take 23 | suMMer 2012 | € 3.99
FASCINATED By THE
Red STAR LINe A look at
Flanders shorts in Cannes
MATTHIAS SCHOeNAeRTS IN RuST & BONE
Johan heldenbergh niCo leunen luMiÈre vaf wildCards niC balthaZar roMan kloChkov
QuOTe ‘i knew from a very young age that i wanted to become a director. at 15 i was a member of a film club: i made shorts there, organised screenings, invited guest lecturers. if someone had told me then that 15 years later i would direct a BBc series, i’d probably have said they were mad. But it’s all happened so quickly, thanks to – i hope – a little bit of talent and lots of luck and determination. what’s the next step? well, Belgium’s still got a lot to offer me. But if i was offered the chance to do the american remake of Code 37, then i would have to be crazy to say no. hollywood remains the mecca. of course i would like to end up making a film there eventually. is that over-ambitious and un-flemish? so be it. one step at a time though. i first have to deal with this story.’ young director jakob verbruggen, who recently started shooting five-part BBc thriller The fall in Belfast. interview by Thomas peeters in “de Tijd” - 7 april 2012
www.flandersiMage.CoM I talent Matters
C NTENT I Take 23
Nic Balthazar decided to
reduce the environmental impact caused by the making of his latest feature, Time of My Life.
Eric Goossens and
Frank Van Passel are both fascinated by the story of the Red Star Line, the ships that between 1873 and 1934 took 2.7 million migrants from Antwerp to New York City. The result is a documentary series as well as a
is hot! The Bullhead actor stars in Jacques Audiard’s Cannes Competition entry Rust & Bone.
and Leni Huyghe both still attend Sint-Lukas film school in Brussels. And they’ve already got a short selected for this year’s Cannes Film Festival.
Kristoff Leue talks about
‘Manga Belge’, the look developed for the
ZOOks cross-media project. Emilie Verhamme
Lumière enters the
international sales arena. Jan De Clercq, Alexander Vandeputte and Annemie Degryse explain why.
The latest batch of VAF
Wildcard laureates are known, and Johan Heldenbergh
stars in Felix van Groeningen’s highly anticipated The Broken
Circle Breakdown. He also cowrote, directed and starred in the hit stage play the film is based on.
the five winning films will be shown as part of this year’s Short Film Corner in Cannes. Make way for Adil El Arbi
and Bilall Fallah, Jeremy De Ryckere, Kenneth Mercken, Boris Sverlow and Kenneth Michiels.
28 2 Quote Jakob Verbruggen | 8 i-Opener Rust & Bone | 10 i-Opener A perdre la raison | 38 Influence Nico Leunen | 41 Icons at the Oscars | 42 Shortissimo Natasha | www.flandersimage.com Talent Matters
in parTicular Through his big ask video projecTs ThaT give a new TwisT To proTesTing againsT climaTe change. when The Time came To make his laTesT feaTure film, tiMe of My life, he knew he couldn'T jusT ignore The issue. 'i've nagged everyone for so long wiTh This message ThaT i ThoughT: even filmmakers like us should jusT
GeTTING THe GREEN LIGHT
direcTor nic BalThaZar is a Tireless environmenTal campaigner,
check and see how much damage we are doing To The environmenT.' TeXT IAN MuNDELL
ILLuSTRATION KARL MEERSMAN
measuring the impact that making the film – from pre-production to the last day of editing – would have on the climate was just the beginning. Balthazar also decided to reduce that impact as much as possible, and then to 'pay back' the unavoidable damage by generating an equivalent amount of green energy. an activity's impact on the climate is usually measured by how much carbon dioxide (co2, the main greenhouse gas) or its equivalent, is released into the atmosphere. The aim was to ensure that time of My life was carbon-neutral, producing as much benefit for the environment as harm. Thinking about the environment turned out to be good news for Balthazar's budget. 'you soon find out that being more Co2 efficient makes you more cost-efficient and time-efficient,' he says. for example, locations were chosen to reduce co2 emissions related to transport. 'you will never make a producer unhappy by saying all the locations have to be as close together as possible.' But it also affected Balthazar's creative decisions. The film – based on a true story – is about a group of friends whose close bond is tested when one of them develops multiple sclerosis and campaigns for the right to end his own life. The idea was to depict the early years of their friendship as warm and bright, but the environmental goal meant Balthazar had to resist the urge to put cast and crew on a plane and head for the sun. instead they took a risk with the notoriously unreliable Belgian weather and shot at home. 'That was a huge saving,' he says, referring to the co2 emissions. 'But you also save money, you save time, and it makes you more creative.' The cast also got into the spirit of Balthazar's project, agreeing to share a car to the set every day rather than travel separately. 'That's a very good idea for a director, because they just start rehearsing in the car. They'd be talking about their roles and the film, and just having fun and bonding.' while transport turned out to be a major source of co2 emissions – nearly 70% of the total – some of the things that Balthazar expected to be an environmental cost barely registered. 'putting up one more lamp makes no difference, although my heart just bleeds if i see these big generators left on over a lunch break,' he recalls. even so, he made every effort to work with natural light and reflectors. 'The dop, danny elsen, was shooting for the first time on digital and he was amazed at how much he could do with less light than we would normally have.' in the end, Balthazar was able to reduce the film's carbon footprint by 10% compared to his previous feature, ben x. he admits he was disappointed the reduction wasn't greater, but specialist advisers futureproofed say it's a good result by industry standards. 'if the next car that renault produces is done with 10% less co2, they would be very happy,' Balthazar explains. 'But i'm certain that we can do more, and that's the next step.' to offset the Co2 emissions that couldn't be avoided, solar panels were installed on the roof of eyeworks, the film's production company. futureproofed calculates that over 15 to 17 years enough green energy will be generated to make the production of time of My life a zero-emission movie. while that target has been achieved, things get tricky when you start to think of the co2 emissions generated by the film after production is finished. 'once we go to a festival and, for example, take three actors to montréal our footprint rockets,' Balthazar explains, adding that the solution is not environmentally friendly filmmaking but making all modes of transport greener. The same problem applies if you think about all the people who drive to see the film. 'Then the best thing you could do is to have a film that nobody ever goes to watch, and we don't want to be that ecological!'
