gang.” This one – somewhat ironic – element apart, contemporary issues play little part in the films discussed in this book, possibly because what is topical or important in Belgium – or Flanders – scarcely scratches the surface anywhere else in Europe. To be sure, generic issues like corruption and judicial incompetence drive the plots of thrillers such as The Verdict, Waste Land and the new Antwerp-based project discussed in these pages by Pront. But the focus in all of them is firmly on national identity? So what does Belgian cinema made in Flanders one or, at the most, two individuals fighting back have to say about Belgium and being Belgian? At against any number of oppressive forces. the level of national identity, not all that much, beyond the limited number of side-swipes at the cinema and tv language issue noted above. If there are com- If there is one thematic link between the films ments made about what it means to be a mem- discussed here, then, it is that most of them ber of the Flemish Community of Belgium, they focus on someone confronted with a crisis or to are made via the family relationships of Offline whom life in general has dealt a shitty hand: the and The Ardennes, Black and Clan, with the fil- Ostend trawler men in Cargo; the young BMX ter set to social realist, dramatic, romantic or rider in Violet; the star-crossed lovers in Black; the tragi-comic. There is a distant echo of the Dutroux bullied boy scout in Cub; the paroled criminal case which traumatised the nation two decades in Offline; the brothers in The Ardennes… Life is ago, but that comes, not in a Flemish film, but no more fair in Flanders than it is anywhere else very obliquely in UK TV series The Missing which in the world, and the characters in the films rewas shot in Belgium; tapped into local funding; ferred to in this book seek a way of going forward used local talent on both sides of the camera; but towards conciliation or else fight violence with violence. Crime and punishment is a recurring is set in France. Europe’s escalating refugee crisis is treated theme. That is true of many European films, but more as an exercise in the absurd in Problemski the conflict seems harsher in Flanders. Hotel, adapted from a popular local novel by Whether or not they recognise a thematic link, Dimitri Verhulst, than as a social or political is- one clear trend does emerge explicitly from resue. Gilles Coulier’s debut feature Cargo involves cent events, however: for the generation of uppeople-smuggling across the Channel from coming Flemish filmmakers, in or just out of their Ostend, but Coulier insists the film’s real focus thirties, the dividing line between cinema and is on family relationships. And if Black seemed, television is eroding fast. Of those interviewed in the aftermath of the Paris shootings, to share for this book, two of the directors – Tim Mielants some of its concerns with the newspaper head- and Jakob Verbruggen – have done their best lines current at the time of its premiere, this was work and seen their careers really take off as a largely a coincidence, although El Arbi admits to result of high-profile English-language TV series. a tentative parallel between the film’s theme and Both had initially done striking work back home: contemporary reality. “When we did interviews Mielants on Code 37 and Cordon; Verbruggen on for the Dutch press,” he says, “they kept asking Vermist and Code 37. But their British and US us, ‘What is the link between the fact that they series – The Tunnel and Peaky Blinders in have gangs in Molenbeek and the terrorism in Mielants’ case; The Fall, London Spy and House of that neighbourhood?’ They were questions that Cards in Verbruggen’s – were on a different scale
2016 â€” House Of Cards, Jakob Verbruggen 18
altogether. The emergence of lavish TV 13-parters is not new, of course: it dates back to [at least] The Sopranos, which first aired as long ago as 1999. But the number, the ambition and above all the budgets have increased sharply since the ducks first settled on Tony Soprano’s pond. And Flemish filmmakers have benefitted. strands and structures Demanding more complex characterisation, deeper plot strands and a whole new dramatic structure, the next generation of TV miniseries is helping launch the next generation of film makers in Flanders. Malin-Sarah Gozin has introduced the US job-title of ‘showrunner’ to Flemish television, writing, creating and guiding such series as Clan and the upcoming Tabula Rasa onto small screens in Belgium and beyond. On The Wire, Boardwalk Empire and [especially] House of Cards, established cinema directors have put their names to early episodes: Agnieszka Holland and Peter Medak on The Wire; Martin Scorsese on Boardwalk Empire; and David Fincher and Joel Schumacher on House of Cards. With the latter series, meanwhile, the two-part season finale was entrusted to Verbruggen, with impressive results. No surprise, then, that so many of the filmmakers interviewed for this book, while dutifully toe-
ing the line in confirming cinema as their ‘first love’ or ‘passion’, understand the opportunities offered to them by television, especially now that ‘big screen’ and ‘big audience’ no longer necessarily go together. “If you do a film,” says David Williamson, who last year shot Gilles Coulier’s TV series The Natives, “there are only so many people who see it. But with this, everybody sees it. It’s incredible. I’ve been working for five years and suddenly people around me have seen something I’ve done!” Is there a price to pay? Maybe, maybe not. Verbruggen insists that, as set up by producer/ director Fincher, House of Cards offers considerable freedom to individual directors, much as horror films or westerns did to a previous generation of directors: deliver the goods and there is space to do your own thing. But there are limits, which are liable to be decisive for Belgian cinema made in Flanders in the coming years. Govaerts is not alone in making an emotional case for cinema as the medium that is still paramount when it comes to personal artistic expression. Whatever its flaws, he says, speaking for many of his contemporaries, a film, unlike a TV series, is a personal thing: “still mine, still my baby”.
— Gilles Coulier made quite a mark with his debut three films. His first short, Iceland, was selected for the Cinéfondation at Cannes, while his third, Mont Blanc, competed for the Palme d’Or and was made with the help of the VAF Wildcard he got for Iceland. He made the transition to long-form drama with TV series The Natives, about the weird day-to-day life of a village, which was a major hit on Flemish TV channel Canvas in 2015, drawing more than 600,000 viewers. Coulier recently set up his own production company, De Wereldvrede [‘World Peace’] with Gilles de Schryver, and the company has a number of projects in development and one in production: Coulier’s own feature debut, Cargo. —
2016 — Cargo
When did you decide you wanted to go to film school? When I was 13 or 14 and I saw Citizen Kane. A couple of years later I saw Man Bites Dog and I started thinking ‘God, this is something else!’ First I wanted to become an actor but my mother said ‘No, you’re not going to study that because you’re already an actor’ – she meant not literally but in my head: I was a very energetic child! So I said ‘Then I want to be a director’. My father didn’t believe that was a proper career. He said I should get a diploma first because a lot of people started studying film but only a few graduated. And even if they graduated, few of them actually got to make a film. So he said ‘Do economics first’. I did, and had a very good year party-wise but not so much studying-wise and ended up with my worst grades ever. I told my father, ‘See. This is what you get when you push someone to do something he doesn’t want to do’. What was important to you about film school? I think for me – although this is something I realised afterwards – the real reason to go to film school is that, in a very calm way, you can watch films and do exercises with actors who you would normally never dare to call. It was like four or five years of exercises without having to pay people. For me, that was the big reason to do it. I’ve never been a very theoretical person.
2009 — Iceland 2010 — Paroles
Like a lot of the people I’ve talked to who have been successful, you had to repeat a year at St-Lukas. Yeah, I got stuck in my first year because I was very immature. In fact, my first two years – three if you take the double one into account – were crap. I look at my exercises now and think ‘My god, what were you thinking?’ Then, in my third year, I realised I had to do something! I made Iceland and it went very well: it won a Wildcard and was selected for Cannes. Then I did Paroles, which also did very well internationally. That was when it really started. Do you think of your short films as training exercises? No, I don’t think it’s correct to call them that. I really put my heart and soul into them and I always tried to do them properly. I think stories for shorts are not the same as stories for feature films. A short film works a lot more on suggestion. For me, it was very interesting to see what you have to do to touch an audience. In short films, you don’t need a plot: you can build it on anything that will touch an audience. Is there something that unites your short films? Well, first of all there’s [the actor] Wim Willaert who links them – which is a good thing! On the other hand they’re all about family, about returning, about coming
2012 — Mont Blanc
back to a place you left. Family for me is a very interesting topic to work around because you have so many layers, so many things that happened in the past that you don’t have to mention. In Mont Blanc, I never say what happened between the father and the son. And no one after a screening has ever said ‘What happened in the past’? People don’t mind. It’s private; they don’t want to know. We know something bad happened because, otherwise, you wouldn’t react to your own father like that, you know? I think that is what links the films. And then, crew-wise, I nearly always work with the same people I studied with. I’m a very loyal person. What about the Wildcard: was that a big help after the first film? I’m going to be honest: at first, when I’d made Iceland, I thought ‘Yeah, now I’m going to make a feature film’. I had the idea of using the Wildcard to make a feature film, but a lot of people – like Felix van Groeningen – told me ‘Gilles, be careful, be-
cause you only get to make a first feature once’. I thought I was ready, but actually I wasn’t. I made Mont Blanc and after that I thought, ‘I’m so happy I made this film because I got to learn so much – more than I learned on the first two’, because we had bad luck on that film. You get to cope with that. What was the bad luck? We had bad weather – the opening shot was completely fucked. We had cars breaking down, we had a crash on set with one of the cars: it was total mayhem. But you get to cope with that and you get to learn how to work with a producer professionally, because we had Dirk Impens producing the film. It taught me a lot.
After Mont Blanc, you still didn’t make a feature: you made a TV series, The Natives. I was writing [my first feature] Cargo, and suddenly these guys came along and said they wanted me to direct The Natives. These guys? Yeah, there were about 12 or 13 actors who got together and decided to make a series about a village and asked me to direct it. I think it had to do with the way I work with actors and the way I approach reality. I wanted to make a feature film but at this stage in my life I thought I still needed more time. Do you think working with actors is a big part of your skill as a director? A lot of people have directing talents. The only thing I have is working with people. I’m not the ‘crazy camera’ type of director, I like to give people the feeling that they’re watching something real. And you do that by working with actors. It also has to do with my crew: we worked 64 days with a crew that was very, very young and never had any problems. I think we made a beautiful show but that is because the atmosphere on set was so good between the actors and the crew. You feel that in the result. You also set up production company De Wereldvrede along the way. Yes, that was after they came to me to say ‘Gilles, we have a script for you and we want you to direct it’. I saw [Belgian rapper] Stromae was also his own producer, and I thought ‘That’s cool, I want to do that!’ I’m young and ambitious, so I decided to start my own company and filled out all the forms. I think if I knew back then how hard it is to make a TV series, I might never have done it. But I’m very happy now that I did. You started the company in partnership with Gilles de Schryver. Yes, he’s a theatre director and actor; he’s the blonde guy in Hasta La Vista. How did you two meet up? We met on the set of Paroles, my second short. He was one of the actors and he became a very close friend. He comes from a family of entrepreneurs, as do I. We were talking at Film Fest Ghent and I was saying ‘Isn’t it cool? Stromae does his own thing. Maybe we should do something like that?’ Then it went quiet for a year until these people come to us and said ‘We have a script’, and I called Gilles that night and said ‘I think we have a project. Maybe we should start the company’. So now you have a company, an office… We are three people now: me, Gilles and Wouter Sap – he’s like the CFO and he’s mainly doing money things. When I’m shooting, I’m not as focused on the production company as they are. But when we are doing other projects, like we did with the short film Guest directed by Moon Blaisse, which had a Wildcard, I was executive producer on that. You’ve probably noticed that I am very energetic. I need to work on several things at once. We have several up-and-coming young directors whose films we’re going to develop.
Tell me about your first feature, Cargo, which started shooting earlier this year. Where did the idea come from? I think it was 2010 when Dirk Impens approached me. It was with the Gang of Four: Lenny Van Wesemael who made Café Derby; Tim Mielants who did Cordon; Anke Blondé; and me. He gathered us round the table and said ‘With you four guys, I want to make four films’. Some of us had ideas – but not me. Then I went to Ostend one weekend and went for a walk in the fishing port and I thought ‘This is it; this is the world I want to show’. I’d done Paroles and Iceland in Ostend because I love the place: you have the city feeling of Brussels but also the openness of the sea. Then you have the refugee problem. I also wanted to do something about three brothers because I am one of three brothers myself. In Cargo, the father dies at sea and the three sons have to save the family fishing company. They have a lot of economic problems but also problems in their relationship with each other. To get the business back on track, they decide to do illegal refugee trafficking to England from Ostend. The story has changed a hundred times but it stays with three brothers and it stays in the fishing world. Do you think your next project after Cargo will be film or television? It doesn’t matter so long as you approach television like cinema. You will never have the time that you have for a film. With The Natives we shot eight minutes a day. Now with Cargo I think it’s three. But a lot of people told me they think The Natives was very cinematic television. I think we should narrow the boundary between cinema and television and approach them both in the same way. For me it doesn’t make any difference which it is.
Filmography Born Bruges, October 30, 1986 Studied LUCA School of Arts, Campus St-Lukas, Brussels, 2005-10 2002 2009 2010 2012 2015 2016
Snapshot, short, 19 mins. Iceland, short, 22 mins. Now/Here, short, 19 mins, cinematographer. Paroles, short, 22 mins. Mont Blanc, short, 15 mins. Bevergem [The Natives], series, 8 x 50 mins. Guest, short, 20 mins, executive producer. Cargo, feature, in production.
2016 â€” Cargo
Pieter-Jan De Pue
— Graduating from film school with O, a ‘creative documentary’ about the search for water in Brazil which screened at numerous festivals, Pieter-Jan De Pue worked briefly for production company Czar before making the trip to Afghanistan that would lead to his debut feature, the drama-doc hybrid The Land of the Enlightened. Eight years in the making, the film screened in Sundance, where it won the Special Jury Award for Best Cinematography in the World Cinema Documentary section, and in the Tiger Competition in Rotterdam in 2016. —
You didn’t actually begin by studying film, did you? I did, but when I first went to the Open Day at the film school, I wasn’t really convinced. I had some very strange interviews and I felt there was a kind of pretentious atmosphere that I wasn’t comfortable with, so I decided to take a year off and make photo reports. I just took my camera and went to Palestine – Gaza, the West Bank. It was 2002 and the Israeli army was trying to occupy all the major Palestinian cities. I started making a photo report and stayed with a Palestinian family. And you’re still doing photo reports, I believe? Yes, I’ve just [January 2016] come back from East Ukraine. The Red Cross is starting up a lot of humanitarian aid projects and they asked me to take pictures about them. It was very emotional because, right now, they’re opening a lot of mass graves and giving back the bodies to the families of the rebels and the families of the Ukrainian soldiers. I was there doing interviews with people who were looking for missing relatives – incredible, awful stories. But you did finally end up going to film school? After four or five months I returned to Belgium [in 2002] a couple of days before the entry examinations for the RITCS film school. I decided to forget all those strange conversations and try it anyway. So I did the exam and, one week later, I was a film student! You sound as though you didn’t quite fit the mould: did you find it worthwhile spending those four years at RITCS? Definitely, because I think it forced me to learn the classical way of filmmaking. I think I needed this so that, afterwards, I could do what I wanted. It was very useful to learn how a proper classical film is made and what the basic rules are. If you know those rules and the way of working, then you can go all the way. So even though I had a lot of fights and discussions with my teachers – they said I was too poetic and abstract – it was a very useful time. But my graduation project was also a very visual kind of experimental film. This was O? Yes. It was a documentary about the search for water. We filmed it in the Amazon region at a time when there was a huge drought. The film has a fictional storyline about people looking for the water of the Amazon river, which was disappearing in the middle of the jungle. You tell me it’s about that but, if I came looking for a documentary about the search for water in the Amazon basin, I would expect something very different from O. Is that another instance of your argument with the film school? I think the conflict was mainly about the fact that I wanted to try to tell everything in images and that I was not focusing on the storyline and the dramatic structure. That was also the expectation of my producer [Bart Van Langendonck] for The Land of the Enlightened: that I should really focus on a dramatic storyline. OK, it can be very visual, but it has to tell a story.