cover stor y
Matthias sChoenaerts is the toast of franCe. in MarCh he was naMed the nuMber one aCtor to watCh in 2012 by
le figaro, and he is seT To Tread The red carpeT in cannes wiTh jacques audiard's rust & bone. but after a high profile campaign in The usa around bullhead's oscar nominaTion, The limelighT doesn'T faZe him. 'it's fun, and of course it's really nice to get that kind of recognition, but at the end of the day it doesn't change anything. i think i just need to continue working the way i work. maybe it will bring some pressure, but i try not to think about these things. But it is amazing to be taking rust & bone to the cannes festival. in general, i'm not too wild about premières, but this time i really want to be there. i'm going to enjoy the moment like crazy because we worked like crazy on this film.' 'working with jacques audiard is probably the best thing that can happen to an actor. he believes that a film is told through its characters, and if the characters don't exist in the right way then he doesn't have a film. so the biggest part of his work is working with his actors, and he is intense. he's in the moment all the time on set. he really wants his actors to propose something, so that he rediscovers what he has written through his actors, and only then does he start directing.' 'it's a very interactive process. he challenges you, but he wants you to challenge him. it's turbulent and it's intense and it's far from easy. The only way to deal with it is to be really well prepared, because once you are prepared you can let go. you can jump into the moment.' 'after cannes, in june, i'm off to new york for two weeks to shoot Blood Ties with guillaume canet. he wrote the script with james gray, who made we own the night. There's a really strong supporting role – he offered it to me, and it felt right.' 'i still have plans to work in flanders: i'll be shooting The wasteland, a film by pieter van hees. it's hard to describe: a police relationship drama that's very dark, very noir. as you can see i love dark and edgy stuff! Then there are some other projects coming up that i haven't signed up for yet. and i have a lot of stuff to read from france and the states, so i'll just take my time and see what feels right.'
as told to ian mundell www.flandersimage.com
RuST & BONe ali all of a sudden finds himself in charge of his five-year-old son, sam. But the two barely know each other. without friends or money, ali seeks shelter at his sister's place. There he finds work as a bouncer in a local nightclub. That's where he meets the self-confident and pretty stephanie. she's a killer whale trainer at the local marineland. But she's also a princess and he's just a poor guy. one day, ali receives an unexpected phone call from stephanieâ€Ś directed by jacques audiard (a prophet), rust & bone is selected for this year's official competition in cannes. The film stars oscar-winner marion cotillard and matthias schoenaerts (Bullhead). flemish co-producers are jan de clercq and annemie degryse for lunanime. ď Š
A PeRdRe L A RAISON joachim lafosse's a perdre la raison is selected for this year's un certain regard programme in cannes. a generous doctor brings a young moroccan boy back to Belgium to raise him as if he were his own son. when the boy reaches adulthood, falls in love and starts a family, his young wife finds herself trapped in an oppressive emotional atmosphere that will insidiously lead to a tragic outcome. with the birth of their children, the coupleâ€™s reliance on the doctor becomes excessive. The latterâ€™s boundless altruism evolves into domination. starring Tahar rahim, emilie dequenne and niels arestrup, the film's flemish co-production partner is antonino lombardo for prime Time. ď Š
THe SHORT & Two sTudenT shorTs are selecTed for This year's cannes film fesTival: emilie verhamme's CoCkaigne plays in The official compeTiTion, while leni huyghe's
Matteus compeTes in The cinĂŠfondaTion. BoTh films were made aT Brussels-Based sinT-lukas universiTy college of arT and design.
COCKAIGNE in The week The cannes line-up was announced,
couldn'T quiTe Believe ThaT her shorT filM CoCkaigne had been seleCted for The official compeTiTion. she was also a liTTle emBarrassed, since she is only in her second year aT sinT-lukas film school in Brussels. 'i don'T wanT people To Think: "whaT a cocky person! in your second year, you send your movie To cannes!" i jusT senT iT To a loT of festivals and then totally forgot aBouT iT. BuT why noT Try?' text IAN MuNDELL
porTraiT BART DEwAELE
shor t i ssimo
THe BeAuTIFuL Cockaigne
her initial idea for the film involved immigrants arriving at a sea port, but the people she met while researching the project were mostly from the ukraine, where connections with europe are more naturally over land. so she listened to their experiences and thought again. 'They told me so many stories you could fill a book, or make a feature film,' verhamme recalls. 'But they were funny stories. They were laughing about it.' This fitted with the tone she wanted for the film. 'i didn't want to tell a heavy story that was too dramatic. i wanted to keep it light.' she wove the anecdotes together into the story of a father and his two sons, travelling from the ukraine to Belgium in the back of a van full of coffins. once in Brussels they are welcomed by their compatriots, but they are also expected to pay for the hospitality. similarly, when they find work they are abused and exploited by other newcomers. naturally, they fight back.
when researching the film, verhamme was intrigued to hear about this lack of solidarity between recent immigrants. 'it's all about surviving, and if you have to hurt other people then you do it,' she says. 'They don't want to help other people who are in the same situation, and i find that weird.' having settled on a ukrainian story, she needed to find ukrainian actors. 'in the beginning they were pretty reticent, because they were scared i would show ukrainian people in a bad light,' she recalls. Then she was put in touch with a church serving the ukrainian community, and invited along to present her idea. 'during the service i was looking at people and thinking which ones would be good for the story,' she says. people were still reluctant, but they agreed to help. 'They had so
much respect for their priest that, in the beginning, i guess they did it for him.' Two of her actors â€“ oleg and stas farchteyn â€“ are father and son in real life, while the role of the second son was taken by oleg danilov, a fellow student from sint-lukas. verhamme spent a long time preparing with them. 'i saw them for 10 weeks in a row, just to talk with them. if i'd just brought them onto the set then they would never have said anything, they were so shy.'
verhamme concedes that this was a lot of preparation for a first short film. 'if i do something, i have to do it well,' she says, 'and particularly with a theme like this, which is so sensitive.' she was also conscious that immigration was a well-worn subject. 'so, it had to be good and it had to be something that stood out.' The shoot, when it came, was so frantic that she had no time to think of anything but the story. 'i have my idols and directors i respect, but i didn't use any references for this movie,' she says. even so, the close, hand-held camerawork has made some people think of the dardenne brothers. 'it wasn't a style that i wanted to reproduce,' she says, 'but i'm happy with the comparison.' after cannes, she has another short film to make to secure her bachelor degree. This will be about a brother and sister in their mid-teens who visit the house where they grew up. invited in by the new owner, they end up staying for a few days. 'i started from the concept of boundaries within relationships and within property,' verhamme explains. 'if my property stops here, then yours starts there. so the story is all about pushing this a little bit, and then taking it back. it's about subtle manipulations.' ď Š
MATTEuS as a Child leni huyghe was fasCinated by Christian ritual and the characTers in The BiBle, BuT wiThouT a religious upBringing she felt exCluded froM this world. her short filM Matteus, which has Been selecTed for The cinĂŠfondaTion compeTiTion aT cannes, turns this situation on its head.
text IAN MuNDELL
porTraiT HELENE LEMONNIER
'in this story i have a child who is not baptised, from a family that is really modern, comes from the city and is quite worldly,' she explains. 'They go to this village and the kid gets into the Bible very quickly, and in a very strange way.' and rather than rejecting the child, the village and its religious community appears to have been waiting for him. huyghe is aware that this scenario could be seen as a comment on religious extremism, but this wasn't her intention. 'for me, it's not black or white. it's really grey, and i leave it open,' she says. 'while the religious group is strange, you don't really know them. They might just be happy that this child has arrived. But of course the atmosphere is really dark, so perhaps i do push in one direction a little.' knowing that she wanted a dark atmosphere influenced the choice of location. driving around the flemish countryside she found an old vicarage which fitted the bill perfectly. 'when we arrived there was a dark field in front and then an abandoned garden, and i thought immediately we could shoot it there. i hadn't even seen the inside.' she and the crew stayed at the house while they were shooting, which helped them discover atmospheric corners of the property. 'we found new spots that we could use, such as a little attic above a workshop,' she recalls. This proved to be vital because the weather was unseasonably good, making the exteriors far too green and bright for her purposes.
'i wanted this strange atmosphere that you find in sam peckinpah's straw dogs, for example,' she says. 'you have this village that comes into your life and you don't know what is going on. it was the idea of religion being a very alien thing that comes into the life of the family in the film, and they see it as a threat.' another reference for the look of the film was Tomas alfredson's eerie vampire film let the right one in. she found her lead actor, mateo Bal, at a youth theatre group. 'he stood out for me because he was really intuitive, and didn't act as a child would act. it was a risk, because
shor t i ssimo
he is a beautiful boy and originally i wanted someone who looked stranger. But he was really good, and he agreed to do it.' Bal is in his early teens, significantly older than the character he plays, but this meant he was able to retain the lines from st matthew's gospel that form part of his dialogue. 'These lines saying that the children will stand up against their parents and kill them, if you pick these out and put them in this context, they turn into something dark,' huyghe explains. 'it's really ambiguous. That's what i liked about bringing together that atmosphere with that text and this beautiful kid.'
Matteus is huyghe's bachelor project at sint-lukas film school in Brussels, but she has already had some festival success in flanders with a previous short, st james infirmary. 'This was a black comedy about a therapy group for people who have a problem with death,' she says. ‘we shot it in a day and a half, and everything went perfectly.' Making Matteus was a tougher process and the problems still colour the way huyghe sees the film. ‘But suddenly it is selected for the cinéfondation, so they must have seen something in the movie,’ she says. Before cannes, huyghe was off to Brazil on a student exchange. 'To see if i can make a movie there, on the spot,' she says. and then in july she has to shoot her graduation film, which she describes as a love story that is not about love. 'it's about my generation and the way we got stuck in this total chaos of communication, and this twilight zone between being a child and adult life,' she says. 'it will be about dancing and music and all the things you are passionate about when you are young. But it's not about partying, it's more about passivity and showing yourself to the world and this abstract group of people on the internet.' www.flandersimage.com
circle Breakdown feaTuring The cover-ups of alaBama', The hiT sTage play ThaT felix van groeningen has now Turned inTo a movie. BuT when he agreed To reprise The role of didier on The Big screen, iT meanT Taking a significanT sTep Back. 'i had To say: i'm an acTor now. when felix asks me To do someThing i will have an opinion, BuT noT as a wriTer, as an acTor.'
johan heldenBergh co-wroTe, direcTed and sTarred in 'The Broken
text IAN MuNDELL
porTraiT BART DEwAELE
heldenbergh also has experience as a film director and screenwriter, thanks to the exuberant period drama schellebelle 1919, but he didn't think of making a film adaptation of the play himself. 'you have to have some distance,' he says. 'for me 'The Broken circle' will always be the play, and i wouldn't be able to turn it into a screenplay.' The play was inspired by a number of different impulses. first, heldenbergh wanted to explore the role of religion in society, at a time when restrictions on wearing the veil were
A P e R F e CT being discussed in europe, and creationism and abortion were being hotly debated in the usa. 'i was a little bit scared, and i wanted to write about religion interfering with politics,' he explains. as a counterpoint, he wanted to draw on the narrative possibilities of bluegrass and white gospel music. 'it's full of great stories, but always with a lot of pain,' he says. This in turn inspired him and co-writer mieke dobbels to choose the most painful story they could imagine: a perfect couple driven apart when they lose a child. The play begins with elise taking an overdose and slipping into a coma. she dreams of a band of men playing bluegrass music in white suits, including her partner didier. 'she wants to say goodbye to her man and say: "sorry, i had no other choice." But his anger forces her into a dialogue. even in death she can't escape.' This dialogue is punctuated with songs from the classic country repertoire, such as 'will the circle Be unbroken'. 'in the play, the music as well as the humour are moments to breathe for the audience, because otherwise all the misery and the hardness are unbearable,' heldenbergh explains.
he thought early on that there was potential to turn the play into a film, and he invited several film directors to come and see it. That list didn't include van groeningen, however, who came to see the play as a friend. 'i saw a movie in it, but for me it was unimaginable that felix would be interested,' heldenbergh says. 'it's a little bit corny. it's a melodrama. But he immediately loved it. Then he came to see it a second time, and i thought: ok, he's a fan. Then he came a third time...' it was still a pleasant surprise when van groeningen asked if he could buy the rights. 'i'm very proud of the play and very proud that felix chose to make a movie out of it.'
CIRCLE 'I'm very proud of the play and very proud that Felix chose to make a movie out of it'
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Village people schellebelle 1919 came out of a late night conversation between amateur actors in heldenbergh's village, schellebelle. They were fantasising about making a movie. 'i can't stand people talking in bars about things they'll never do,' he says. 'you have to do it!' To set things rolling he began work on a screenplay, but once the idea was in place he decided to raise the stakes. 'i thought, either i write it for a little camera and it's very amateurish, or i make it very hard, so that the whole village has to participate otherwise it fails. and i chose the second option.' They set up a non-profit organisation to run the project. 'Before i knew it 800-1000 people were working on this movie,' he recalls. The screenplay was tailored to the community, setting challenges such as building a boat to cross the river, and making sure that everyone who wanted to be in the film had a role. 'i had to have a lot of characters, and a lot of children because they all wanted to be in it.' The plot is a bit like a western. in 1919, the children of a number of families scattered by the great war have taken refuge on the van de velde farm. The local authorities want to put the kids in an orphanage and the mayor has his eye on the land, but the kids have other ideas and fight back. while heldenbergh worked on the screenplay and directing the actors, the visual side was handled by co-director kenneth Taylor, a young filmmaker who also happens to be the mayor of neighbouring wichelen. once complete, the film lived up to its ambitions. not only did it tell an entertaining story with a professional finish, but it earned a theatrical release in flemish cinemas, selling a respectable 25,199 tickets in 2011. The experience has had a profound effect on heldenbergh. 'i'm much more confident about my writing now,' he says. 'it's changed my ambitions. i'm going to write another screenplay now, probably several just to make sure one gets made.'
Kenneth Taylor (l) and Johan Heldenbergh (r)
Steve + Sky
johan heldenbergh and felix van groeningen (r) on the set of The Broken Circle Breakdown
The move from stage to screen also meant adjusting heldenbergh's character. 'for a theatre audience i'm used to playing the part very big and very loud,' he explains. 'all the mechanisms are there to play it loud and i constantly had to put the brakes on. it was probably the hardest thing i ever had to do as an actor.' This is the third time heldenbergh has been in one of van groeningen's films. he had a supporting role in steve + sky and played one of the disgraceful strobbe brothers in the Misfortunates. 'he's changed a lot as a director,' heldenbergh observes. 'with steve + sky, which was his first movie, we all just went with the flow, with the rock and roll of a fun script. now he knows much more what he wants to say. what has stayed the same is that he creates a great atmosphere on set. he demands 100% but he gives 100%. There's a lot of energy and a huge sense of commitment and artistic responsibility.' heldenbergh thinks that this commitment makes van groeningen a special director to work with. 'you can feel him searching for things and you want to search with him. you want to jump into the same pool. he just drags you into it.'