2006 — O
O won prizes and also earned you a Wildcard from the VAF? No, not a Wildcard, because at that time there were only two. But they liked it very much and gave me a kind of special mention. Then it took you eight years to make that feature, which became The Land of the Enlightened. The first year after I graduated, in 2006, I got picked up by a production company, Czar, who asked me to direct commercial films, but more for NGOs and more at the lower-budget end. It was a very interesting learning experience, and it was during 2007 that I decided to go to Afghanistan for the first time to make photo stories for NGOs and to learn about the culture, the language and the country in general. After that first trip I came back with the idea for a script. How long did that first trip last? Four months, maybe a bit more. It was very chaotic and we had many, many troubles. The first month I was working for NGOs, so I was travelling with them and embedded in their kind of structure. But then I started travelling on my own with an Afghan friend. Afghanistan is not a country to travel in! We got arrested a few times and we illegally crossed the border with China – which was a stupid mistake – and were jailed in China. Then we came back into Afghanistan and people thought we were spies. We got robbed by bandits: we lost our passports and all our money and everything. But, on the other hand, during that trip, despite it being so much trouble, I discovered all the elements which are now the basis of the storyline for the film The Land of the Enlightened.
2016 — The Land of the Enlightened
Which is? The children dig up anti-tank mines and other kinds of explosives and sell them to the lapis lazuli mine [in Badhakshan province], which is the biggest in the world. The miners use the explosives for mining the stones and, from there, we continued our story of how the stones cross the border and are sold for weapons to come back into Afghanistan for the Taliban. It’s one big octopus network of smuggling and selling: a whole economy based on the war. How did you set about making this story into a film? I returned in 2008 and got embedded for the first time with the US army. In 2009, I went back again looking for stories. 2010 was the first shoot, which I did together with a Belgian sound engineer in the east of Afghanistan. Then in 2011 we went back to make preparations with the children. We had a lot of material of the army but very little from the perspective of the Afghan kids – and that, of course, was the main story. So, four trips in four years? Yup! Then in 2012 we shot some footage in winter just to see what the difference was and to make teasers for the fundraising. 2013 was the first shoot with a European crew. But it was very short, because we got attacked by the Taliban, or bandits or insurgents – I don’t know which. Luckily, nobody got killed or seri-
ously injured. The Taliban destroyed all our equipment and we were evacuated back to Belgium. After that, the insurance company didn’t want to cover any more European crew members, so Bart asked me to rewrite the story in such a way that I could film it myself with an entirely Afghan crew. Finally, in 2014, I went back to Afghanistan with a Belgian sound engineer for one month in a safe part of the country. All the rest I had to do with an Afghan crew, which I first had to train to work with cinema gear. I was there in the field for seven months, and that’s when we shot 80% of the movie. What did you shoot on? All on 16mm: only three takes are digital. Those are time-lapse shots of stars, because film is not sensitive enough for that. We had a video assist to start with, but we got rid of it because it used too much battery. In Afghanistan, everything is related to power. The villages don’t have electricity, so you have to take generators and you have to take fuel everywhere you go. We shot a lot on [wind-up] Bolex cameras, without batteries. Another thing is, I’ve worked with film for a very long time and I just love the format: it’s so organic, so beautiful, even if it’s grainy. The dramatic landscapes in Afghanistan, the light, the dust – it was all a perfect match with an analogue format like 16mm, especially the roughness, the way those kids are living… So from the very beginning, I decided to continue with 16mm and I convinced my producers to let me do so.
2016 — The Land of the Enlightened
Were you comfortable being selected for the ‘World Documentary’ programme at Sundance, because that puts a label on your film that you have resisted doing? Very happy. There was also a panel discussion at Sundance, because I’m not the only one who has this kind of hybrid style in the documentary section. The original intention was always to tell the dreams of those kids. I’d talked to them about how they see Afghanistan after the war, what changes they wanted to come, so I knew that if I wanted to dive into their dreams, I’d have to fictionalise it. Also, the aesthetic aspect of the film was very important to me. I think the caravans crossing the mountains and the landscapes and the beauty of Afghanistan had to be part of the film. So I decided to work with the people who are doing this kind of smuggling in the area where they are active and to do it in a very realistic way, but at the same time also to put in scenes to really get the beauty of it. You’ve spent eight years of your life on this film: what are you going to do next? There are a lot of projects coming up. There is a script by Tarkovsky which he wrote in 1984 about the search for a paradise on earth that also takes place in Afghanistan. A Belgian producer has the script and has asked me to film the part
in Afghanistan. The script is in three parts, so it’s maybe going to be with three directors. Then I’m writing a film about the Ardennes in the south of Belgium – about a poaching gang in the 1980s and 1990s who were involved in all kinds of trafficking and corrupt things. It’s going to be a very dark film, I think: completely fictional, but again based on a reality. Then, I’ve been dreaming for a long time about a book, Three Day Road by Joseph Boyden, a Canadian writer. It’s the story of two Cree Indians who grew up in the forests of Canada then, when they were 18, were sent to the First World War trenches here in Belgium and became snipers. It’s a very beautiful, intense and emotional book, and I really want to film it. So still the same mix of documentary reality and poetic visuals that puzzled your film school teachers, then? [Laughs] Filmography Born Ghent, May 23, 1982 Studied RITCS School of Arts, Erasmus Hogeschool, Brussels, 2002-06 2006 2016
O, short, 19 mins. The Land of the Enlightened, feature, drama/documentary, 87 mins.
— Bas Devos’ four short films, made during and just after his time at film school, show a clearly emerging style creating mystery from seemingly everyday objects and events and “trying to make the invisible visible”; paving the way for his debut feature, Violet. The film tells the story of a young BMX biker who witnesses and has to come to terms with the death of a friend. It won the Grand Prix in Generation 14plus in Berlin in 2014. Devos is working on the script of his second film, currently entitled In Our Absence. —
2014 — Violet
When did you decide you wanted to become a filmmaker? I went to film school a bit on a hunch, not so much with this grand idea of becoming a filmmaker. I liked actors, I liked photography. For some reason in my 18-yearold head, it all came together in film. Which film school did you go to? St-Lukas in Brussels. My first two years were about me finding my way. I had to repeat my second year and I really wondered ‘Do I have to do this?’ But I think, with making the decision to go for it, there was something that clicked. What did you get out of film school, do you think? For me, the important thing was to meet certain people. In the last two years, there was a master-class by Walther van den Ende who was at that time one of our best-known DOPs. That was a very important class for me. It made me think a lot about how to use the camera in a different way. Also, meeting up with Fien Troch who started teaching in my last years there and who was the mentor of my final film; and Nico Leunen, the editor, who was also involved in helping us complete our films.
Were there any particular films or filmmakers outside film school that made an impression on you? Before going to film school, there was one film I saw that I still think is one of the best ever made and was entirely different from everything I knew: Aguirre, the Wrath of God by Werner Herzog, which I saw when I was 16 or 17. The first time I didn’t understand what I was seeing, but I was still overwhelmed. This combination of rationally not entirely understanding what I saw but at the same time being emotionally so swept away or captivated – that really triggered something. What about the films you made at film school? Well, the first short film I made was called Taurus and had no dialogue. It’s very unclear what has happened but there is blood involved and two boys are walking home. It got picked up, to my surprise, by festivals and it was shown a lot – much more than the films I made after! But there was, for me, something not very satisfying about it. I was, like, ‘It must be possible to make a film in 10 minutes where nothing terrible happens!’ So slowly, over the next three [short] films, I tried to find how something could be moving without there being this big dramatic event. In We Know… there is the suggestion of something on-going, something with a grandfather who isn’t well. Some people don’t find it enough and they can’t really get into it. For other people, it can be effective and touching. You have a very distinctive visual style, where at certain moments you can’t really see what is going on: it’s too dark or you put colour over it. Are you challenging your audience there? I don’t know. In The Close, for example, you see one brother and at the end of the shot you see the second brother and there is this long pause of almost blackness, although there are still things marginally visible. This is a form of telling something: I am very interested in how formal aspects of film, loudness and quietness, space, darkness and light – what these things can tell us. It’s a way of getting to the audience, not a way of losing them. People are drawn in by this almost nothingness. Which of the four was your graduation film? Pillar, and it’s somehow related to Violet, my first feature. It is about the first night two parents spend after they learn that their son has died. It begins with them seeing his body laid out in the morgue and then we see them in their house where they spend a sleepless night. The scenes inside the house are intercut with shots from outside, where you just see places. It’s like 12 shots: six in the house and six outside, and it’s not clear whether these places that you see are related to the boy or just emotive… It’s about grieving and the impossibility of really showing it because it’s so private and public at the same time. I explored that more thoroughly in Violet, but it was already present in Pillar. Did any of these short films get you a Wildcard from the VAF? I’ve never had one, and maybe that was not such a bad thing. Sometimes, when I speak to students and see how much they are focused on those Wildcards, it kind of scares me. There are only two of these things a year and they don’t make a career. You have to make your own career; and, if you are passionate, you will do it.
2014 — Violet
How did Violet come to be made? I wrote it at the end of 2009, beginning of 2010, and we filmed in the summer of 2012. The main character is played by Cesar De Sutter who is the son of actor Koen De Sutter. Cesar is the young kid in my first short film, Taurus, so I knew him already. He was eight at the time. I went through a very long casting process because I didn’t want to take the easy way out. I found really nice, interesting kids but I wasn’t satisfied. Finally, after a couple of months of casting and doing auditions, I went to visit Cesar and I remember being in the house, seeing him for 15 minutes and I had already decided. What I found very interesting is the fact that his father, Koen, is a very strong actor as well, and I was already thinking it would be interesting to cast him, not in the role of his father, but as the father of the dead boy – to create, when they meet, this very peculiar tension, like an unspoken intimacy. Father/son relationships are obviously pretty important in most of the short films, especially Pillar and certainly in Violet. Why do you think that is? Apart from the relationship between lovers, I think it is – or it can be – the most loving relationship imaginable. There is a kinship and a forgiveness. I want people to recognise things in my films and to relate them to their own lives, so choosing to highlight these kinds of relationships makes a lot of sense. Can you explain the title of Violet? Now this I’ve rehearsed: I’ve been asked that at 60 different festivals! There are two main reasons. The first is the colour violet, which is at the edge of our spectrum; it’s basically the last colour we are able to see before we get to ultraviolet, so it’s a border between what is visible and what isn’t. The film attempts to make something present that can’t be shown. No matter how much we try to squeeze it into dialogue or into emotive scenes underscored with music, there is still something that escapes, that is more mystical. I think the film attempts to generate this between the audience and the screen; it creates something happening in that space. Then second: the song in the middle of the film is called ‘Violet’ and when I say ‘violet’ in English, I often hear ‘violent’, which is interesting because the film opens with a violent act but the rest of it is one long attempt to negate this violence.
What are you working on at the moment? I’m writing a new film whose working title is In Our Absence, which is from a sentence I picked from a book by Jonathan Crary called 24/7, which basically explores how sleep has very slowly become, in his words, ‘the last vestige of humanity’. Everything else in our lives has been eaten away by what he sees as global capitalism. I found this very appropriate for the film I’m working on because, even though it doesn’t relate entirely to sleep, it does speak about another vestige of being human that is under attack: the concept of home. What does it mean to have a home, especially here in Brussels, where you have so many people from so many places who come to find, basically, in the end, a home – a place where they can be at peace and where they can attempt to separate themselves, even momentarily, from the rest of the world; where they can be absent. So you’re applying for production funding and you would hope to shoot sometime next year, five years after Violet. Do you do other things in between? Do you make commercials, music clips? No. My main source of income is lighting designs for theatre and dance productions, but I have chosen not to make commercials. And nobody has ever asked me to make a video clip! You’ve chosen to make films which go down what you might call ‘the festival route’. Do you think you will continue to make films in the same style? I don’t know. It’s not that I’m a moron: I do get that these films are maybe not for everybody. But I don’t find them inaccessible: I find them extremely accessible. It’s not a complicated thing. It asks you this very simple question: what is it you’re seeing? The only thing you have to do as a viewer is to respond. If you don’t want to respond, that’s OK: this film is not for you. People often say that films should be larger than life but that doesn’t mean they have to be about superheroes. It also means that you take our daily life and literally blow it up; you blow up the sound, you take every little creak of a house and you make it electrified and you make the things we no longer see visible. This is what I will continue exploring, so I think I will make films in the same style but I will also fight to ensure that they are not inaccessible.
Filmography Born Zoersel, April 11, 1983 Studied LUCA School of Arts, Campus St-Lukas, Brussels, 2001-06 2006 2008 2009 2014 2017
Taurus, short, 19 mins. Pillar, short, 15 mins. The Close, short, 15 mins. We Know…, short, 10 mins. Violet, feature, 85 mins. In Our Absence, feature, in development.
2014 â€” Violet
Adil El Arbi & Bilall Fallah °1988
Directors — Virtually inseparable since they met at film school in 2007, Belgian-born Adil El Arbi  and Bilall Fallah  began co-directing films in their third year at St-Lukas and have since jointly made two shorts, two features and a TV series. Following the successful screening of their latest and most ambitious film, Black, which won the Discovery Award at the Toronto International Film Festival in September 2015, the duo have signed to direct sports drama The Big Fix for 20th Century Fox [announced after these interviews were conducted]. El Arbi, meanwhile, went solo to become a national celebrity in Belgium when he won TV competition De slimste mens ter wereld [The Smartest Man in the World] in December 2014. —
Adil El Arbi (l) and Bilall Fallah (r) 49
When did you know you wanted to go to film school? Adil When I was eight! I’ve always been fascinated by films: every time I had a hobby it was because of a movie. I wanted to be a palaeontologist because of Jurassic Park. Did your taste change as you got older? Adil Obviously. I learned more about Spike Lee and Oliver Stone and Martin Scorsese. But the big movies that Spielberg did will always remain the kind of movies I like to see. Tarantino I sort of didn’t understand when I was a kid, but now I do and I’m a big fan. How about you, Bilall? Bilall Same thing: all the passions I had when I was young were because of movies. When I saw Jurassic Park, I loved dinosaurs; Apollo 13, I loved astronauts. But there was one movie that was different: La haine. I was obsessed by that movie. I was, like, ‘Wow, this is a world that is really close to mine’. Was there ever any pressure on you from your family to do something other than go to film school? Adil It had been going on for so long, so they understood that it was a true passion. They were obviously a little bit concerned because it’s not the most obvious choice: if you study law or to be a doctor, you know you’re probably going to get a job. It’s different with cinema or with art: it’s not because you have a degree that you get to become a director. They were a little bit concerned about that. When did you two first meet up? Adil On the first day at St-Lukas in Brussels in September 2007. He was the only other Moroccan. Actually, he asked me if I was Moroccan and I said ‘Yes’ and that’s how we clicked. But he was already a very popular guy with everybody. Bilall All Moroccans are brothers to each other, you know. Adil Brother from another mother… How did you come to direct together? Surely film schools tend to think you should speak with your own voice and not share your film with somebody else? Bilall You know, Adil and I are risk-takers. I never thought I would work with somebody but when I was at film school, we were just directing together. It kept flowing organically, without thinking. We both had the same vision. It’s not like we wanted to work together: it just came naturally. How is it working together on set? Bilall Sometimes I’m more with visuals – with the cameraman – and Adil is with the actors. But we don’t make rules: we just come on a set and it happens. He’s more like the bad cop and I’m the good cop; he’s really hard and I’m the sweet guy. The good thing also is that, with two, you always have somebody to talk to. It helps us in so many different ways. Also, our productivity is doubled.
2015 — Black
How did it start? Adil The first short movie we did together was called Coupe ghoroto. It’s about a young kid in a rough neighbourhood in Brussels who wants to be a tough guy. So he meets a group of friends who really are tough guys and they say ‘Do you want to do an armed robbery’? It’s in the same vein as Black or Image. So all the films that you have made have been about much the same background? Adil A little bit. In film school they sort of pushed us in that direction: they wanted us to tell stories about people from other origins because, back then, nobody talked about that. In the beginning, we were not really interested: we thought it’s not that special because we’re living it, we’re seeing it. We didn’t think that it had any cinematic value. But little by little, step by step, we sort of realised that ‘Yeah, those stories are never told; nobody knows about them, so if we don’t tell them, who will’? It was a kind of discovery, you know, that that world should also be portrayed in cinema. Bilall It was an artistic film school so when we said we wanted to do Hollywood movies they were, like, ‘No way’. So we saw movies by Godard and Antonioni and all these artistic directors that we would never otherwise have seen. Are you glad about that? Bilall Yes, because we learned a lot. But the best thing about the school is that you’re taught by a lot of directors who had already made movies – Belgian directors like Michaël R. Roskam and Fien Troch and Dorothée Van Den Berghe: they were big inspirations for us. We learned about directing actors. But we still want to make Hollywood movies – big, epic movies.