JOHAN HeLdeNBeRGH (°1967)* (2012) – THe BROkeN CIRCLe BReAkdOWN (2011) – COMe AS YOu ARe (2009) – THe MISFORTuNATeS (2008) – MOSCOW, BeLGIuM (2007) – BeN X (2004) – STeVe + SkY (2003) – ANY WAY THe WINd BLOWS * selected filmography
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TAKING THe Red STAR LINe
BeTween 1873 and 1934 The ships of The red sTar line Took 2.7 million migranTs from anTwerp in flanders To new york ciTy. wiTh so many sTories To Tell, iT's no surprise that fiCtion and doCuMentary filMMakers alike are exploring The possiBiliTies The line has To offer. text IAN MuNDELL
porTraiTs BART DEwAELE
one of the attractions for frank van passel, whose production house caviar is developing a drama series based on the red star line, is the opportunity to reflect on current attitudes to migration. 'what did it mean to migrate 100 years ago and what does it mean now?' he asks. 'we can see that there is no difference: when you are poor you are poor. it was like that 100 years ago and it's like that today. The circumstances change but the stories are the same.' his red star line series (in three or six episodes, depending on the length) has three different strands. The first takes place in 1913, just before the first world war, and tells the story of a german jewish family passing through antwerp en route to america. The second takes place in 1965 and introduces characters
from among the first chinese and moroccan immigrants to antwerp. The third unfolds in 2013, bringing together the descendents of the characters from the first two parts with newcomers from elsewhere in the world, such as ghana, albania and Turkey. The structure is van passel's idea, but the task of writing it falls to long-time collaborator marc didden and newcomer jan van dyck. van passel will produce and direct. 'of course the emotional stories attached to the red star line touch me like they touch everybody,' he says of his own connection to the project. 'i was born and raised in flanders, and although i travel a lot i'm not an immigrant. But i have an enormous respect for people who, at a certain moment in life, have the courage to leave everything behind.' Then there is the chance to experiment. 'with Tv drama nowadays i think you can look for new structures and new ways of telling stories,' he says. 'Tv is open to new approaches, and i'm very much attracted to the idea of having three periods in one series.' one way he hopes to exploit this is by casting the same actors to play characters in successive generations of the same family, underlining the resonances between the different periods. 'we are not telling the same story three times, because all the stories connect with each other and go in other directions, but the repetition interests me very much, the idea that things don't change that much.' This will make casting a challenge, since actors will have to be convincing in a range of languages. for example, an actress speaking german and yiddish as a character from 1913 will also have to speak perfect american english when playing her great granddaughter in 2013.
'We want to provide a new reflection about migration. Our ambition is not to make simply a historical series, but a documentary where people discover the stories then which are the same stories today' – eric Goossens
meanwhile bringing these different periods to life on the screen will test the production designers. as well as antwerp and new york, there will be scenes away as morocco and israel. Then there are the ships of the red star line itself, none of which survived. van passel plans to combine real locations and sets with the expertise caviar has in 3d computer graphics. 'i've shot some commercials that were set in the 1930s on fifth avenue in new york and we never left the studio. so it works, but it's time-consuming.' Then there is the size of the project. while it is too early to put a figure to the budget, van passel knows it will be big. 'it's a huge production,' he says. he hopes to get a green light at the end of this year, to shoot in the summer of 2013, and to air in the fall of 2014. flemish public broadcaster vrT is on board and there is scope for applying to the flemish media fund, which has already contributed to €62,500 to development costs. But there is still work to do building the international side of the co-production, although he thinks the pitch is a good one. 'This is a story about europeans. most of it takes place in antwerp, but antwerp symbolises every port. it could have been southampton, hamburg, rotterdam or le havre.' van passel admits that it's an ambitious project, but that is something he relishes. 'There's a dramatic challenge in the storytelling, there's a huge technical challenge, and there's a huge financial challenge,' he says. 'at any one of these points it can go wrong. But that's why you do it. we don't want just to repeat ourselves.'
'This is a story about europeans. Most of it takes place in Antwerp, but Antwerp symbolises every port. It could have been Southampton, Hamburg, Rotterdam or Le Havre' – Frank Van Passel
The red star line is part of family history for documentary maker daniël cattier. one of his uncles is descended from a co-founder of the line, and it's through this family connection that he heard about plans to open a museum devoted to the enterprise in antwerp in 2013. 'when my uncle told me about the opening of the museum i thought: there's something interesting here.' cattier trained as a historian before starting a career in television with jobs at the BBc, channel 4 and arte. his first short films were fiction, but then he moved into documentary with an episode of the historical series kongo in 2010. 'i really enjoyed that experience, working with archives and to a certain extent animation,' he says. 'it was great fun to use historical material to tell a story and have a strong narrative with strong characters.' with the idea of the red star line in his head, cattier called eric goossens at off world, one of the kongo co-producers, and they started to discuss possibilities. like van passel, goossens was particularly attracted by the chance to use the line to discuss how contemporary questions of migration can be seen through stories of the past. 'we want to provide a new reflection about migration,' he says. 'our ambition is not to make simply a historical series, but a documentary where people discover the stories then which are the same stories today.' This was an ambition they shared with the red star line museum, which became a partner in their project. it also appealed to flemish public broadcaster vrT and, with early backing from the flemish media fund, they had a solid basis on which to launch the project. cattier was joined by kristof Bilsen as co-director, and the two began to explore the material available. an important meeting was with the ellis island foundation, the institution which preserves the memories of migrants arriving in new york city. 'it has testimony recorded in the 1970s from people who took the red star line between 1900 and 1934. when we started listening to that we thought we could make 20 episodes if we wanted to, because the stories are so powerful.' This ellis island material will be the core of the documentary series, together with written testimony that needs to be brought back to life by other voices. Both will be illustrated with archive material from north america, antwerp and eastern europe. 'we are looking for images that haven't been seen before,' cattier explains, 'and as we conduct the research for the visual material we are coming across other kinds of material. That could be a police report from russia in 1890, talking about people fleeing the country and being arrested by the police or how smugglers are helping people cross the river.'
The series will be in three 52-minute episodes, organised thematically. first it deals with the causes of migration and the journey to antwerp. Then it turns to the evolution of antwerp in that period, and how the red star line contributed to the economic and social development of the city. finally it deals with the settler experience and how the reality measured up to the dream of a better life in north america. But the main thread in the series, and in the 90-minute movie version, will be the shipping company. 'we will always come back to the story of the red star line,' cattier says. That represents a visual challenge, since none of the ships survived and there are not many filmed images. however, there is a collection of contemporary models which they plan to bring to life using motion control. for this and other effects cattier and Bilsen will be able to draw on the expertise of walking The dog, the animation studio that goossens set up with anton roebben in 2000. 'we want to avoid reconstruction, so for sequences where we have no images we will work with still images and animation,' says cattier. 'i don't mean cartoons, but slight details or photomontage effects.' for instance, smoke might be added to a funnel or shadows of movement behind a ship's portholes. The team also has some creative ideas based on secondary material, such as the work of antwerp artist eugeen van mieghem, who painted migrants in the city at the turn of the century. 'we want to delve into his creative world and, using animation and other effects, to show his perception of refugees in antwerp,' says cattier. other material also offers possibilities. 'we could use posters of the red star line and make a short animation sequence to show how it evolves over time. some of those are beautiful.'
some live location work is also a possibility, to emphasise the links between past and present, but most of what we see will be archive images. 'The biggest challenge is to keep the viewers' attention over three episodes with a lot of archive material,' says goossens. a reference for cattier is ken Burns, whose subtle use of movement helps bring archive film alive. 'he is doing things i'm very fond of and which prove it is possible,' says cattier. 'we'll use that as a framework and hopefully go beyond.' he realises that there is a lot of information to master. 'our challenge in terms of narrative is to find the right level, and i'm convinced that's possible,' he says. 'creatively our challenge will be to surprise people visually and have a film that is a real feast for the eyes.' This is also important for goossens. 'you don't do this kind of project twice. it has to endure for five or six years, and you have to do it for the older generation and the younger generation.' ď Š www.redstarline.org www.caviarfilms.com www.offworld.be
early backing from the media fund, created by flanders minister for media ingrid lieten in 2010 to support Tv production in flanders, was an important factor in launching the red star line documentary. with a mandate to support creative documentary, fiction and animation series, the fund's endorsement set a benchmark for the series. 'They expect us to do something high-quality and creative,' says producer eric goossens. 'with that stamp i can maintain the level for everyone.' for example, if potential broadcasting partners start to push for a more classical approach he has the backing to resist. his budget is currently â‚Ź910,000, to which the fund contributed â‚Ź180,000 in production support. now goossens is looking for international partners, in particular in the usa, to complete financing. several Tv channels already showed their interest. with a huge number of passengers coming from eastern europe such as poland, russia, the ukraine, estonia, romania and hungary, the public broadcasters of many of these countries are keen to air this project. in order to have this international reach, he has to keep a close eye on the quality. 'it's not that we want to be the BBc, they have huge budgets, but when there is something like the red star line project you have to do your best as a producer to make it as good as possible.' Technical aspects need to be top-flight of course, but it's the creativity that goossens expects to make the difference. 'we've surprised people with our fiction films and our animation, now we have to do the same with this high standard of documentary films.'
Stimulated by the Media Fund
the zoo ZOOks may be for a young audience, but it isn't meant to be educational.
'There are more than enough encyclopaedias out there,' says Kristoff Leue, head of SANCTA. 'It's not our job to inform our audience.' But with an ingenious combination of gaming and animated drama, ZOOks is intended to inspire kids to think about the natural world. 'You could say that ZOOks is a Walt Disney version of a Greenpeace action,' Leue explains. Text Ian Mundell
Portrait Bart Dewaele
ZOOks begins with a game, played on-line and on mobile devices. It introduces kids to a zoo in a city, surrounded by a forest. The idea is to create a character and develop its attributes based on the animals the player encounters and releases. So itâ€™s not yet another â€œzoo gameâ€? where animals have to be collected, but rather the opposite: they nurture endangered species to release them in their natural habitat. There's also a chance that the player will get to know other characters that will become important later, such as the zoologist Madeleine and her small daughter Robin. Then something drastic happens in the game world. In order to find out what it is, players need to watch the film or the TV series. 'The game play is taken over by the story,' Leue explains. 'As a gamer you will be confronted with the same situation as the main characters in the story, and all the citizens of the city.' This story begins 10 years into a dictatorship, under which the Bureau of Nature Control (BNC) has taken over the city. Everything natural has been eliminated. There are no parks, no gardens and no pets. Nature is considered hostile. There is a fence around the city, patrolled by armed guards whose mission is to stop people going into the forest. The city zoo still exists, but it is now much more some sort of a research centre, where bizarre shows are staged to depict nature as cunning and dangerous. Madeleine is still in charge and has a special dispensation to visit the forest. When she doesn't come back one day, 13-year-old Robin goes to the fence to investigate. There she meets a wild boy, Wolf, who says he knows what has happened to her mother. So Robin takes Wolf back to the city, and that's where the adventure starts.
nteractive i â€˜Manga Belge demands epic stories. It allows you to work larger than life, but it is driven by very human emotionsâ€™
All pictures ZOOks
'when the feature releases, the universe of the game play is taken over by the Bureau of nature control,' leue says. 'Then in the second phase of the game, when you know about the story, you will have to beat the Bnc. one of the game challenges will be to tear down the fence, and that will be a multi-player game.' leue was inspired to create this story by thinking about how young people form a relationship with nature. 'we all get to know wildlife and nature through the zoo or stories about wild children such as 'The jungle Book',' he says. 'especially for children, these two romantic constructions allow us to have a vivid bond with nature.' it was clear from the outset that Zooks would need a distinctive look if it was to stand out from the crowd. 'we started to explore using different elements, so we work with 3d and 2d animation and with actors and rotoscoping,' says joost jansen, sancTa's art director. rotoscoping is a technique in which live-action images are converted into graphical images, as can be seen for example in richard linklater's film a scanner darkly. 'we ended up with this more realistic style,' jansen continues. 'it's not cartoony − the people in the movie have real proportions − but we place that feeling of realness in a special graphical style. you could call it a hybrid graphic movie instead of an animated movie.' as well as giving the film and game universe a distinctive look, the style has practical advantages. 'Because we are working with real people and recognisable proportions, we think that it is also easier for the viewer to get into the characters on different platforms.' They've called the style manga Belge, evoking the japanese style of graphic novel and its animated counterpart. 'There is
an asian look that makes it a bit edgy, a bit urban and more vivid,' says leue. 'That's why manga is a good reference, but we add Belge to it because we intend it to be much richer. japanese manga has a 'less is more' approach, with the fewer lines and colours the better, while we want it to be richer.'
currently Zooks exists as a 103-minute animatic, complete with a voice recording of all the actors. The next step is to develop the backgrounds, to shoot the actors and process the images. To do this, sancTa is working with dupuis, a Belgian company best known for producing comic strips but which also has a studio in charleroi. 'They have a great green key studio and the digital artists and digital capacity that fit exactly our needs,' leue says. 'it's also good that we can keep the project in Belgium.' The € 3.5 million budget is 90% financed, with only french partners to come. leue expects the project to be finished at the end of 2013. sancTa has invested a lot in the manga Belge method, creating both a technical pipeline and a creative template. 'we could and should write a bible, and say this is how you make a manga Belge,' leue says. 'if you want to end up with this visual style on these platforms, these are the steps you should take.' he adds that he would be happy to open it up to other people, rather like a record label is open to other bands. meanwhile sancTa is already planning to use the method on a version of the sunjata epic of west africa, in which a child survives exile and war to become the first ruler of the malian empire. according to leue, this is where manga Belge works best. 'it demands epic stories. it allows you to work larger than life, but it is driven by very human emotions.'