2015 — Black
The first film of yours which anyone really saw outside of film school, was that your third year film? Adil Yeah, it was our third year; a short movie called Astaghfiro that got a second prize at the film festival in Ghent. But the movie that was really selected everywhere and won lots of prizes was Brothers – that was our Masters. That’s the one you got a Wildcard for? Adil That’s right. I think you two are virtually unique in having used the Wildcard to make your first feature, Image? Adil It happened twice before but this was the first time that the film had a wide release. In terms of distribution, it hasn’t ever happened before and we thought it would be a huge experience. Less than a year later, you made Black. Are you always going to work this fast? Is that part of your style? Adil Yeah. We love to direct; we are not really writers. We have to do it sometimes, because nobody writes script treatments for us, but we are more the action guys so we need to be on the set and in the editing room. Those are the two places where we are in our element. Michaël R. Roskam often tells us – he’s our mentor – to slow down. Maybe he’s right, but we’re not going to slow down too much!
Black is adapted from two novels: did you stick close to the books? Adil Well actually, when we started there were a lot of stories in the movie. It’s a movie about two gangs in Brussels and it’s also a love story. But when you edit a movie, the movie decides itself what it wants to be, and we focused more on the love story. It wasn’t necessarily what we intended to do in the beginning. The movie is also much rougher than what we thought it would be. By ‘rougher’, you mean more violent? Bilall The movie doesn’t want to be a comedy! You have the summertime feeling, the energy and the violence of people – the harsh stuff that is happening. It’s really close to what we felt when we read the book. But it’s also, as you say, a love story. Bilall It’s the Romeo & Juliet story, but it’s more a Juliet & Romeo story because there’s more focus on Mavela, the female character… Adil She’s really the driving force of the story: we follow everything through her eyes. She’s a black girl in Belgium and black people, Moroccan people, people of other origins, they have a feeling that they’re, like… Bilall They’re not part of society… Adil They come second. You’re more likely to have a job if you’re white and have a Flemish name than if you are black or Moroccan. So, yes, this 16-year-old girl is in a gang which is cool and she doesn’t see the danger. She feels part of the group,
2011 — Brothers
2014 — Image
like a family. Then she meets Marwan who is also in a gang for the same reasons. Before they met each other, they thought that the most important thing in their lives was the gang, but then they see there’s something more important: love. But if you’re in a gang, you’re not supposed to have a relationship with a person from another gang. Can you imagine working separately? Bilall Well, we’ve been working together now for 10 years already, so it’s going to be difficult. Besides, we have 100 other movies we want to make together. Tell me about the experience of screening Black in Toronto in September 2015. Was that another breakthrough for you? Bilall Toronto was one of the most special moments of my life. It was really like from rags to riches – the American dream! In the summer, we were finishing the movie; we didn’t know how it would turn out so we were stressing a lot. We thought that if it wasn’t a success we were going to be fucked. Then, in Toronto, we saw all the big agencies: CAA, UTA, WMI. We went to all these parties with all the big Hollywood actors, like Idris Elba, Naomi Watts… And everybody liked the movie! It was crazy. It was like a taste of how Hollywood would be. And then you went to Hollywood for real… Adil Yeah, we went there for a week and we had meetings with all the studios: Universal, 20th Century Fox and all those big star producers like Brian Glazer and Jerry Bruckheimer. So we had some cool discussions; sometimes we pitched our own stories and sometimes they told us what they had in the pipeline. Is that what your ambition is: to work in Hollywood – to play with the big train set? Adil Well, we got a lot of our cinema by watching big Hollywood movies but also movies that matter. You can make movies in Hollywood that are true, honest and auteurish: that’s what we want to do. We’re not really interested in doing big franchise action movies with superheroes. Bilall The most important thing is to tell a good story. The reason I love cinema is
2015 — Black
because of Hollywood movies and Hollywood directors. If you want to make science fiction or something epic like Gladiator, you have to go to Hollywood. It’s the only place where they can make something like that. Do you see yourself branching out a bit and making – maybe not a romantic comedy, but something a bit different? Bilall Romantic comedy? Never in my life! But maybe something like an action/ comedy. The stories of Image and Black were two stories that had to be told. But now we’re going to move onto a new world and we’re going to do new stuff.
Filmography Adil El Arbi, born Edegem [Antwerp], June 30, 1988 Bilall Fallah, born Vilvoorde, January 4, 1986 Studied LUCA School of Arts, Campus St-Lukas, Brussels, 2007-11 2009 2010 2011 2012 2014 2015 2016
Coupe ghoroto, short, 13 mins. Astaghfiro, short, 20 mins. Brothers, short, 23 mins. Bergica, TV sketch programme, 20 x 5 mins. Image, feature, 90 mins. Black, feature, 91 mins. The Big Fix, feature, pre-production.
— Jonas Govaerts launched his career with a number of atmospheric, squirm-inducing horror shorts, one of which, Of Cats & Women, won the Grand Prix at Sitges. His debut feature was Cub, the story of a scout troop threatened by a mysterious creature during a camping trip, which won Best Director at Sitges in 2014. He shares the directing credit on Malin-Sarah Gozin’s Tabula Rasa [see page 69] and is currently writing comedy/horror story Heads Will Roll, about a heavy metal band’s lethal comeback tour. —
I believe you used to be in a heavy metal band? No, not heavy metal, just loud rock ‘n’ roll. Why did you give it up? I had problems with my ears, but not through the music – something called Meniere’s Disease. So rock ‘n’ roll was no longer an option? No, not like we were doing it! Can you remember when you first became interested in films? My dad wouldn’t allow us to rent stuff with guns on the cover but, whenever he was away, my mum would be a bit more lenient. I remember watching Commando with Arnold Schwarzenegger when I was about 11: that made a huge impression. But it wasn’t until I saw Evil Dead 2 that I really started thinking that this was what I wanted to do … it looked so much fun to make. How old were you when you saw it? I must have been about 16. By the time you went to film school, had you already decided you wanted to make horror movies? Yes. Some of my teachers needed convincing that it was valuable, but luckily when they saw I took it seriously, they allowed me to do it. I was working in a video store when I was about 18 and I wasn’t just going for the cheap stuff… I mean, I love that stuff, but I remember the exam to get into film school and we talked about Naked Lunch and things like that, so I knew about the more cerebral stuff as well. What was good about film school for you? Just finding out about the history of film. I had some very passionate teachers. It took me a while to learn that cinema didn’t start in 1980. Apart from Evil Dead, are there any other films that you’ve been inspired by? When people saw my feature, I was very happy with the John Carpenter compliments. I really like his economy and the clarity of his visual style. What else? I’m lucky that all my shorts are based on short stories or graphic novels. That was another thing I learned in film school: everyone in my class wanted to be a writer/ director, and I found out pretty quickly that I couldn’t be as good as the stuff that I was reading. What were you reading? There’s a picture of me on holiday with my parents. I’m about 11 in short pants and I’m reading a Stephen King book, Apt Pupil. I read that a little bit too young but I was fascinated by it. From Stephen King I kind of graduated to Clive Barker, which is darker and more transgressive.
2014 — Cub
Is Stephen King still an inspiration? Actually, one of my real favourites is Richard Christian Matheson, who is the son of Richard Matheson [author of I Am Legend and regular Twilight Zone writer]. Two of my shorts are based on his stories. My very first, Mobius, is one of his and Abused is also a Christian Richard Matheson story. He’s the master of very short horror fiction with a great twist. Of Cats & Women is based on a story by a Scottish writer called Laura Hird, which was in a short story collection I found in school. It’s basically about a woman in her late forties who has been ditched by her husband for a younger girlfriend. She starts stalking them and, to get her revenge, she kidnaps their cat. It’s a jealousy story. That’s why everything is green… You use colour a lot in your films. It’s something I took away from watching a lot of Hitchcock, where everything is colour-coded. In Abused, she has a purple dress, so it’s a woman who is in an abusive relationship and she’s basically wearing her bruises as an outfit. I’m doing a series now where we’ve colour-coded every character. It’s a very old-fashioned way of working but, if you’re making films, you can control the world and a good way of doing that is choosing what’s in and out of shot. Colour is one way of doing that.
2014 — Cub
There seem to be two versions of your film about an evil tattoo, Forever – a Part 1 and a Part 2 – on YouTube. That’s just me being an idiot on YouTube. It was too long so I uploaded one part at a time. The funny thing is, the first part contains some nudity and it has been watched, like, 10 times more. Were you pretty much on your own making these kinds of short films at film school? Yes, in that genre, I was. It’s hard to convince people that it has value. A lot of horror is just crap and exploitation, so most people won’t go to the cinema if it’s a horror film. It’s a question of convincing people to pick out the right ones. So I was very much on my own doing that at film school. How did your debut feature, Cub, come to be made? Two of my shorts, Of Cats & Women and Abused, were produced by a company called Potemkino, and it basically progressed from there. They were looking for people coming out of film school doing interesting stuff and I was lucky enough that they kind of grew with me. It wasn’t a very big company but they were interested in my shorts. And then Peter [De Maegd] said ‘It’s time for you to do a feature now’. He put me together with Roel Mondelaars, the co-writer on Cub. Where did the story come from? I was a cub scout myself for many years – a scout leader, actually. I remember that time as being very special because our cub leaders would talk about these horror films they’d seen – this was before my parents would allow me to watch that kind of stuff – and things just grew in my mind. I remember being absolutely terrified
at scout camp. They would wake us at night saying things like ‘One of your pack is missing; you’ve got to go and find him’. It was all very safe, of course, but when you’re 12 you think you’re in constant danger. It was a very exciting time! In the end, it’s quite restrained as horror movies go: not much Evil Dead stuff. It’s not a gore film: I don’t think the idea lends itself to gore. If you watch Halloween again, there’s hardly any blood in it, so I was going more for that kind of dread. For me, the poetic bits – or the melancholy bits – were as important as the horror bits, like the whole tree-house sequence. It was meant not just as a horror film but as a tribute to that era in my life as a cub scout. What were the most challenging scenes? Well, I’m doing TV now and, compared to TV, which has such a killing tempo, shooting Cub was a dream because we had the time to film stuff. The one thing that was really difficult was the scene with the dog, which is pivotal. We planned to film that for half a night, but we had to go back three nights just to get it right. English bull terriers are the sweetest dogs in the world but they are also the stupidest. It just wouldn’t take direction. Do you find with Cub you got shunted into a particular circuit of genre film festivals? Actually, I was happy just to be travelling with the film. We got into the London Film Festival, which was pretty amazing. And we opened in Toronto – all these places I’d never been before, so I’m pleased with all the attention we got. For a Belgian film made on that budget in that genre, it got an incredible amount of attention,
2007 — Of Cats & Women
Can you tell me what the budget was? I think it was about €2,500,000 which, for a debut feature in Belgium, is quite generous. And by getting Nicolas [Karakatsanis], the cinematographer, on-board, it looks like a €5,000,000 film to me! How did you become involved with Tabula Rasa? We had a couple of screenings of Cub before it was all edited just to show people. I knew Malin was a big horror fan so she was one of the people we invited. She was already writing Tabula Rasa with Veerle Baetens, and after that screening she said ‘I might have something for you’. She sent me the script and the good thing was, I got to do all the Twin Peaks and out-there stuff and [co-director] Kaat [Beels] got to do all the family scenes. It’s a nice balance, I hope, between our two styles. Do you enjoy working for television? I think my heart is definitely with film. With a film, whatever its flaws are, it’s mine, my baby. Television is very different. Even though this production is pretty ambitious for Belgium – and I’m glad to be part of it – I do feel like a gun for hire. Did people start sending you scripts after Cub? Yeah. But once again, horror is a bit the underdog, so you’re not going to get prestigious stuff. I have turned a lot of projects down – so much so that they’re not sending me them any more!
What are you going to do next? I’m co-writing another film that is actually set in the heavy metal milieu. I co-wrote it with an Irish writer called Kevin Lehane who lives in London. Kevin wrote a film called Grabbers a few years ago, which was an Irish monster movie. It’s been a lot of fun collaborating on that. Can you tell me a little bit about it? It’s called Heads Will Roll and it’s about a metal band that was big in the 1980s. They had a mascot, like Iron Maiden has Eddie, called Skully – a female skeleton. They split up after a concert in 1990 because people got trampled; there was a tragedy at their show. Now they’re planning a reunion and their mascot is coming back to kill them one by one. Actually, she turns out to be one of the fans who got trampled 25 years ago. She’s awoken from her coma to get her revenge: that’s the idea. So it’s still borderline horror? Yes, but a much lighter tone, more of a comedy. Comedy/horror for sure.
Filmography Born Antwerp, June 21, 1980 Studied LUCA School of Arts, Campus St-Lukas, Brussels, 2007-11 2004 2005 2007 2008 2009 2010 2014 2016 2017
Mobius, short, 7 mins. Forever, short, 13 mins. Of Cats & Women, short, 12 mins. Abused, short, 8 mins. Super 8, TV series, 20 x 5 mins. Monster!, TV series, 6 x 30 mins. Cub, feature, 84 mins. Tabula Rasa, TV series, in post-production. Heads Will Roll, feature, in development.