Kristoff Leue set up SANCTA in 2004, choosing a name that suggested divine inspiration. 'That's what SANCTA means: connecting and inspiring, and I think that's what a good story does,' he explains. The Antwerp-based company was established to produce the multimedia series W@=D@ (in other words, What's That?), a combination of TV programmes, on-line documentaries, live theatre shows and magazines, all calculated to bring foreign cultures to a young audience. Now with a core team of five people, SANCTA specialises in developing ideas for creative, multi-platform storytelling. The aim is to design an experience rather than focus on one or other medium. 'You start from the story you want to tell and choose the best platforms to do that,' Leue says. As well as crossing platforms, SANCTA has a knack for creating unusual partnerships. Couleurs Carolo, for example, united the city of Charleroi, public broadcaster RTBF and paint manufacturer AkzoNobel in a project to reclaim a city labouring under the reputation of being the ugliest in western Europe. As well as painting events and social media, the project was covered in an eight-episode documentary. 'We go into that arena with a conflict and characters, and we use those basic building blocks to tell a story which is interesting for the brand, for the city and for the broadcaster,' Leue says. A common thread in SANCTA projects is an engagement with cities, culture and green issues. 'I believe that every question finds an answer in one of these three domains,' says Leue. Being a small company, the challenge is to keep control of the creative process for as long as possible. Sometimes it has to hand over to clients or other partners at the concept stage, but Leue prefers to keep things in-house. 'The fun part is in creating something, in seeing your story come alive.'
Connecting and inspiring
THe ART OF THe SALe annemie degryse (l), alexander vandeputte and jan de clercq (r)
lumière is an inTegraTed cinema company, acTive as a producer and exhibitor of filMs in addition to its Core business in theatriCal and video disTriBuTion. now iT is Bringing This experience To inTernaTional sales, Beginning wiTh Two films close To iTs hearT. if successful, This could Be the beginning of a whole new business. text IAN MuNDELL
porTraiT BART DEwAELE
lumière has its roots in 1997, when jan de clercq and alexander vandeputte took over an art-house cinema in Bruges. lumière was established as a production company in 2000, its first credit appearing on dorothée van den Berghe's debut feature girl. in 2003 lumière moved into distribution, filling a gap left when another Belgian distributor closed. initially it partnered with dutch companies to form Benelux film distributors (Bfd), until 2011 when lumière expanded its own operation to include the netherlands. physical distribution of dvds, initially handled by a partner, has also been brought in-house. The impetus to move into international sales was the company's experience with a cat in paris, the oscarnominated animated feature it co-produced with folimage in france. 'That proved that releasing an animation film internationally is a very specialised thing to do,' says de clercq tactfully. he thinks that being immersed in the cinema business gives lumière a good perspective on how such a film could be sold internationally. 'we see a lot of things going wrong in international sales,' he says. 'That doesn't mean we will do it better, but we see the problems, and understanding the problems is already a good start.'
The first film lumière will be taking to the market is offline, a debut feature by flemish director peter monsaert, which it is also producing. set in ghent, it tells the story of an ex-convict trying to rebuild his life. one reason lumière wants to handle the film itself is a feeling that other agents would be uninterested or give it too little attention. 'a first-time, flemish language film is a very small thing on the international market,' says de clercq.
some of these problems are practical, such as achieving a smooth flow of press materials from the producer, through the sales agent to the distributor. sales agents that are good at this, such as pathé, pyramide, les films du losange and gaumont in france, often have other industry interests. 'even before a film is finished the machine starts,' says vandeputte. 'you feel not just the sales company but the whole company backing it up. you feel they have a theatrical strategy in france, the video guys are already working on it, and all that flows through the sales outfit to the clients, which is fantastic.' lumière has also become somehow disillusioned with sales agents who focus exclusively on the sale. 'They don't necessarily seek the best partners,' vandeputte continues, 'and we often see films ending up with the wrong distributors.' he sees the role of the sales agent as a long-term commitment. 'selling films is not only selling films, but following them up for five or ten years, and that is hard for some sales companies. The essence of the deal, in many cases, is in the future. it's following up, getting royalty reports, getting statements, checking them, knowing if they are more or less correct. we have all this knowledge in house.' having a relatively large staff, with the necessary experience, means that lumière can put a toe in the water of international sales without setting up a new structure. as well as logistic, press and administrative support, the company can draw on the expertise of two people with international sales experience. head of acquisitions esther Bannenberg used to work with sales agent fortissimo films, while company vice-president and head of production annemie degryse previously headed up flanders image, promoting local films abroad. 'on the basis of what exists we can take two films, maybe three or four, but beyond that we will have to organise extra people,' says de clercq.
A Cat in Paris
offline is practically finished, so the work selling it begins straight away, first offering it to festivals as a way of raising its international profile. 'we can only act once we know which festivals we are in,' says de clercq. lumiĂ¨re will also be discussing the film with colleagues in distribution when they meet at markets and other festivals. 'we have a very big network of colleagues abroad, who see that we are distributors like them,' says degryse. This affinity should open doors. 'They are not dealing with a sales agent who only knows in theory what the world of distribution is about.' even so, expectations remain realistic. 'hopefully some european countries will buy it, and some festivals to get the director known, and there will be some good Tv sales,' says de clercq. The company's ambition is bigger for phantom Boy, the follow up to a cat in paris. with a completion date at the end of 2014, there is time to do the long-term work. 'a year and a half before release we will start setting up a marketing plan,' says degryse. 'we'll try to get distributors together to talk about whether they should release the film at the same time, because if you do that you have much more power in the market.' if enough distributors commit early on, it may also be possible to get additional support from the european commissionâ€™s media programme. work will also begin on promotion, for example bringing international distributors and press to the animation studio in valence to view early scenes from the film and see how the french distributor intends to handle the movie. Teasers will need to be ready a year before release, and a trailer six months before. 'These are things that you build up at least a year and a half before the official release of a movie,' says degryse. 'you can't wait until the film is finished and then start.'
for de clercq, a successful outcome would be to have the right distributors on board in the main territories a year before release. 'The main problem for a european animation film is how to have the sort of european and world-wide marketing that you need, and in which the americans are very specialised,' he explains. Beginning with two films in which lumière has a production interest is pragmatic rather than a sign of how this side of the business is expected to develop. 'we are not an unhappy company starting to do sales ourselves because no-one wants our films,' says degryse. however before opening up to films from other producers lumière wants to be confident it can deliver. 'we want to have this first experience so that we don't make promises to producers that we can't keep,' says de clercq. and as word gets around, he is confident that other films will come their way, from the Benelux countries or further a field. 'we are open to that, but only for movies where we have an affinity, where we can make a difference, and where we know there is an international potential related to our market.'