Malin-Sarah Gozin Writer/showrunner
— Malin-Sarah Gozin is the only person interviewed for this book who didn’t go to film school. After graduating from university, she worked her way up from a TV internship to write the successful TV series Clan [which screened on British TV in 2016]. She is also largely responsible for introducing the US TV job of ‘showrunner’ into Belgian long-form television production. She is currently working on a new psychological thriller series, Tabula Rasa, co-written by and starring Veerle Baetens [Alabama in The Broken Circle Breakdown]. —
2012 66 â€” Clan
When did television become part of your career plan? I studied English literature and after that I did a Masters degree in Culture and Communications. After my Masters, I did an internship at a production company called TV de Wereld, which concentrated on non-fiction. I worked there for seven years, mainly doing travel shows. So you started as an intern and you worked your way up…? I did a bit of everything: I was chief editor in the end. I liked the production part as well. When we were doing the travel shows, we were a very small team so I did the scripts, the research and went along on shoots doing production stuff – that kind of thing. It was really helpful to be on the content side as well as on the production side. How did you go from doing this to writing fiction? TV de Wereld merged with Caviar and my work was mainly involved with production. After a couple of years, I had an idea which became Clan. Frank [Van Passel] said to me ‘Why don’t you develop it a bit further?’ We pitched it to [TV channel] VTM and got the go-ahead to develop it and we also got screenplay support from the VAF. That’s how it all started. Where did the idea come from? Most of my ideas come at night when I can’t sleep. I start inventing stories just to keep myself busy, and I was wondering about what if you had a couple of sisters who want to murder their brother-in-law? Next morning, it stuck in my head. I was wondering what kind of guy would he be if he’s such an arsehole that they want to kill him? I think what really attracted me to the idea is that I’ve got a very good bond with my sister and my brother, a sibling bond… I love them and have such a good relationship with them that I often think that, if somebody would harm them, what would I do? How far would I go? Real 3am stuff… Yeah, actually, it is! I was fascinated by the idea: how far would you go for your family? If you really love somebody, how far would you go to protect them? I wanted to play with the idea of morality in the series, so on different layers I tried to investigate how our social morality can be influenced by personal feelings. Once subjectivity comes in, things change and shift. In the UK, the broadcaster described it as ‘Desperate Housewives on acid’: do you agree with that? I love the ‘acid’ part! But if there was one series that inspired me, it was Six Feet Under, especially because of the different psychological layers, the different stories, the depth of the characters and the human drama underneath the black comedy. You talk about morality. In terms of an audience watching the show there is no question as to what you want to happen: you want him to be killed… Yeah, it was a tight line, because you need to create this evil character. How bad must he be for the audience to want him dead? I didn’t want to use the classic idea of the wife-beater because I thought it was interesting to show that Jean-Claude
[the husband] really loves his wife. So I had to find all the bad things about humanity and have Jean-Claude be an incarnation of them, like bigotry and racism and all those different little human things. Was it always going to be sisters? Was it important to you that it be a female-centred show? No, not for me. I got some reactions: ‘Finally, some big female characters!’, but that wasn’t my intention. Like I said, I came up with the idea of the brother-in-law and the sisters; the characters just developed. It’s probably because I’m female myself that it’s easy to write female characters. My second show has a female lead and my third show now, Tabula Rasa, has one too. How would you describe the tone of Clan? I love hybrid genres. Clan is a murder mystery; there are a lot of plot twists and cliffhangers and you really want to know what happens, but at the same time it’s a family drama with some serious themes. And, of course, there’s a lot of black comedy in it. It’s like a cocktail: you have to make sure that the blending works. What was the production hierarchy on Clan? You have two directors credited, with yourself as writer? Were you also showrunner? Yes, Clan was one of the first series here in Belgium where we used the idea of showrunner. Just before working on it, I went on a MediaXchange programme to LA. It was a comedy showrunner workshop, where you got to meet different people in the business and you had the opportunity to attend the whole process from writers’ room to shoot. How did you adapt it? Belgium has a tradition – and it’s a very good tradition – of working with auteuroriented directors, so we have a movie approach to TV series. The writer just writes the script and then his job is finished. But when a writer comes up with the idea for the series, the American way has a lot of added value that this person who created the DNA stays on the process until the end. In Hollywood, the showrunner is the boss and works with different directors each episode. Adapting the showrunner’s principle here is more like a creative tandem between one director and a showrunner. How would you define the role of a showrunner? As a showrunner, apart from creating the show, you stay on the writing process as head writer. For Clan, for instance, it was just the two of us: Bert Van Dael and me, and we switched scripts. But for Connie & Clyde, we used the writers’ room and then we just divided all the episodes up between different writers. As head writer, everything always passes through you. You do the final versions. After the writing process, you do the creative follow-up in the shoot and editing process. Tell me a bit about Connie & Clyde. What is it about? Connie & Clyde is about a married woman who runs a matchmaking agency, and her thing is, ‘Well if I can have my Mr Perfect, I can do it for you, too’. But it turns out her Mr Perfect is Mr Totally Wrong! It’s kind of a 30-minute comedy and every episode is about a different person who seeks Connie’s help.
2016 â€” Tabula Rasa
That was made the following year? Yeah. Every time around Christmas, I get this new idea in my head. The first Christmas, it was Clan, then the year afterwards Connie & Clyde. I was editing Clan when the writing process of Connie & Clyde was already in full swing. And Tabula Rasa? Tabula Rasa is why I had to leave the second season of Connie & Clyde. I met Veerle [Baetens] who wanted to be involved in writing for the next series she would be in. We got to know each other and we talked a lot about the kind of series and movies that we loved to watch. She talked about the kinds of characters she loved to play, like psychologically troubled people. Then we started brainstorming to build a story around this character. That was during the editing of Connie & Clyde, the first season, so when the second season started, I had to choose. There were three of you writing Tabula Rasa, is that right? Yes, Veerle and I came up with the concept of the story and then we approached Christophe Dirickx, who is UK-based. He wrote Manneken pis and The Misfortunates. We thought it would be good to have a male writer on the team as well and Iâ€™ve always wanted to work with Christophe.
2012 — Clan
This is straight drama, not black humour? It’s also a bit of a hybrid. In fact, it’s a psychological thriller combined with an indepth human drama. But we also play with the fact that, because our main character suffers from amnesia and psychosis, sometimes she can’t tell the difference between her imagination – what she thinks has happened – and reality. So, as a viewer, you are stuck in her head and experiencing things the same way that she experiences them. You don’t know if this is really happening or is it just in her head. The thriller part is that she is the only person who can identify someone? Yes, there’s a man who goes missing and she is the last person who was seen with him, so she is the main suspect – actually more of a witness, because there is no evidence that she has done anything; but she is the sole key to solving this missing person’s case. The problem is that, when she sees his picture, she’s like, ‘I’ve never seen him before’. Then she has to really dig into the maze of her recent past to find out what has happened to him. How has it been? I’m very excited. When you are dying to start the editing process, that’s usually a good sign. We will be finished early April, then the rest of 2016 will be spent in the editing room. You’ve worked in television for 15 years now: do you ever see yourself working in film? You know, film has always been my first love. I only got into television fiction because I saw The Sopranos and Six Feet Under, and realised they were really changing the television landscape in the US. And I think that has happened in Europe, too. But a television series takes three or four years of your life: the whole development process, writing, shooting, editing… I might be ready for a shorter process now. Film is also different creatively in the storytelling: there’s a smaller attention span than 10 x 50 mins. To tell a story in a movie format is quite appealing, actually.
Filmography Born Aarschot, April 11, 1975 Studied KUB [Katholieke Universiteit Brussel] and KU Leuven, 1992-98 1999-2004 Go 2!, travel show, research/production. Runways/2XEnkel, travel show, two seasons, research/production. Taste of Travel/Gentse waterzooi, travel show, five seasons, research/production. 2005 Retro Jazz – That’s My Desire, documentary, producer. 2006 Both… But Maybe Sunset, TV short, 14 mins, producer. 2010 Bedankt & Merci, TV documentary, 80 mins, producer. Anneliezen, TV series, 8 x 30 mins, line producer. 2012 Clan, TV series, 10 x 50 mins, writer/showrunner. 2013 Connie & Clyde, TV series, 13 x 40 mins, writer/showrunner. 2016 Tabula Rasa, TV series, in post-production, writer/showrunner.
Robrecht Heyvaert Cinematographer
— Having met them as a film student, cinematographer Robrecht Heyvaert shot an early short and the first two features of Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah, as well as the first two shorts and debut feature of Robin Pront. He also filmed two highly acclaimed short films directed in Iraq by Sahim Omar Kalifa, Land of the Heroes and Baghdad Messi [the latter shortlisted for an Academy Award]. More recently, he has worked with directors Nic Balthazar on Everybody Happy and Nabil Ben Yadir on the upcoming Blind Spot. —
2015 — Black
A lot of the filmmakers I’ve been speaking to for this book seem to have gone to film school at the same time. You’re a kind of Mafia… That’s right: we ride together, we die together, as Will Smith would say! When did you first develop an interest in film? At quite a young age. We didn’t have cable television at home when I was young, but later on we had a VHS player and a video store in the neighbourhood so I watched all the old films I could find. Then, after I’d finished high school, I didn’t know what I was going to do but I knew exactly what I didn’t want to do – which was mostly any job I could think of! Film was my main interest so I went to film school to study audio-visual technique. Doesn’t every film student want to be a director? Not me. I knew I didn’t want to write screenplays and I don’t like directing actors, so I started studying camera, lighting and editing at RITCS in Brussels. It very quickly became clear that my main interest was the image: the camera and later the lighting. Did you train initially on celluloid, or was it digital from the very start? No, it was celluloid in the beginning. We had some video cameras but most of the exercises at film school were three-minute and five-minute films on 16mm. What were the first short films you did? When I was still at school, I shot the two short movies by Hendrik Verthé [Jappegem] and Kobe Van Steenberghe [Victor]. Both are producers now: they produced Image and Black. I also did Robin Pront’s first short film, Plan B, when I was still a student.
2015 — The Ardennes
It all takes place in a small apartment: it must have been difficult working in such a restricted area? Yeah, but at the same time, if you don’t have any money and not a lot of time it can be quite an advantage as well. It was intimate, it was small and it was cold. I think Robin and I stayed the entire week, day and night, in the apartment. Some days I had some classmates who came by, but it was a busy period so nobody could give us an entire week. Every day we had new people, but mostly it was just Robin and me. Did you learn by going to film school or did you learn by doing? The things that you learn at film school are mostly theory. Where I did learn a lot was by doing short movies with my fellow students and students at other film schools. When I’d just finished film school, I did Adil and Bilall’s short movie Brothers, and Land of the Heroes and Baghdad Messi for Sahim Omar Kalifa. I don’t think they can teach you in a school; they can explain it, but it’s entirely different when you go on set. What did you do straight after film school? Well, as you know, when you finish film school, nobody is waiting to give you a job as a cinematographer, so I did some small jobs here and there to get some money to live on. When you say ‘small jobs’, they didn’t involve filming? I was a projectionist in a cultural centre. I loved that job! It was still on 35mm projectors. It gave me some money and I got to see lots and lots of movies. Coincidentally, I’m about to start shooting a new feature film with Nabil Ben Yadir. A few years ago he did a film called Les barons, which I projected at least 20 times in 2009. Now, a few years later, I get to work with him as a DOP!
Tell me about the two films you shot with Sahim Omar Kalifa. The first, Land of the Heroes, was in 2010; the second, Baghdad Messi, in 2012, when I had already finished school. Shooting in Iraq sounds like it was pretty tough. Yes, pretty tough, but at the same time amazing. It’s a beautiful country. If you watch the news, you wouldn’t think it, but the landscapes are beautiful. We shot right by the Tigris. I went with the producer and the director for three or four weeks before we started shooting to look at all the locations and hopefully to find some lights and generators. We found them but, four weeks later when we came back they didn’t arrive, so most of the filming was done with available lighting – which of course was fine, because there was lots of sun and very long days… What was the security situation at the time? The war was over. The part where we were was in the north with the Kurds and there, the general opinion was that the Americans and the Europeans had liberated them, so they were quite friendly. But when we left the Kurdish area, it was something else. One night we were sleeping on the roof of the house where we were staying, and on the horizon at night you could see air strikes. They said it was 20 kilometres away, but you could hear the explosions and see the flashes. In a bizarre way, it was quite beautiful, but at the same time you realised it was a really nasty situation. Image was your first feature with Adil and Bilall. I would imagine they work pretty fast once they get on set? Yeah, there are two of them and each of them has the energy of two people so together they work really, really fast! But we had to because Image was a really low-budget movie. In fact, you could say it was a no-budget-movie… Was Black shot in the same way? With Black, we had the budget and the toys we needed to make it a bigger movie and I think we succeeded. But the speed and the dynamics and the film style were still what you might call ‘guerrilla technique’. When you say ‘style’, do you see yourself as having been influenced by anybody in making those two movies. Was there some kind of style that you were trying to recapture? In Black, the big influence we had was City of God. When you see the opening sequence of Black and you compare it with City of God, it’s quite obvious. All the actors are sweaty all the time, because we wanted audiences to see that it was hot, even when it wasn’t. For the interiors we chose browns, reds, orange and yellow colours. We also often put a small fan in the shot, which is done quite a lot in Do the Right Thing and Spike Lee’s other films. What were your discussions with Robin on shooting The Ardennes? If you look at the screenplay, you could read it as an action film but we didn’t want to do it like that. We wanted to keep the tempo and the dynamics quite low so as
2016 — Everybody Happy 2014 — Image
to stay away from all the conventions of a regular action movie, and also keep the shot count low and the images quite wide: we didn’t want to get too close to the actors. You do a lot of shots with the two brothers together, which perfectly suits wide screen. Was that part of the discussion as well – that they should be shown together whenever possible? Yes. We shot it in ‘scope format with anamorphic lenses, which are fabulous if you want to have two or more people in shot. There’s a moment when four of them are sitting at a table and you can get all of them in without it getting too wide. They get to do their acting and you get to choose who you’re watching. Was that the first time you’d worked with anamorphic lenses? Yes, on a fiction project.
2012 — Baghdad Messi
Was it difficult? It’s difficult to get used to. If you just shoot ‘scope on a 35mm camera, I know exactly how wide the shot will be if I use a 50mm or a 100mm lens. If you shoot anamorphic, it changes, and it took a few days to get used to that. If we are talking about The Ardennes, it should be anamorphic and at the same time it shouldn’t be too sharp. It’s quite soft. Most of the anamorphic lenses we needed we couldn’t find in Belgium and we ended up with the Hawk series – it’s an old format made in the 1980s. It’s German-manufactured and there are not a lot of movies shot with it. What have you done since The Ardennes? I shot a new feature called Everybody Happy with Nic Balthazar. Since then, I’ve done one short movie called The Allegory of the Jam Jar – it won the Jury Prize and the Audience Award at the Leuven Short Film Festival in December. And I’ve been preparing for a new feature film which starts in March. It’s called Blind Spot, directed by Nabil Ben Yadir, director of Les barons. What about television? Is that a different way of working for you? The main difference is time. And with television series, the producer and the editor like to have a shot of each actor as they’re talking, so you’re obliged to work faster and do more shots. There are some series now which don’t follow that style, like Fargo, but to achieve something like that in Belgium with all the time constraints is really hard. Do you do music clips or commercials? I’ve done some commercials and I’ve just done a music video, but my main interest is in feature films. Even though it can be really interesting, it can be hard to combine with shooting feature films since I need some free time now and then to relax and watch other films.
20xx â€” xx
2011 â€” Land of the Heroes
A lot of your contemporaries are looking towards the US. Where do you see yourself in five years time? Hopefully working on interesting films wherever they are being shot.
Filmography Born Brussels, May 15, 1987 Studied RITCS School of Arts. Erasmus Hogeschool, Brussels, 2005-08 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016
Victor, short, 25 mins. Jappegem, short, 15 mins. Plan B, short, 22 mins. Niemands tandarts, short, 15 mins. Injury Time, short, 14 mins. Brothers, short, 23 mins. Land of the Heroes, short, 17 mins. 2 Hollywood, TV series, 1 x 25 mins. Symbiosis, short, 18 mins. You Will Find It, short, 17 mins. Bergica, TV sketch programme, 20 x 5 mins. Baghdad Messi, short, 19 mins. Traffic Jam, short, 13 mins. Blue Monday, short, 15 mins. The Silk Silence of the Wild Cotton Candy, short, 10 mins. Tigeritera, short, 7 mins. Vermist, TV series, 5 x 47 mins. Image, feature, 90 mins. De vijver, short, 18 mins. De applausman, documentary, 19 mins. The Pond, short, 15 mins. Black, feature, 91 mins. The Ardennes, feature, 93 mins. Allegory of the Jam Jar, short, 15 mins. Everybody Happy, feature, in post-production. Blind Spot, feature, in production.
— After his graduation film and one other short, Tim Mielants steadily climbed the television ladder, starting with digital channel Acht, progressing to Flemish national broadcaster vtm with a children’s series, then to the high-profile crime series Code 37. He attracted international attention [and a Londonbased agent] with Cordon, a 10-parter about the outbreak of a deadly virus in Antwerp, which was shown on BBC 4 and has recently been remade in the US under the title Containment. Since then, Mielants has directed two episodes of the second series of UK/French series The Tunnel [adapted from Danish series The Bridge], and recently completed shooting the entire third series of cult BBC 2 drama Peaky Blinders about organised crime in Birmingham in the early years of the 20th century. —
2005 — The Sunflyers
2012 — Code 37
What made you go to film school? I really wanted to be the captain of an oil tanker; I wanted to be a sailor! But my mother said that I should do something creative. I couldn’t get in to the normal film school, so they advised me to take the entrance exam at St-Lukas, the art school in Brussels. At first, I thought ‘Oh no, that’s not for me, I hate art!’ But actually it was very interesting. What do you think you learned there? I remember thinking, ‘Do I need film school?’ And the answer was: ‘I don’t think so!’ But it’s a good way to spend four years of your life doing movies and exercises full-time and making mistakes and trying to find your own style. Being with film day and night – nothing but film, that’s a good reason to go to film school. Your first film, The Sunflyers, was made at St-Lukas? Yes, that’s right. It’s a graduation film. What I really wanted to make was a sports movie. I was inspired by [British photographer] Martin Parr: visually, that was what I was looking for. And I’ve always loved the theme of people striving for glory. That’s what the film is about and it’s something that always comes back in everything that I try to make: men who try to achieve something. I felt like, did I want to become a pilot or should I let someone else fly while I stayed on the ground forever? I like that metaphor; that’s what I try to do. Did you ever imagine having the career you’ve had in television when you were at film school? Good question. Film was always my biggest love, but it felt too exotic. And back then, television wasn’t what it is now. There weren’t a lot of series around. The first time I saw The Office and all the other big television shows, I thought, ‘OK, you can make something quite different here, because you can establish characters in 3D; you can go much deeper.’ Someone once said, ‘Film is like a pop song: everything has got to fit the structure. But television is an opera: you can sing an aria for 20 minutes and nobody cares.’ If you look at [US TV series] The Knick by Steven Soderbergh, they’re starting to experiment with the genre. You can establish a racist character and feel emotionally involved with him and I think it’s beautiful that
2014 — Cordon
you can make those sorts of contrasts: that’s a big opportunity. I don’t think you can pull that off in 90 minutes. You started in TV with a miniseries for digital channel Acht, then a children’s series Zingaburia for broadcaster VRT. That’s right. The children’s series was something I could experiment with in different ways, which was very, very useful. It was a second film school, really. Your first major TV series was Code 37, for which you directed 11 episodes. I’m really happy that the producer, Dirk Impens, gave me the chance to do that because I made a lot of mistakes! I wouldn’t be where I am now without Code 37! It was about trying it out to see if it worked and then trying it again and making it better and making it work the second time. You shoot and you edit; you get to know your rushes and you get to know how you can achieve certain things with actors. It’s by doing it a lot that you get better. Which project do you regard as your breakthrough? I think it’s a combination of Cordon and The Tunnel. The other stuff was more experimental – something where I got to explore certain techniques with actors, with the camera and with lighting. That’s where I found my style. The Tunnel was really a big jump for me. I loved working with Stephen Dillane; I think he’s one of the best
2014 — Cordon
actors on the planet. Plus there was money to do a big car crash in one shot and stuff like that. It was a beautiful playground! How do you work with actors? It’s a question of collaboration. You have to let them try to find it out by themselves: that’s the secret. I think I can say that I’m quite good at working with actors. Certain directors hate them but I love them. Tell me about how you got to do the whole of the third season of Peaky Blinders. I thought it was a joke in the beginning, and I still thought it was a joke when they asked me for an interview. But I was totally myself. I’ve got a big mouth and I said, ‘If you want me, I have to make it personal – for myself.’ And they said ‘That’s the man we’re looking for for the third season.’ I think I got lucky in a way. Also I was already a huge fan of Peaky Blinders. What was it that appealed to you about it? I think it was just a great gangster series, really. I loved the music, the costumes – it’s the young boy in me. It was just cool and I wanted to be part of it. How is it for you as director when you come into a show in its third season, by which time the style and the characters are already set? If I can’t develop a character, there’s no point in me doing the show. I change things a lot – no, ‘change’ is too big a word. I like to explore different areas, and
the script [of series 3] allowed me to do that because it’s more of a mid-life crisis that the lead character is going through. He’s much more vulnerable and that’s interesting – the sort of thing I like to explore. Cillian [Murphy, the lead actor] is very open to exploring things. And Steven Knight, the writer, is OK with you doing that? Steven is very open to making adjustments. We were really thorough with our preparation but sometimes, when you are on the floor and you start working, you start to feel gaps or you find there is something that doesn’t work. I did make one phone call to Steven when I was shooting and said ‘Can I change something?’ And he said ‘Of course you can, please don’t call me again. Do whatever you want!’ We trust each other. He’s amazing and I love his work. I have the greatest respect for him. Do you think there is a certain snobbery among filmmakers about television? Oh, I think so, yes. The other day I was thinking, ‘What are my big influences?’ I’m a kid from the 1980s so my influences are, of course, Spielberg, Carpenter – the big movies. But for anyone growing up now the influence is going to be television series – or I assume so. That means it’s going to be totally different. Is it better, is it worse, is it the future? I don’t know. The bottom line is, I love to shoot and to work with actors and to edit. I love the process, so the more I can shoot and the more I can work, the better. I’m not the kind of person who can wait five years to get the money together to shoot a film. I would shoot myself in the head first! Instant suicide!
2016 — The Tunnel
But are you still tempted to try to do a film? That question is very close to me. To be totally honest, that’s the big dilemma in my professional career right now: which way am I going to go? The movies I’m writing and which I’d like to develop are very niche in style. For example, the film I’m working on now is about the existential crisis of the owner of a nudist camp! It’s against every dramatic rule but I’d love to do it. But then with Peaky Blinders and other stuff coming up in the UK, I think I can go further in television. I really love both worlds and, in a way, I need both of them. I hope there is a way somewhere in the middle. So what is next for you? There are a lot of opportunities but I’m still not sure. Do you see yourself working at home in Flanders again? I don’t know. I love working with the actors in the UK, I love the scripts in the UK. I love working on that kind of level, so we’ll see. But I think they’re doing some great stuff in Flanders. It’s wonderful, there are some really good features. There’s a lot of talent over here and people get the opportunity to try things out. It’s not like Denmark yet, but it’s a good place to be as a young filmmaker. Were there any filmmakers that particularly inspired you when you were younger? I discovered quite a lot of films at St-Lukas: Tarkovsky, the Russians, Béla Tarr. They are all a big influence on my style right now. I came across these guys when I was just by myself watching movies. From Tarkovsky and Béla Tarr to Peaky Blinders is quite a leap. They are both very austere, dark, slow filmmakers; and television is usually the opposite of that: bright and fast. I hope we can make that change. I’m doing my best. I think Steven Knight writes quite dark so there is an opportunity to try something else. Whether it works, we’ll see.
2016 â€” Peaky Blinders
Filmography Born Antwerp, December 11, 1979 Studied LUCA School of Arts, Campus-St-Lukas Brussels, 2001-05 2005 2007 2009 2012 2012 2014 2015 2016
The Sunflyers, short, 14 mins. Desert Ski, short, 13 mins. Super 8, TV series, 20 x 5 mins. Code 37, TV series, 13 x 45 mins, three series [11 episodes]. Zingaburia, childrenâ€™s TV series, 10 x 16-20 mins [second season]. Cordon, TV series, 10 x 50 mins. T., TV series, 13 x 50 mins [2 episodes]. The Tunnel, 2 seasons, 10 x 45 mins [series 2, 2 episodes]. Peaky Blinders, TV drama, 3 seasons,12 x 58 mins [third season].
— After graduating from film school, Peter Monsaert spent a decade working in theatre and on community-based projects before making his first feature, the multi-award-winning Offline – about a former prisoner trying to rebuild his relationship with his daughter – in 2012. He is currently in post-production on his second feature, Le ciel flamand, about a six-year-old girl whose mother is a prostitute. —
2012 — Offline
Was there a particular point when you decided you were going to become an artist or a filmmaker? I don’t really remember a particular moment but I have a feeling that, as a child, I was an observer of people and relationships. And at one point I can remember I started making little plays in class at high school. How old were you then? About 14 or 15. I was just writing my own stories, then video became more available. There was this guy in my class who had a video camera, so we started making films out of those plays. I guess that’s where it all started. But even before that, I very much enjoyed just watching people – how they interact – trying to figure out what was happening between them. Did you study film? Well, first I studied Germanic languages – English and Dutch – and then, after four years of that, I studied film at the Academy in Ghent. It was some kind of pretty clichéd deal with my parents that I had to go to university and be a good student first! I told my dad, ‘OK, I’ll go if you promise me that, after four years, I can go to film school’. He never thought that I would do it; but when I’d graduated, I turned to him and said ‘OK, now I’m going to film school!’
Was that again in Ghent? Yes, I didn’t leave my hometown. There’s a film school there, KASK, where I’m teaching at the moment. What do you think you got? In Ghent at that time, there was a very free atmosphere: you could come and go. At KASK, there were a lot of cameras and stuff you couldn’t buy because they were too expensive, but you could come in and use them. Your education depended on yourself: you got out what you put in more than have somebody tell you what to do. The first short films that you made were film school exercises? Yes, and I’m not that proud of them anymore! What was it that disappointed you about them? I think a combination of being young and looking for what to tell and how to tell it. Probably as an outsider you’d be more generous to these movies than I am, but I don’t think they’re very relevant to the rest of my work. When I graduated from KASK, I worked for about 10 years in theatre and community projects before I returned to film. After KASK, I was a bit fed up with the way people were making films in Flanders; you had to begin as a 2nd assistant director, then as a 1st, and after working for four or five years, maybe you could shoot your first feature. I didn’t want to go that way, so I started working in theatre where you could just get some actors and make something very simple. You could direct and you could write, and that’s what I wanted to do. You were also a set designer… … with video involved: that’s how I got into theatre. But then I started writing my own scripts and acting in them as well, which was very useful in hindsight. I’m convinced I’m a better director now because of acting myself. So, with that 11-year gap between your last short and your first feature, you kind of caught up with the generation of new young Flemish filmmakers who are really making their mark at the moment? Yes. Tell me a little bit about how Offline came to be. I was working at the time at a community workshop in Ghent where they made theatre with people who were having trouble dealing with society: people who had been in prison, people with psychiatric problems… We had the idea of making a film, because at that time equipment was becoming cheaper. We started writing based on what we heard from the people who were at that place. We talked a lot with people who had, for example, been in prison or who had gambling problems. All of that went into the fictional story that became Offline. Did you use any people from the community centre and other nonprofessional actors in the film? Yes. We had posters in bars all over Ghent and we had a big casting call for 400 people for all parts. Some of the parts were taken by people who came to the casting call. But when I saw Wim Willaert as [the central character] Rudy, I couldn’t go
2016 — Le ciel flamand
back. I think we made the mistake of writing the script first and then going to look for the right actors. Now, I would probably look for people first and then write in relation to what they are and what they are capable of, because we found that we had written a script that had too many layers. Which of the actors are non-professional? We had Margriet Bruggeman who plays Denise, the older lady who looks after Rudy. She is non-professional, but I don’t think you see it when you watch the film. Also there was Sou Boukhatem as Naima, Rachid’s wife. We had Robrecht Vanden Thoren who later became well-known with Come As You Are [Hasta La vista], Geoffrey Enthoven’s movie. When he came to the auditions he was working in theatre. It took four years between the auditions and the movie, and by then he was a film professional. Was it different directing actors with a camera – different from your experience in the theatre? Not really, no. We had a very good crew. Ruben Impens was my cameraman. In the parts that I wasn’t experienced, he was really the guy who supported me. I know how to direct actors and I know, of course, what making a movie is about. But he has a lot of technical experience in terms of how to place the actors and make sure that the story you want to tell is told in the best way. Offline won a lot of awards, including the Ensor for Best Screenplay. That presumably helped you get your next film, Le ciel flamand, off the ground? Yes, especially with the VAF. From the moment I came to them with the idea for
Le ciel flamand, they gave me support, not just budget-wise but with comments on the scenario. They gave me the belief to go ahead. I obviously haven’t seen the film because you’re still working on it, but there seem to be certain similarities with Offline: the fractured family, the dark secret in the past – the kinds of things that come out in the course of the film. Were you aware when you were writing it that there was a similar shape to the story? I wasn’t aware of it immediately but at a certain point, of course I became aware of it. Then you can do one of two things: one, throw it away because it’s a bit like the other one; or, two, acknowledge that there is something inside me that I want to tell more about. But it’s a very different movie with a different style… The other thing that seems to be inside you that comes out again is this concern with people on the margins of society? Is that to do with the time you spent working in community centres? I guess so, yeah. I have a lot of natural empathy. It’s also dramatically interesting to have somebody who has to fight to get to the centre. What would you say was the main idea behind Le ciel flamand? That’s very clear, because I became the father of twins eight years ago. Before I had these children, I thought that I knew every emotion in my body. But the first moment I held those two girls, I felt something completely new. It was also the vulnerability you feel as a parent.
2016 — Le ciel flamand
How does that emotion translate into your films? In Offline, I took the standpoint of the daughter, Vicky: I tried to put my own views into her character. But now that’s moved towards the parents. In Le ciel flamand, it’s the parents’ feelings that I’m trying to explore. I guess I’m growing up! The title of the film refers to a brothel? Yes, that’s correct. That’s quite a strange context in which to set a family relationship? Yeah, but that’s what makes it interesting. I talked a lot with women and girls who are prostitutes and the one thing they always say is that they’re all just ordinary. They are mothers, wives, sisters, children. I try to show the kitchen where the girls are eating instead of the rooms where the sex is happening. How did you work with the actors? We rehearsed a lot and we went to talk to prostitutes. During rehearsals, what I do is read the scenes so I can hear if the dialogue is correct. We’re not acting a lot during rehearsals because I think the most important thing is to be comfortable with the dialogue. What comes next when you finish this? I’m going to begin to write my third feature film which is something, again, about family – about the nature/nurture discussion that I want to research. The idea came when I saw a documentary, Der Anständige, about Himmler, in which one of the children said she had been sterilised because she didn’t want to bring any new
2012 — Offline
monsters into the world. So I am interested in doing something with that. Then I have two little theatre plays… One last question: who is Monsardi? You use the name for your emails, you’ve created a country called Monsardistan… That started when I was still an actor, and I wanted to have this cheesy pop singer as some sort of stupid alter ego. I was looking for a way to release everything that I had creatively; Monsardistan became my own imaginary kingdom. It seemed like a good idea at the time to balance out all the stuff in the serious films.
Filmography Born Ghent, January 11, 1975 Studied at Ghent University [Germanic languages], 1993-98; and at KASK [Koninklijke Academie voor Schone Kunsten/Royal Academy of Fine Arts], Ghent, 1998-2002 1999 2000 2001 2012 2016
Tim, een engeltje voor de heer, short, 7 mins. Coiffeur Armand, short, 13 mins. Vriendinnen, short, 6 mins. Musica, documentary short, 26 mins. Las bragas, short, 11 mins. Hugo, documentary short, 26 mins. De fee, short, 13 mins. De onvrijwillige poëet, short, 26 mins. Offline, feature, 106 mins. Le ciel flamand, feature, in post-production.
— Robin Pront found his voice as a director with two wickedly violent short films made in his third and fourth years at film school: Plan B and Injury Time. After another short, this time for MTV, Pront attracted international attention with his debut feature, The Ardennes, a Flemish noir which had its premiere at the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival and triggered a number of script offers from North America. He has since completed a TV documentary about football [his other great love] but has yet, at time of writing, to announce his follow-up feature. —
2015 — The Ardennes
When did you decide you were going to go to film school and be a filmmaker? When I was 15 or 16, I guess I always wanted to tell stories and I’m a really shitty musician… Was being a musician the first option? No, the first option was to be a professional football player. But then I thought it was very important for me to do something creative: I wanted to get paid for doing stuff that came out of my head. Did you go to the movies a lot when you were young? Yeah, my parents bought me – I still have it – this pass that gets me into all the movies for something like €20 a month, so I used to go a lot, even during school time. Which film school did you go to? St-Lukas in Brussels. I always felt that I didn’t really belong there because there were lots of arty types. To be honest, the people who are making movies now who I knew from school weren’t the ones you would have expected. They weren’t the usual suspects.