Lumière's affinity lumière's idea of a good film ranges from small art-house fare to big international films. This was evident in the first titles it took on as a distributor: the intimate Tajik drama angel on The right and the italian social epic la meglio gioventù. against this background a number of themes emerge. in recent years it has developed an interest in scandinavian crime, handling the millennium films on the big screen and series such as The killing and wallander on dvd. it has also sought out french movies with international appeal, from the intensely emotional ll y a longtemps que je t'aime to the period drama les adieux à la reine, which opened the Berlin film festival this year. meanwhile in english it has distributed films such as margin call and the iron lady. 'we have a very broad taste,' says de clercq. 'and the moment someone tells us something will be difficult, we are more inclined to do it,' adds vandeputte. 'or if someone tells us that something is not mainstream. we had that with the crime series because they were in danish or swedish, and we had that with la meglio gioventù because it was six hours long, and with heimat because it was in german and black and white. i like that kind of challenge. The main thing is not to underestimate the audience.' www.lumiere.be
THINGS IAN MuNDELL Talks To The laTesT BaTch of vaf wildcard laureaTes: six recenTly graduaTed filmmakers, selecTed By a jury, who receive BeTween €40,000 and €60,000 plus coaching from The flanders audiovisual fund (vaf) To make Their first assignMent in the real world. all five vaf wildCard winning shorts will also Be shown as parT of This year's shorT film corner in cannes.
JEREMy DE RyCKERE KENNETH MERCKEN
ADIL EL ARBI AND BILALL FALLAH
AdIL eL ARBI ANd BILALL FALLAH I FICTION, 23â€™ kariM and nassiM live in the saMe neighbourhood. one works with kids, The oTher deals drugs. one is pious, The oTher is decadenT. Their paThs will ineviTaBly lead To conflicT. adil el arbi and Bilall fallah were initially brought together at sint-lukas film school through a shared background. 'we were the only moroccans in the whole school, so there was a click between us,' says fallah. But they soon found they shared a cinematic bond. 'we have the same vision and the same ideas, and on the set it's like our minds are connected,' says el arbi. for their graduation project, brothers, they chose a parable well-known in the arabic world about a good man and a bad man who decide to change their lives. They modernised the story, contrasting a womanising petty criminal with a devout youth worker in contemporary antwerp. as well as providing strong characters and a window onto the Belgian-moroccan community they know well, the story also gave them a chance to challenge stereotypes. 'on flemish Tv, when you see moroccans they are extremists, criminals or really good guys,' says el arbi. 'we tried to use two of those images, let people think they are the stereotypes, and then play with them.' visually, they wanted to avoid the conventions of social realism. 'we wanted to make real cinema, not a little film with a shaking camera,' says fallah. along with a poetic voice-over in arabic, it suited the parable to have big cinematic gestures. Their inspirations in doing this were spike lee and martin scorsese. 'The movies that had the most impact on us when we were growing up were american movies and american narrative style,' el arbi explains, 'and that's the style we wanted to put into a short movie.' now they plan to move on quickly to their debut feature, which will explore the media's treatment of problem neighbourhoods in Brussels. called image, the story will bring together a woman journalist investigating the issue and a streetwise moroccan guy. fallah and el arbi won't always tell moroccan stories, however. 'it's our first phase, and these are stories that need to be told,' says fallah. 'But we want to be able to make anything.'
THe HeIR JeReMY de RYCkeRe I dOCuMeNTARY, 19â€™ a faMily devoted to horse raCing lives with the ConsequenCes of a Tragic accidenT, finding comforT in compeTiTion and prayer. The romance of the racetrack got under jeremy de ryckere's skin when he was exploring options for his graduation film at the riTs film school in Brussels. 'it's a beautiful world, with a lot of passion and a lot of suspense,' he says. 'sports always involve great emotions.' he started talking to the jockeys and met raf depuydt, a breeder and trainer still racing in middle age. The family obsession should have passed to raf's son dominique, but an early racing accident put the young man in a wheelchair. now his father keeps the dream alive while praying for a cure. 'They have such an amazing story, with a lot of pain and regret,' says de ryckere. 'The challenge is to tell that story without too much pity, to tell it honestly and with a lot of respect.' interviews with raf and dominique are sparingly used as voice-over, while the camera observes events at the track, in church and at the family home. 'i like to be distant, in a way, and not get too involved in the story myself,' de ryckere says. 'i like to be an observer.' a pivotal question was how to present dominique's accident. 'This is the core of the story, so where are we going to put it and how are we going to recount it?' he asks. 'should we do it with words or with images?' There was no footage of the accident, and he didn't like the idea of having raf or dominique tell the story straight to camera. 'so we tried to make something impressionistic, with a fire and footage of another accident, so that it's like a flashback or an emotional memory,' he says. following the vaf wildcard and selection for last year's international documentary film festival in amsterdam, de ryckere is starting to think about the future. 'now i'm just trying to find a good story,' he says. 'once you have a story you can start thinking about what kind of director you are going to be.'
keNNeTH MeRCkeN I FICTION, 15â€™ Two young russian cyclisTs sTruggle wiTh performance enhancing drugs. while one emBraces Them, The oTher resisTs. kenneth mercken drew on his own experience as a professional cyclist when planning his graduation film from the riTs film school in Brussels. 'i had a really dark past in cycling,' he says. 'i've seen it all: the money, the doping and everything.' he was particularly struck by two young russians who were his team-mates while racing in italy. one had quickly accepted the offer of performance enhancing drugs, while the other struggled with the choice, caught between the need to succeed and the lack of an alternative career at home. 'i had all the options,' mercken recalls, 'i could study film or start over, but he had no alternatives and he still said no to drugs. i had so much respect for that and i wanted to make a film about it.' That choice immediately presented challenges, such as casting and directing russian speakers. creatively it wasn't a problem, but the practical difficulties proved fatal. one actor was unable to leave russia when the time came to shoot, while another made outrageous demands once on set. eventually, mercken had to abandon the shoot. To complete the film he borrowed a digital camera and shot abstract images of a cyclist in the mountains, knitting them together with the 35mm sequences he already had with a voice-over in the form of a letter home. 'only a third of the original script was shot, but i believe that it forced me to take risks and be creative,' mercken says. 'i think it's more personal, it's closer to me now, than it probably would have been with the full script.' The 35mm material on its own was good enough to interest producer-director koen Mortier (22nd of May) in a feature project mercken had developed, once again based on his experience in cycling. while writing and developing that film, he will use the freedom of the wildcard to do something more risky. 'i'd like to do something wild, something very intuitive,' he says. 'you only get one chance to work like that.'