What do you mean by the ‘usual suspects’? The arty ones who looked like they were going to make serious films? Yeah, the ones who were already into photography and smoked little roll-up cigarettes. What was it that interested you in terms of filmmaking while you were at film school? To me, it was very important to make the sort of movies that I wanted to see for myself. In my first years of school, I shot short films that I thought they would expect me to make – really boring ones with a dead kid and everybody looking out the window… Have you talked to Jonas Govaerts? I don’t know if he knows this, but Jonas was in some ways a big influence on me, because the first short film I saw was his. For me, it was really a revelation, because it was a horror film about a man getting a tattoo in this Chinese neighbourhood near Antwerp and not paying for it, and then the tattoo starts to control him. It was so weird to see that you could do that because I thought Flemish film was about farmers and dead kids. That was the first time I saw that you could do your own thing here. Your first short film is pretty gruesome, especially the disposal of a body in a kitchen food processor… Yeah, Plan B. That was when I was in my third year. The first two years were awful for me – it was like ‘Why does that guy go on to the next year and I don’t?’ And then, in the third year, I said, ‘If this isn’t working out I’m going to do something else, like
2010 — Injury Time
study journalism or something’. But with Plan B, I didn’t listen to my teachers: I just did my own thing and it became a success. That’s when I really knew that I wanted to do film. I got some pleasure out of it for the first time. Injury Time, which was your graduation film, is also extremely violent and extremely nasty: a very good but very nasty film about football hooliganism. Actually, after my first short film, I had writer’s block. It was the first time that I’d experienced some kind of success, because the other years of my life were pretty much failures. I didn’t know how to cope with it. Then, after a year, I thought ‘Shit, I’ve got to do something!’ So I started reading and found this book about football hooliganism in Belgium. There was this one story where these guys were so angry that they accidentally beat up some boy scouts. To me, that was such a funny idea. I used to go to the football a lot so it was really easy for me to plunge into that world. You graduated from St-Lukas in 2010: what happened between then and shooting The Ardennes in 2014? I’ve been working for a very long time on a TV series about 1990s nightlife in Antwerp, which is still very much made up of lots of clubs that are fighting one another. It has all the elements of a rise-and-fall story because it expands into politics and stuff. Right now, Adil El Arbi is also involved, because it keeps getting bigger and bigger.
2015 — The Ardennes
The background sounds quite similar to Felix van Groeningen’s new film, Belgica. I think mine has a lot more to do with crime, because it all became very nasty. It seems to me that your particular intake at film school makes no real distinction between making films for cinema and making films for television. I don’t know. If I do a series here, it has to be ground-breaking: that’s really important for me. TV right now is very interesting, but I still feel like film has a sort of aura around it that TV doesn’t have. How long was The Ardennes in the planning? Well, Jeroen [Perceval co-writer and star of the film] talked to me about the idea when I was at film school. Then a year after I graduated, it became clear that it was a real option for me to shoot the film. So I guess it took four or five years. How did it develop? While we were in the process of making Plan B, he told me about this story – it was actually a play but I hadn’t seen it – about two brothers. I was really convinced that there was a story that should be made into a movie, but it took a while to convince Jeroen that I was the right director for it. After the short film it just grew in an organic way and, in the end, I said ‘I want to make a movie about this’, and he said ‘Just do it’. So that’s how it came together. The big difference is that the stage play
2015 — The Ardennes
was all in one place, one spot. There was not a lot of action, but there was a lot of dialogue. So the big challenge was to make a movie out of it. In particular, the way the ending was written early on, it was all dialogue, with the brothers talking to each other. We tried polishing it and losing a bit, but in the end, in the last 10 minutes I don’t think they say anything to one another. Also, the whole play was set in the woods, but we decided we had to establish the characters in the city first. Then the big decision was: when do they go to the woods? First it was really early on, but then it became later and later and later. The ending is very violent, which seems to happen a lot in your films… I love violence in movies when it’s done well. The Ardennes is a slow-burning story so, with the climax, you want to get what you paid for. You want to see why you’ve been watching this movie. I think it comes together pretty well right now. Any particular reason it’s about the Ardennes? It’s the number one location in Belgium where people go to for different scenery, for something really different from where they live. And I like the fact you take these people who are so intertwined with their city out of their comfort zone. I also like the fact that it’s the place they went as kids and have really good memories of, but right now it becomes like a living hell.
Tell me about your experience at the Toronto Film Festival: how was it seeing the film with a big international audience? It was good: it’s a great, great film festival. You get your film noticed on an international level. You’ve now got US representation as a result of Toronto? Yes. Has that begun to yield any results yet? Are you being sent scripts? Yeah, they’ve sent me lots of scripts but I’m really critical – I have to be: I want to find the right one. I have a couple of ideas that I want to turn into movies but, right now, all this travelling to all these film festivals hasn’t made me any richer, so I’ve got to work as well. I’m really hoping to find something this year. Any particular kinds of subjects you’re looking at or stories that you are interested in? I’d like to do something about the American prison system. That is something that has always interested me. Why is that? It’s very gangster-oriented. Basically, American prisons make money by having prisoners, which is completely the opposite of what a prison ought to do. In the US, you can go to prison for 40 or 50 years… I actually went to see Folsom prison when I was in LA. My agent set it up and they gave me a tour of the old Folsom prison, which was incredible because it’s still a prison and Charles Manson is there. What have you been doing since The Ardennes? Actually, I’ve shot a documentary series for the state channel about something that really interested me. Basically, the set-up is six episodes about football players who, after their careers were over, made very different life decisions that put them in interesting places. European footballers? Belgian – football players who played in Belgium. The lower level of football is very much affiliated with gambling – that’s an arena that really interests me. I’ve shot most of the material and I’m editing it right now.
Filmography Born Antwerp, November 8, 1986 Studied LUCA School of Arts, Campus St-Lukas, Brussels, 2005-10. 2009 2010 2015 2016
Plan B, short, 22 mins. Injury Time, short, 14 mins. 19:00, short, 8 mins. The Ardennes, feature, 93 mins. De Kleedkamer, TV documentary series, post-production.
— The son of a Belgian father and an Iraqi mother, Eshref Reybrouck went to film school but entered the industry the hard way, starting by making the coffee and working his way up to 1st AD. He gained his first directorial credits with two very different TV series: the gently comic Marsman – which won the Prix Italia, Best TV Drama: Series and Serials in 2014 – about a middle-aged man for whom everything goes wrong; and the second series of action thriller Cordon, which sees the centre of Antwerp once more quarantined by a deadly virus. He hopes to make his feature debut soon. —
2014 — Marsman
Did you always know you were going to go into film? Were you a movie fan as a kid? Yes. It’s a bit funny, because I used to be inspired by movies about the law. I convinced myself I wanted to be a lawyer so I studied for two years in Antwerp. Then I realised it wasn’t the law that interested me, it was the movies! I speak to lots of directors who say ‘My father insisted I get a degree, then I could go to film school’. No, it was all my decision. My parents were happy that I was studying law, but they didn’t push me. Was film school useful to you? Well, we didn’t do a lot of practical work: it was more theoretical. You have a good basis but you don’t learn that much as it’s what you do on set that counts. One thing, though, is that it’s easy to meet people in the business; we had a few teachers like Stijn Coninx, who was a great mentor. But in the first year we didn’t make anything and in the second we just made a few scenes but not a short. It’s the third year when we actually got to make a film. Tell me a bit about the shorts. I made one film noir because I liked the genre: A Disturbed Hitman it’s called, and I made it with Bjorn Charpentier. He’s a Flemish DOP who does commercials and is about to do a movie in Hollywood with Brad Anderson.
How about Writer’s Block? Writer’s Block was my graduation film. It was inspired by an Australian play about a washed-up writer who’s had one bestseller which he’s still living on but hasn’t done anything since then. He’s struggling because he made a deal with a publisher to write a big new novel, but he gets writer’s block. It’s all shot in his loft. You meet his wife, who is also his editor; they have a very strange, fucked-up relationship. He also has a mistress who you meet later, and then his publisher: they are the only four characters. They all have their own agendas and twisted relationships with each other and it ends up with the four of them having dinner together! That’s a fairly ambitious and complicated story for a short film! Yeah, it is [laughs]. At the end, it’s a bit Festen-like, because the writer is very smart and very manipulative, and he wants to loosen the relationships between all of them. At the end, he fucks it up. Did that open any doors for you in terms of getting work? It didn’t do that badly, but it’s not like I started to direct straight afterwards. I started at the bottom making coffee on film sets, but I was already doing that in my second year. In fact, I had to repeat a year because I was spending more time on sets than I was going to RITCS! Eventually I became a 1st AD, and that’s where I really started to learn things because I had the chance to work with a lot of different directors. What sort of things did you learn? I could see when a director was struggling and what his plan or way out was to make the scene work. Every director does it in different ways and it’s nice to see that, and also to see how they cope with actors and a crew. I make a little mental note to myself for every director: these are his positive things and these are his negatives. You remember the positive things and use them. In general terms, is there any established filmmaker you have been particularly influenced by? Jason Reitman, I like his work a lot. Sam Mendes, Iñárritu, of course… The first two directors you mention are really focused on dialogue and character. Yeah, that’s right. [my directorial debut] Marsman is very character-driven and I felt comfortable in that kind of arena. Cordon was plot-driven and that was more of a challenge for me. Marsman was my breakthrough. The script was written by an actor, Mathias Sercu, who knows me rather well and he asked me if we could direct it together. I’d worked on a few projects with him when I was 1st AD. I think that one of my qualities is that I’m good with people: I listen to them and take their remarks into account. We had a good vibe between each other. What appealed to you about Marsman? That’s very simple. Without being too negative about the Flemish business, I think we have good actors, good directors, good crews but the scripts can be rather weak. I read a lot of scripts and Marsman was well written and different. I like series and movies with not that many characters because then they have time to
evolve. I also liked the story. I’m a big fan of A Serious Man, the movie by the Coen brothers, and The Weather Man with Nicolas Cage. Those two movies were a bit of an inspiration when it came to making Marsman. I’ve only seen the first episode, but Nico Marsman seems to be pretty much of a loser. He loses his job; his wife walks out… He’s a loser but he has a soft spot and it’s nice to see how he struggles in life. I think it’s interesting to see how someone copes with their problems. Not quite mainstream television, though? It’s very slow. We sold it as a slow drama but when they saw the edit they were really scared. They said ‘Shit, this is very slow’. And I said ‘Yeah, but that’s what we wanted to make’. And it went down rather well with audiences. People like it because it’s bold and it gives out a sort of warmth. And since then? I did two episodes of a show called De bunker for Eyeworks. They had four directors on it: Jan Verheyen, Pieter Van Hees, Joël Vanhoebrouck and me. It’s about the Secret Service. Did you enjoy that? I enjoyed it because it was something different, but we didn’t have a lot of freedom as directors because there were four of us and there were also two showrunners on it. What you’re basically saying is that you were a kind of gun for hire on that one? Yes, exactly. Then I did the second series of Cordon, for which we had 100 shooting days and a lot of preparation. Did you have more freedom there because you had established characters and an established storyline from the first series? Half of the characters from the first season are dead, so they had to make a lot of new ones and I could do my thing with them. But it’s not that easy to start something up when there is a legacy. The second season is even more plot-driven than the first. In the first, you had a lot of characters who were locked up together and they had to cope with each other. It was very psychological. But now everyone is on the loose and the whole thing is a bit of a Mad Max experience. Still, there were enough poetic moments in it with the characters for me. And you have not so far worked on movies. Do you hope to change that? Well, I did a few movies as an assistant, and I’m hopefully going to make one next year, again with Mathias. Cordon and other high-concept TV series have proved a pretty good launch-pad for other directors who have gone on to do stuff in the US and the UK. Would you be interested in that happening for you? Of course. It’s a bit strange with me, because I’ve been an assistant director for eight years; I had the secret ambition to be a director but I’ve kept quiet about it.
2016— Cordon 2
2015 — The Bunker
I thought there were enough directors and not that many assistants, so I was actually in a safe environment. But then the question finally came with Mathias. It was a very good script so I jumped and took it. And it would be the same with any international project. Of course it’s a dream to do it at some time or another, but I still have a lot of time ahead. Where ideally would you like to see yourself in 10 years time? Do you have a game plan? Not really. The main thing is, I want to make a movie that I’m very proud of. That’s enough for me!
Filmography Born Antwerp, June 2, 1981 Studied RITCS School of Arts, Erasmus Hogeschool, Brussels, 2001-06 [All credits as director unless otherwise stated] 2005 2006 2007 2008 2008-09 2010 2010-11 2009-11 2011-12 2012-13 2014 2015 2016
Verlengd weekend, feature, 93 mins, AD. Tu-ta-toe, short. A Disturbed Hitman, short, 11 mins. Writer’s Block, short, 25 mins. Moment de gloire, short, 8 mins, AD. A Perfect Match, feature, 107 mins, 2nd AD. 180, TV series, 5 x 25 mins, 2nd AD. Vermist, TV series, 1 x 47 mins, 2nd AD. Sara, TV series, 10 x 30 mins, 1st AD. LouisLouise, TV series, 5 x 25 mins, 1st AD. David, TV series, 5 x 25 mins, 1st AD. Dag & nacht, TV series, 5 x 40 mins, 1st AD. De Rodenburgs, TV series, 5 x 50 mins, 1st AD. Ella, TV series, 5 x 25 mins, 1st AD. Red Sonja, TV series, 8 x 30 mins, 1st AD. Danni Lowinski, TV series, 5 x 40 mins, 1st AD. Aspe, TV series, 4 x 100 mins, 1st AD. Marsman, TV series, 8 x 44 mins. The Bunker, TV series, 2 x 55 mins. Clean Hands, feature, 100 mins, 1st AD. Cordon 2, TV series, 10 x 48 mins.
Nathalie Teirlinck Director
— Nathalie Teirlinck first attracted attention with her three short films Anémone, Juliette and Venus vs. Me, which had festival screenings in Ghent, Locarno and Berlin, with the first two winning Best Student Film in Ghent and the third voted Best European Film in Berlin. She has worked in the theatre and on music videos for Belgian bands Novastar and Admiral Freebee. She also teaches at the KASK film school [where she studied] and recently completed her first feature, Tonic Immobility. —
2016 — Tonic Immobility
When did you know you wanted to study film? Quite late, actually. I was not really raised with film culture; instead, I was writing a lot and playing the piano. But it was when I was leaving school that I decided I wanted to make documentaries. Why documentaries? My parents didn’t have cable television, so I didn’t have access to movies on TV. The main thing on television at my parents’ house was the news. It was kind of an evening routine and it made me curious from a very young age. There were a lot of things I didn’t understand, so I wrote poems about them. And I wanted to change the world – to make documentaries on a very idealistic level. That’s why I applied to film school. Once I was there, though, I kind of stumbled into fiction. The short films that you made at film school and after are a long, long way from documentary… Yeah, definitely. If I had to use a word, it would be ‘poetic’. Why not! Was it that you found you could do different things with film than you had originally anticipated? Well, I think there was something that happened on a very personal level that made me see the world I knew very differently. I don’t want to get too personal, but my father had an accident, ended up in a coma and came out as a totally different person. My mother became totally different, too, because she changed from being
a wife into being a carer. When that happened, I became fascinated by aspects of identity and memory and I really wanted to try to understand all this and maybe make a documentary about it. It didn’t work out because I was too close to it. So I kind of searched for some kind of disassociation, and I found it in fiction, which became my tool to deconstruct the things that were impossible for me to understand. Memory certainly seems to be a uniting factor in your short films. Yes, definitely, and the association that it brings. Right from my short films in film school, I wanted to work as a writer or director on a very emotional but at the same committed level, because I am fascinated by the way the human brain works. And maybe that’s why it’s so close to what you call ‘poetic’, because that’s how poetry works. What do you think you got out of film school which you wouldn’t have if you hadn’t gone there? Well, it wasn’t until I got to film school that I was confronted by the masters of cinema – Bergman and Hanneke especially – and began to explore storytelling. I was still very young. I was 18 when I started, and it was very intense because your identity is barely formed but at the same time you’re being asked to tell your stories. You fall and you stumble and you crash into the wall but, at the same time, you learn the hard way. I think that’s how it ended up. So you learn by doing badly and getting better? Yes, definitely. I learned by failing, especially as I was really trying to find my own language and my own tools. Of course I failed several times until I made Anémone. Something came out of it that was the start of the way I wanted to tell stories.
2016 — Tonic Immobility
You got a VAF Wildcard for your graduation film, Juliette. Which film did you use that to make? Venus vs. Me. Did that give you a real boost to go on making films? Definitely. You’ve just finished your first feature, Tonic Immobility? Was it difficult to make the transition from shorts? I kind of felt that I knew the vocabulary [of features], but I had to reinvent the grammar. It’s like when you talk about poetry: I would compare it with the difference between writing poetry and writing prose. All of a sudden, you have to extend the way the emotions work from 20 minutes to 90 minutes, and they simply don’t work in the same way. I really had to learn things again. I took master classes and read a lot of books about it; I watched movies and analysed them. I kind of felt that I had to start all over again, but it was very interesting. When you were a student, were you taught about the classic structure of narrative film? Yes, we were taught it but on a very classical, theoretical level. As a student, you tend to be allergic to creativity being forced into blueprints, at least that’s how I perceived it at the time. Did that change when you made a feature? It did. I used to be very sceptical about all these structural books and formulas and things, because I always felt that they were theorising something that shouldn’t be theorised. Now that I’ve written a feature, I discovered that you had to use them as 114
tools and not as dogma. That was a very important discovery, and I think it helped me a lot. Once I wrote my script and I could see that some things didn’t work but couldn’t see why, these books actually helped me. It starts with the poetics of drama. You can’t just ignore these basic aspects of dramaturgy that have been there for generations. It also has something to do with the need to communicate with an audience… Yes. As a student, you write very much from your own perspective and you tend to be a bit egocentric about it… ‘I want to make films for me!’ Because of Anémone and the festival selections, I forced myself – or I was forced – to actually be in the audience. The biggest thing that I learned was how important it is to be aware of what you communicate: when you give or don’t give information. It’s not about pleasing an audience: it’s to make sure that what you want to tell is communicated to them. How did Tonic Immobility actually come about? The first ideas started about four years ago. A lot of time passed between my short film and my first application to the VAF Film Fund because of my search for the language for a feature film. Once I discovered it, I applied and it actually went quite quickly. We got the funding at the right moments and suddenly, after three years, I was shooting it. Where did the idea for the story come from? I’m always really curious about what happens when someone is emotionally incapable of fulfilling the normal ideals of behaviour, particularly the most obvious thing in our society: the unconditional love between a mother and a child. It really 115
20xx — xx
2010 — Venus vs. Me
started with that question. And from that fascination with the theme, the characters started growing. That’s all very abstract. Where did you find the actual story to hang these concerns on? It’s about a very atypical mother/son reunion – a real character piece about Alice, a high-class call girl who is forced to take care of the son she abandoned years ago. It’s really a portrait of their coming together when the only link is their parental bond and how they manage or don’t manage. It’s a very pure and simple story and I wanted to keep it pure to be able to tell it differently. What was the writing process like? Did you just shut yourself away and write a page a day? Kind of, yeah. I tend to write very intuitively, with notes and little sketches. It starts off quite abstract with pieces of behaviour and pieces of the physical aspects of the characters, and then all of a sudden all these pieces of the puzzle come together. I think I wrote the first draft in about two weeks, but that’s because I’d been busy for six months collecting all these sketches! I never know how it will end up when I’m writing. Tell me about the actors… Since it’s really a character piece about Alice, the main actress was extremely important. I tend to write without an actor in mind, but of course I have a very clear image of how she should be on screen. It took me a long time to find the exact Alice and eventually I found her in Montreal. I watched a lot of movies and suddenly there was Evelyne Brochu, whom I saw in a short film by Cronenberg called The Nest. She just blew me away. 116
2007 — Juliette
The last time we spoke you said you were rehearsing… That’s interesting, because the film ended up being shot without rehearsals! I had extremely long and intensive talks with all the actors, and all of a sudden I realised I didn’t want to rehearse. I wanted to work from their memories. It was the same with my DOP and everyone in the crew: we wanted to keep it open so that reality could kick into the fiction. I think maybe that’s because I did a lot of theatre after I graduated and it felt weird to find the ideal version of a scene in rehearsal, then reproduce it during the shoot. Everyone in the crew knew that we were creating something together on the spot and that gave us a very intense and magical kind of focus, almost like a holy experience for all of us.
Filmography Born Brussels, May 5, 1985 Studied at KASK [Koninklijke Academie voor Schone Kunsten/Royal Academy of Fine Arts], Ghent, 2003-2007 2006 2007 2010 2012 2016
Anémone, short, 19 mins. Juliette, short, 19 mins. Venus vs. Me, short, 27 mins. Staring Girl, experimental film, 45 mins. Tonic Immobility, feature, post-production.
2016 â€” Tonic Immobility
Jakob Verbruggen Director
— Jakob Verbruggen went straight into television after film school, directing episodes of two key Flemish TV series, Vermist and Code 37, together with the 2011 movie version of the latter. His work attracted attention from the UK, where he was hired to direct the first season of BAFTA-nominated series The Fall and London Spy, one of the best-reviewed British TV series of 2015. Since then, Verbruggen has directed two episodes of the US version of Danish TV series The Bridge and the final two episodes of the latest season of cult Netflix TV series House of Cards. —
2009-12 â€” 122 Code 37
Did you always know you were going to go to film school? Yeah, I think from when I was about 12 or 13-years-old. I was part of a young acting group, and we went to a children’s film festival organised by [Belgian children’s film distributor] Jekino. We got in touch with the Children’s Film and Television Foundation in London, and that inspired us to create something similar in Antwerp. Your graduation film, Snapshot, sounds pretty ambitious for a student film… It ended with the city of Antwerp exploding so, yes, it was quite ambitious! But it was a lot of fun. It’s based on a short story by [British writer] Anthony Horowitz, about a young boy whose parents’ marriage is falling apart. He buys them a camera in the hope of recreating those nice, warm family pictures, but the camera is haunted and, by trying to save his parents, he makes things much worse. For me to make it, there needed to be something personal in it, but I also wanted to make it entertaining. To be entertaining: is that still your main motivation? If you make something, you want an audience to see it. But the funny thing is, by doing The Fall and London Spy, the kind of films I want to make have become pretty different. Ten years ago, if you had given me Bad Boys 3 or Fast and Furious 7, I’d have been ‘Yes’! Not like ‘Oh, wait a minute, maybe there’s something more interesting out there’. The type of project I want to make has changed a bit. Maybe it’s me getting more mature. Your first job post-graduation was in film? I worked as a casting co-ordinator on 10 feature films. The last one was In Bruges, the Martin McDonagh film, and I got to know a lot of people in the Belgian industry, like Jan Verheyen and Erik Van Looy. Jan was going to start a new crime series based around a missing person’s unit and he said, ‘Do you want to join me for two episodes’? and I was, like, ‘Hell, yeah’. After that, Dirk Impens called me to do a five-part series called 180 which was made for regional television channels; and then he gave me a shot at Code 37. That was the big life-changer, that second police series. It seems like a lot of film-school graduates of your generation have gone to work in television and done very interesting stuff? Do you think the snobbery about film versus television still exists? The way I see it now, in the UK and in the States, there isn’t that much snobbery. There are so many feature directors who are developing TV pilots. David Fincher started House of Cards, Joel Schumacher directed episodes… Martin Scorsese started Boardwalk Empire… Indeed, and now he’s done a new HBO drama Vinyl with Mick Jagger. I think the main thing Hollywood is interested in at the moment is Marvel and superheroes. It’s a cliché but it’s also true most of the time that there are still interesting stories to be found on television, and time for character development without needing to have an explosion every five minutes. The dream is, of course, to make a tent pole movie. Maybe one day…
2016 — H ouse of Cards
What do you think was your international breakthrough? Code 37. They’re still trying to do an American remake four years later. The UK company that was involved in that was also working on The Fall. Because of the success of my Scandinavian colleagues with series like The Bridge, I think they were, like, ‘Let’s give that Belgian guy a call and see how it goes’. Three weeks later I was in London and they were, ‘Let’s do this’. Was it very different? Sure, there’s more money than there is in Belgian television, but was it different in other ways working on The Fall? It’s a game with many cooks – that’s what I learned. There’s a director, who is me; but there’s an army of producers; there’s a television channel; there’s a broadcaster… More money means more people involved. You have people whispering in your ear all the time. Do you think perhaps you see things in Britain that British people don’t see? I know Ireland quite well and I know London very well but I don’t recognise either of them in The Fall and London Spy. Well, that’s a big compliment, because that was what I was trying to do. I sell myself by saying ‘I’m a foreigner; I have a different point of view and I see things that are less evident’. As a filmmaker, it’s nice to create a world: both The Fall and London Spy are real-life stories, but we tried to heighten them a little bit
with a more fairy-tale approach to it. [For London Spy], I remember I spoke to the writer [Tom Rob Smith] before we started shooting and said ‘What kind of series do you want? How do you want it to look’? And he said ‘I want it to look like a European arthouse feature’. There were a lot of films that inspired us. We looked at Last Year in Marienbad, a lot of Lynch. We were looking for this other-worldly experience because the moment we go with Danny [the central character, played by Ben Whishaw] into his state of mind, it’s like ‘Is all this real or is he just imagining it?’ I was trying to experience the role through Danny’s eyes, which is very different from how you or I would experience it. How do you work with the actors when you’re doing something like that? I think, for them, it all needs to be very real. It’s a collaboration. I explain what I wanted to do with a scene and then we would discuss it. The good thing, especially with London Spy, is the talent involved: Ben Whishaw, one of the best actors of his generation; Jim Broadbent; Charlotte Rampling, who I think is at the top of her game here, because she doesn’t have easy scenes. The other thing is, they have to trust you. They know the camera is on them most of the time – sometimes from a distance, but that’s also what they like. That’s something I learned on House of Cards: actors don’t always like the reverse-shot classical approach to dialogue scenes because they’ve done it a hundred times. So if you take your camera back a bit and give them this space in which to play, they really appreciate it.
2013 — T he Fall
2015 — L ondon Spy
How did House of Cards come your way? I actually had my first conversation about House of Cards two years ago when I was doing what we call the ‘water-bottle tour’, where you go in to meet producers and studio executives. Then, after London Spy, I came back from a recce in South Africa, called my agent and he said ‘Oh yeah, the guys from House of Cards called again and you should have a chat with the writer’. Two weeks later I was in Baltimore. It’s really impressive! The White House is built on a stage. which is pretty cool. On my first day, the first question I asked is ‘Excuse me, where can I find Airforce 1’? How is it coming into something on episode 12 of Series 4? Presumably Kevin Spacey must have got things pretty much sorted by now… What is there you can say to him? That’s a very good question. House of Cards was an offer I couldn’t refuse for a lot of reasons. First of all, I’m a big fan so having the opportunity to work with someone like Kevin Spacey was great. From Gillian Anderson to Jim Broadbent to Kevin Spacey: that’s not a bad journey! The really good thing about House of Cards is that David Fincher created this world where directors are able to contribute and do their own thing. Of course, TV is a writer’s medium, but still I felt free to bring something I learned with London Spy into House of Cards. I talked to the crew a lot about it: we looked at the first season of Fincher’s episodes and we were actually trying to bring it all back to that. To me, that was an interesting exercise in style. What are the elements to which you were trying to bring it back? Simplicity – letting the acting decide what camera moves you do; bring down the pace and make it darker and more intense; try and find a way into a scene… There’s a lot of stuff that Fincher does that is a great film education.
You said that what you see as entertaining has changed as you have done more interesting stuff and found that you could entertain with different material. Do you think that process has continued? Are you prepared to take more chances? Yes, because I think it’s necessary to take chances. We took a chance with The Fall and we took a lot of chances with London Spy. Nobody wants to take too many risks, of course, but you still need to find some way into it. A lot of scripts feel very familiar, so one of the most important things is waiting for the right script to arrive that has something unique in it. What do you see happening next? You’re presumably looking at projects? Well, that’s a good question. It’s been a very busy year, so I’m happy to take some time off, but in the meantime I’m reading a lot of stuff. There are a few things that might or might not happen; it’s the time of the year where everything is possible and we’ll see what’s next. Do you see yourself moving into features or do you think television gives you more opportunities? Well, if a project like London Spy comes along, I’m happy to continue this way; but it’s the little boy’s dream to make a feature film. Television can happen fast but features take a long, long time.
Filmography Born Antwerp, September 1, 1980 Studied RITCS School of Arts, Erasmus Hogeschool, Brussels, 1998-2002 2002 2008 2009-12 2011 2013 2014 2015 2016
Snapshot, short, 19 mins. 180, TV series, 5 x 25 mins. Vermist, TV series, 2 x 47 mins. Code 37, TV series, 19 x 43 mins. Code 37, feature, 100 mins. The Fall, TV series, 5 x 58 mins. Ontspoord, TV series, 3 x 52 mins. The Bridge, TV series, 2 x 45 mins. London Spy, TV series, 5 x 58 mins. House of Cards, TV series, 2 x 51 mins. Black Mirror, TV series, 1 x 60 mins.
— David Verdurme trained as an editor at RITCS, where top Flemish editor Nico Leunen was one of his teachers. He cut his first film – the Cannes Directors Fortnight entry Little Baby Jesus of Flandr – with fellow graduate Gust Van den Berghe and has worked continuously ever since, often with several projects on the go at once. He is currently completing work on, among other films, King of the Belgians, the new movie from directing duo Peter Brosens and Jessica Woodworth. —
2011 — Blue Bird
When did you know you were going to become an editor, because it’s not an obvious choice for a student? I actually wanted to become a television editor. Then I met Gust Van den Berghe on the graduation project he made, Little Baby Jesus of Flandr, and I was thinking maybe I should try fiction, you never know. It was from editing that movie that my passion for editing came. It was, like, ‘Yes, that’s the thing I want to do’. Were you keen on movies as a child? Yes, I would get up at 6.00 am and watch movies on television – movies, movies, movies… Any particular ones that inspired you? I think much later, Khadak from Peter Brosens and Jessica Woodworth. But, no, as a child it was Hollywood movies in general, not really specific ones. When did you discover different kinds of cinema? I think six years ago through Gust. He really opened my eyes to old movies; it was like a new world. Where did you study? Was it specifically an editing course? I was at RITCS. The first year it’s everything; and then the second year, you choose camera, editing or sound.
And you always knew you were going to choose editing? Yes. What is it that appeals to you about it? It’s the last phase of a movie and it’s really nice for me to work with directors to see their state of mind and figure out why they are making a movie. It’s something I love to see. You don’t go on set? No, never. Do you like having the director in the room when you’re cutting? The first stage is, I watch the rushes on my own to get a feeling for them. After that, I really start to work with the director, to have a conversation – not every day, of course – but I really enjoy the idea of making something together. So Gust Van den Berghe’s Little Baby Jesus of Flandr was your first feature? Yes, it was a great experience for me because I’d never edited a movie, nor had Gust. We were also lucky to have Nico Leunen as our supervisor; I learned a lot from him. I thought that name might come up… [Laughs] He really taught me a lot of small things in editing – things to do with rhythm. And he told us where to take things out because our cut was two hours long. [The final film runs for just 73 minutes] I notice that, on your website, what you show is an image of a ‘Delete’ button. Yes, deleting things – not showing them: that’s the most important thing for me as an editor. On your IMDb listing, you’re sometimes credited as Donnie Van den Kerckhove. Why is that? I like to have two names. For my television programmes I use another name and for features I use my own. Is Donnie different from David? He’s more mainstream. Which of the various features that you’ve done has given you the most satisfaction? For me, Blue Bird [about two kids from an African village searching for a mysterious bird] is the movie I love the most. Normally you have a scenario and the editing is mainly about finding the rhythm. But with Blue Bird, the editing is really important because you could place all the scenes anywhere in the movie. It’s quite a different kind of editing than for a mainstream movie. My next favourite is I’m the Same, I’m an Other, directed by Caroline Strubbe. We edited, I think, eight months on that movie, so it was really intense. But I learn something on every film.
Isn’t eight months perhaps a bit too long. Don’t you get numbed? Yes, of course. But that’s also what I like about editing sometimes: that you go so far, personally also – that you get to know yourself better. How much scope is there for your own input when you’re working with someone like Caroline? Or Gust? Are you simply the person who can realise what they want to see in the film or are you a collaborator on a more significant level? In the first place, I’m just doing what they think is best for the movie. But after one or two months, that’s when my job really starts – when I say ‘That doesn’t work’ or ‘I think this’. It’s a collaboration between two people to make the movie come together in the best possible way. You can’t do it alone – as a director or as an editor. It only works if you challenge each other. That’s why I like to do that kind of movie. I don’t like just sitting at a computer while they say ‘Just cut this out’. For me, it’s really a question of going home and thinking… I always say I have a conversation with the directors but I also have a conversation with the movie and the actors. That’s really important. It’s the movie that tells me what I need to do. You seem almost exclusively to have worked with ‘that kind of director’. That must be a choice. Well, I also like mainstream movies. But if I had the choice, I would just do the difficult ones, the special movies, because I really want to be a part of those. Do you in fact have the choice? Are there enough of those movies? So far, yes, but I’m also a little bit of a workaholic… I think I got that! … and I want to edit every day. What are you working on at the moment? A Dutch children’s movie – not mainstream: more for festivals, I hope – called Toen mijn vader een struik werd. In English, it’s My Father Became a Bush. Actually I’m doing four movies right now: that; King of the Belgians; then I’ve started Blue Silence with Bülent Ozturk; and I’m also supervising My First Highway by Kevin Meul. How do you manage to work simultaneously on four movies? I don’t like it, you know, because my head is really full. But now, with King of the Belgians, we’re at the end of the phase. I’m an editor who doesn’t like to have a picture-lock. My job only stops when the movie is done, so that’s why I’m doing more projects at one time. I hate the word ‘picture-lock’. Why? For me, editing is also sound editing and music. If you have a picture to lock and after that you have the sound editing and the music, the editing changes.
2016 — King of the Belgians
So do you involve yourself in the sound editing? Not really, but I will have an opinion about it. It’s not that I’m sitting next to them: I just want to watch the movie every week, to see the progress. I’m not going to say ‘Do this’ or ‘Do that’. Do you ever come back in and say ‘I need to change this’? Yes, of course. If I see that the sound editing is slowing things or making the movie faster, then I really want to change the editing. Tell me a bit about King of the Belgians. The story is very simple. It’s about the Belgian King getting lost in the Balkans; that’s it. I love it. It’s a great movie and really funny, but it’s still a Peter and Jessica movie. Are there particular challenges in cutting a comedy? Yes, for me now in my career, comedy is really the most difficult thing to do because after one month you don’t see it anymore. You don’t see the humour or the cuts; it’s totally different from other kinds of movies.
2013 — I’m the Same, I’m an Other
Can you just take me through the process? We watched the rushes and, after two weeks, we already had a cut of two hours, I think. There were not a lot of cuts in the movie: it’s always one shot, one long shot. After that, we took a break to get the feel of it again, and now we are just going back with the music guys and also the sound editing. The movie is more soundediting than editing, because there are not a lot of cuts. Have you ever wanted to do any other job in the movie business? Have you ever wanted to direct, for instance? No, not really. Directing is something I couldn’t do because it’s too much work. Editing is like three months work and then you go on to the next one. Directing is too much of your life. Editing suits me just fine. Do you see yourself anywhere particular in 10 years time? That’s a really difficult question. I’m very young for an editor so I hope I can do it all my life, but I don’t know. I think when I’m not learning anything any more, I will stop. For me, on every movie I need to learn something new; that’s the most important thing.
2010 — Little Baby Jesus of Flandr
Filmography Born Ghent, July 29, 1985 Studied RITCS School of Arts, Erasmus Hogeschool, Brussels, 2006-2009 [All titles as editor unless otherwise indicated] 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013
Helden van de Harmonie, short documentary, 26 mins. Dinsdag, une tranche d’immeuble, 3D short, 15 mins. Little Baby Jesus of Flandr, feature, 73 mins. Blue Bird, feature, 86 mins. Dag Sinterklaas, TV series, 1 x 15 mins. Welcome Home, feature, 73 mins. Mathilde’s Misses, documentary, 53 mins, supervising editor. The Fall, short, 17 mins. I’m the Same, I’m an Other, feature, 109 mins. Crème de la crème, TV series, 10 x 48 mins, as Donnie Van den Kerckhove. Walles on Velos, short documentary, 24 mins. L’infini, short, 22 mins. Lucifer, feature, 110 mins. Leegte, short, 19 mins, supervising editor. Dissonant, short, 18 mins. This Is How I Disappear, short, 20 mins. Shadow, short, 18 mins. La tierra roja, feature, 104 mins. Ay! Ramon, feature, 105 mins. My Life as an Actor, documentary feature, 70 mins. Småland, short, 20 mins, supervising editor. Flowers of a Thousand Colours, short documentary, 23 mins, supervising editor. King of the Belgians, feature, in post-production. Toen mijn vader struik werd, feature, in post-production. My First Highway, feature, in post-production, supervising editor. La muerte de Cupido, short, in post-production, supervising editor. Blue Silence, feature, in post-production. Serial, short, in pre-production. Charlie and Hannah’s Grand Night Out, feature, in production. Resurrection, feature, in pre-production. Witblauw, short, in pre-production.
— Born in Germany but raised in Belgium, David Williamson tried his hand at architecture and academic film studies before enrolling at St-Lukas in 2006. He won a Wildcard for his graduation short Now/Here but has since spent his career working as a cinematographer, most notably for classmate Gilles Coulier on the latter’s short films, TV series The Natives and upcoming feature Cargo. He recently completed Vincent and the End of the World and Le ciel flamand, and is hoping soon to use his Wildcard to make a short film currently entitled Eve. —
2015 — The Natives
You have a distinctly un-Flemish name! My dad is English and my mother is German but the name ‘David’ is multilingual. I was born in Germany but my parents moved here a couple of months after I was born so all I have ever seen is Belgium! Did you always know you were going to go to film school? Absolutely not. First of all I tried a year of architecture which failed miserably because I was not very good at construction. Then I looked around a bit and wound up going to Utrecht in the Netherlands, where they have something called TFT: Theatre, Film and Television Studies. It was very theoretical, like a university course, but it really got me interested in film. I watched a lot but, after three years, I thought I would like to do something practical, although I had no idea what. Somehow I went to Brussels and enrolled at St-Lukas and that was when it all got started. Did you study to be a cinematographer or a director? You had to be a director. In the past, I think you could graduate as a cinematographer but they stopped that somewhere along the road, so you had to direct a film. But it was very much of a hands-on course? Yes, definitely. We were very lucky with our teachers there, because we had a lot of practical people. We had Fien Troch, Patrice Toye, Michaël R. Roskam… All the teachers were actually making films at the same time, which really made you feel like you were doing something, not just studying. And I was very lucky with the class we had: Gilles [Coulier – see page 24] was in it, and Benjamin Van de Water, who’s my gaffer now. We made films or helped each other make films.
You got a Wildcard from the VAF for Now/Here – or should I call it Nowhere? It’s both. But didn’t that give you the incentive to make another short film as a director? Absolutely. But the thing is, after school, I got asked to be a cinematographer on different projects without even really thinking about it. It just sort of happened, I think, mainly due to my shooting Gilles’ short films. And Gilles shot your graduation film? Yes. But he quickly left that part of cinema behind: he has no sense of horizons [laughs]. Almost every other shot had to be recalibrated afterwards because he has absolutely no sense of straight lines. So your architectural training came in useful there? Yes, I’m very good with perspectives. And you just kept being asked to shoot other people’s films? Yes. I enjoyed doing that a lot. You work with many different people; you get into all sorts of different situations; you watch other people direct; and you learn how film works, which I think is something you can’t really learn at school. The second film I did was a co-production with Luxembourg called Silent City, which really taught me what ‘industry’ means. I’m not very proud of it but I think it was a useful experience.
2013 — I’m the Same, I’m an Other
Which was the first feature for you that was really rewarding? Oh definitely the Caroline Strubbe film, I’m the Same, I’m an Other, which was actually shot before Silent City. Caroline had seen Gilles’ films and also seen my film because we had a screening where we could invite a couple of people. Tomas Leyers, Caroline’s husband and producer, knew Gilles so they came. I didn’t even know who she was. I knew I liked her film [Lost Persons Area] a lot but nobody introduced me, which was strange. Anyway we went shooting on a test day in Hungary, which was very tiring but very interesting, and I think it felt right for everybody, so we decided to do the film together. Up to now, I think that’s the most interesting project that I’ve been able to do visually. It’s very bleak, as I recall, with very little colour. That is actually a bit of a shame because the way we finished the film, there was more colour in it. We saw it in Toronto and it was brilliant; the projection was great and all the colours were right where they should have been. But it’s just not a film where the colour correction stands up in regular circumstances. So another lesson learned? Definitely, yes. The whole colour correction aspect is an incredibly interesting process. It’s also very important to know what you can do afterwards when you make certain decisions while shooting, where you can go ‘We can solve that later’. I always try to persuade production companies to do one or two test days so that we can work out whatever we’re going to do in different situations, different lighting – have a look at what the actors look like, what works in the image: all that. You can save a lot of time and make a lot better decisions by doing that.
Do you normally operate for yourself? Yes. In Belgium, except for maybe the Dardennes, it’s always like that these days. I quite like it – as long as you have time. But The Natives was a lot more complicated because you’re stuck there with the camera on your shoulder and you want to talk to your gaffer – but he’s outside, under-equipped, doing stuff… Just to clarify: you’ve been shooting on digital from the start? At school we shot on 16mm quite a lot. We’d have dinosaurs – and I mean that positively – teaching us how to shoot on film. I think it’s still something that we really need to try, if it’s possible. You haven’t shot on film since then? Only 16mm; I’ve never shot on 35mm. That’s something I’d really like to do, but I don’t think a lot of production companies will warm to the idea: they are so used to seeing everything immediately. Do you think it will be like vinyl and make a comeback? I don’t know, I suppose it already has a bit. You see people still deciding to shoot on film and getting great results. I think if it was going to die it would have died a couple of years ago and wouldn’t still be around. Maybe you could talk me through the other films you’ve shot. You shot three shorts for Gilles… Yes, when we were studying we shot three shorts together. After that I don’t think I shot any more shorts although I did a medium-length experimental film called YURI with Liesbeth Marit, who is preparing a feature now. They have this section called ‘Film Lab’ at the VAF, which is for more experimental projects. So I shot Caroline’s film; I shot a Dutch film Silent City which was mainly filmed in Luxembourg; I shot a French-speaking film called Melody; and then Liebling, a low-budget film which we shot in 15 days in France. We all had a good deal of fun doing it: we went completely berserk with lots of fluorescent lights and funky colours. You like to kind of play around from time to time on films? Definitely, yeah, but in the end it’s always about shooting the story. It’s just a question of what the story allows you to do. Ultimately, I suppose, it depends on what projects you choose to do. I always believe that cinematography is basically just helping the director tell the story better than he could do by himself. Last year you got together again with Gilles to shoot The Natives, which was for television. Was that a different way of doing your job? Oh definitely, yes. The biggest thing about it is, if you do a film, there are only so many people who see it. But this, everybody saw it. It’s incredible. I’ve been working for five years and suddenly people around me have seen something I’ve done! You have a lot less time on TV series, which was rather frightening. You have to be really quick and devise a style that you can do within your budget and at the speed with which you have to shoot it, especially with The Natives because it was very actor-based.
2010 — Now/Here
I gather the actors had workshopped it for a long time beforehand. But you were not part of that process obviously… It’s an interesting way of doing it, but in the end they really had to work on the story and get it into episodes. We tried to shoot as easily as possible: we’d shoot a medium shot and then everybody gets a close-up and that’s it: on to the next. Do you do commercials as well? Not very often. So you’re strictly a narrative man? No, absolutely not. I just don’t know a lot of directors who do video clips and commercials. I do commercials once in a while, and that can be great fun. But if you’re doing a film project and they call you for a commercial you say ‘Sorry, I can’t, I’m shooting for three months’, they forget about you and that’s it. What have you done since The Natives? I shot Vincent and the End of the World with Christophe Van Rompaey and after that Le ciel flamand with Peter Monsaert, who made Offline. That was very interesting and I hope it’s going to be good. Can you see yourself doing more television – and maybe working abroad? Yes, definitely. I think that would be incredibly interesting. The only thing that I think is a bit of a shame is that, at the moment, we’re not able to make anything here that exports the way our directors do. For me, that would be the most interesting thing to happen: that we could finally produce something for television that really became a hit outside of Belgium.
Do you have plans to come out from behind the camera and direct? Well, I’m still working on that Wildcard! Tomas Leyers from Minds Meet – who produced Caroline’s film – is going to produce it and there is a screenplay and everything, so it’s happening. We just have to work out when exactly we’re going to shoot it and who is going to be in it. Is there a title yet? At the moment it’s called Eve. So where do you see yourself in five or 10 years time? I have no idea. I think I’ve been very lucky up till now to get a lot of interesting projects, I’ve learned loads doing it. If possible, I would really enjoy doing something as a director, even though it’s much easier to survive as a cinematographer. As a director, it’s really painful, you know – getting the story right and making it all work is a huge strain. The cinematography aspect can be a strain and be very tough, but you are doing something that is a lot more controllable.
Filmography Born Landshut, Germany, November 28, 1983 Studied LUCA School of Arts, Campus St-Lukas, Brussels 2006-10 All credits DOP unless otherwise indicated 2009 2010
2012 2013 2014 2015 2016
Iceland, short, 22 mins. Now/Here, short, 14 mins, director. Paroles, short, 22 mins. Silent City, feature, 90 mins. YURI and the Frustration of Our Ponies, feature, 57 mins. Mont Blanc, short, 15 mins. I’m the Same, I’m an Other, feature, 109 mins. Melody, feature, 90 mins. Bevergem [The Natives], series, 8 x 50 mins. Liebling, feature, 80 mins. Vincent and the End of the World, feature, in post-production Le ciel flamand, feature, in post-production. Cargo, feature, in production.
Photo credits BBC: p126 The Fall, London Spy, p87 Peaky Blinders Canal+ / Sky Atlantic: p86 The Tunnel Maarten De Bouw/VTM: p83-85 Cordon, p109 Cordon2 Bart Dewaele: p33 Pieter-Jan De Pue, p41 Bas Devos, p57 Jonas Govaerts, p73 Robrecht Heyvaert, p89 Peter Monsaert, p105 Eshref Reybrouck, p121 Jakob Verbruggen, p129 David Verdurme Kris Dewitte: p24, 30-31 Cargo Thomas Dhanens: p11 The Broken Circle Breakdown Piet Goethals: p90 Offline Johan Jacobs: p49 Adil El Arbi & Bilall Fallah Nicolas Karakatsanis: p42, 44, 46, 47 Violet Netflix: p18, 124-125 House of Cards Sam Sisk: p65 Malin-Sarah Gozin Frank van den Eeden: 114 Tonic Immobility Filip Van Roe: p97 Robin Pront, p111 Nathalie Teirlinck Gaetan Verboven: p12 Moscow, Belgium Tom Verbruggen/DeWereldvrede: p23 Gilles Coulier, p137 David Williamson Jo Voets: p112, 113,115, 118-119 Tonic Immobility
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BELGIAN CINEMA FROM FLANDERS 2 You talking to me? 16 young Flemish filmmakers in conversation
Interviews & introduction: Nick Roddick Editor: Christian De Schutter Editorial co-ordination & art direction: Nathalie Capiau Copy editor: Jo Roddick Design & production: Gestalte/Grafische Vormgeving Printed by Drukkerij Wilda, Beveren (Belgium) Printed on Balance Silk 150 g First published in May 2016 All rights reserved. No parts of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews. ÂŠ 2016, FI Publishers For further information: www.flandersimage.com
Nick Roddick taught film and theatre at universities in the UK, Ireland and the USA before becoming a journalist in the early 1980s. He was films editor of Stills magazine in London in 1983-84; editor of Cinema Papers in Australia from 1985-6. This was followed by a decade as a trade journalist as Editor of Screen International, then founding Editor of Moving Pictures International. He contributes regularly to Sight & Sound and the Evening Standard, and is the author of several books on the cinema. He currently runs consultancy company Split Screen Data with his partner, Jo.