w i ldcards
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SHATTeRed PAST BORIS SVeRLOW I ANIMATION, 8â€™12â€? a Man looks baCk on his Childhood and the MoMent when his faMily was forced To flee revoluTionary russia, a perilous journey ThaT leads to istanbul. The opportunity to combine different animation techniques was one reason Boris sverlow chose this moment of family history for his graduation project from kask, the ghent academy of fine arts. 'since this was my final film i could experiment and give myself the freedom to try everything,' he says. The story comes from sverlow's grandfather. 'he left his memoirs behind specifically for his grandchildren. i found that extraordinary, because i'd never met him. he died before i was born.' as well as the story, his grandfather's voice appears in the film thanks to old tapes of him reading from the memoir. The present is evoked by live-action backgrounds, while sverlow's grandfather is drawn in charcoal. Then his image fragments. 'The moment he was writing his story he had a stroke, and i thought it would be interesting to visualise that,' says sverlow. 'when you have a stroke your reality does not really change, but there is a rewiring of the brain. it's like a puzzle that cannot fit together.' in sequences from the past, charcoal animation combines with collage, so that the fleeing family appears jostled by contemporary images. 'i wanted the techniques to clash because that was also an element in the story of my family, which was confronted by new elements in society,' sverlow explains. The style also echoes the constructivist art of the period, another challenge to the old order. he developed the combination of animation techniques as he went along, and is content that this sometimes jars the viewer. 'i wanted to leave the roughness in there, so that you feel the experiment, the new ideas that are expressed in the film.' while he thinks there is scope for continuing the experiment, for example bringing in elements of 3d animation, sverlow is not sure whether he will do this in his next project or later on. he would also like to continue his grandfather's story, of which the escape from russia is just the beginning.
TWeNTY-ONe + SeVeN keNNeTH MICHIeLS I dOCuMeNTARY, 33â€™ seven-year-old viBe lives wiTh her grandparenTs in The counTryside, BuT aT weekends Travels To The Town To visiT her parenTs. moTher and daughTer Talk aBouT Their lives, TogeTher and aparT, and how They reached This poinT. before Twenty-one + seven, kenneth michiels tried to make a short fiction film based on the separation between his sister, Britt, and her small daughter, vibe. 'There was something missing,' he admits. 'i think, at that time, i'd have preferred to make a documentary, but the story was so close to me that i was a little afraid of touching it.' This was early in his studies at kask, the ghent academy of fine arts. in the months and years that followed he mulled over the idea and made some screen tests as vibe got older. a turning point came when he let her use the camera. 'she was filming things that grown-ups would never film,' he recalls. 'she was filming insects and making comments about them, and just zooming in and zooming out. i thought that was something very pure and real. she was just looking at things, discovering things and asking herself questions. That was the key for me.' while Twenty-one + seven uses ethnographic methods, such as sharing the camera with the subject and michiels' own appearance on-screen, there are also very cinematic moments, such as the wide-screen images of the countryside and the use of orchestral music. 'my aim was not to tell a story from a to Z, but to let people feel something through watching the film,' he says. Being so close to the story had its risks. 'when you are filming people you love and care about, it changes the way you ask questions and what you want to show. it brings up a lot of ethical questions about filmmaking.' it's not an experience he plans to repeat. 'i think this is the one and only time i will get so close to the subject,' he says. 'But i always try to find a connection between myself and my subjects, so i think my films will always be personal.' www.flandersimage.com
uNdeR THe INFLueNCe nico leunen descriBes film ediTing as an insTincTive process. 'There is an analyTical parT, in The sTrucTure of a whole film, BuT Then how everyThing finally sTarTs flowing and Blending has To do wiTh guT feeling,' he says. This sensiBiliTy has made him one of The mosT soughTafTer ediTors in flanders, working wiTh direcTors such as felix van groeningen, fien Troch, nicolas provosT, kadir Balci, and Brosens and woodworTh.
text IAN MuNDELL
it took time before leunen could trust his instinct as an editor. 'it was only after 10 films or so that i discovered emotions are more important than narrative structure,' he says. 'if the emotional flow of a movie makes sense to a viewer − even if they don't understand, they feel it − that's a lot more important than if the narrative is 100% correct. That was quite a discovery, actually. ever since, i've been editing in a different way.' This instinctive way of working is one reason other films don't influence his editing on a practical level. 'it may sound a little bit corny, but what influences me most is life itself. you experience certain emotions in daily life − you find out your wife is pregnant, or that a good friend has passed away −and if such scenes come up in a story then i'm influenced most by my own experiences, or other people's stories or things i've witnessed in real life.' another reason is that no two films are really alike. 'it's very hard to adapt a certain style from one film into another,' he says. 'The style comes from the material itself, whereas the spirit can come from another film.' it's here, in the spirit of a film, that leunen can see an influence from other filmmakers. he initially set out to become a director, studying at sint-lukas film school in Brussels. seeing the work of radicals such as jonas mekas inspired him to make experimental films himself. 'That has also influenced the way i edit: i don't fear experiments.'
over the years he has also drawn inspiration from films that are fearless in their approach to storytelling. one example is robert kramer's semi-documentary road movie route one usa. 'it has a very bold way of taking you along a road,' leunen says. 'every time you stop at a certain place you don't know where you are. you are disorientated.' another milestone influence was harmony korine's gummo. 'even though it was made in the 90s, gummo has a spirit of the 70s, when everything was possible,' leunen says. 'it was a very hopeful film for me. i felt: we're back on track. if this is possible within fiction film then there's still hope.'
porTraiT BART DEwAELE
after that there was the intruder by claire denis. 'it's a film that i didn't understand and i still don't understand, so that was a kind of flash: even if i don't understand a film, but i feel it, that can be enough.' a more recent influence is Bloody mondays & strawberry pies, an idiosyncratic documentary about boredom from the dutch filmmaker coco schrijber. 'it affected my whole life. it truly affected the way i look at things. But that's kind of extreme.'
although much in demand as an editor, leunen doesn't think this is because he has a distinctive style. 'i've always been against the term style when it comes to editing, because i think the style is inherent to the material.' That doesn't mean he is invisible. 'There is a hand that some people might recognise if they watch a lot of films that i've done. They might recognise certain aspects of how to approach scenes, but there is a lot of variation as well.' part of that approach is a respect for rough material and the possibility, as he puts it, of finding gems in lost moments. This means that he likes to see every frame shot when he is editing a film. 'i always consider all the material, even if a director says: "there's no need to watch that, it's probably useless." it's the "probably" that makes me worry.' his ambition as an editor is to continue working with directors who are making innovative cinema. he has just finished work on Troch's kid and van groeningen's The Broken circle breakdown, his fourth collaboration with the director. next comes above My head, by dutch director eugenie jansen. 'her first feature film [calimucho] really blew me away.' he says. he also wants to make his own films, including features, although he's in no particular hurry. 'There's no rush and no stress whatsoever, but i think i really have to give it a shot.' currently he is working on a low-budget documentary that explores a trade handed down through generations of his family. 'i'm slowly discovering my relationship with my father and my family through the question: can you make me a pair of shoes?'
These are some of the works Nico Leunen currently gets inspired by:
Clymer's Manual - BMW R50/5 through R100GS PD 1970-1996
'I've always been against the term style when it comes to editing, because I think the style is inherent to the material'
Spiderland, by Slint
Stellet licht, by Carlos Reygadas
Bloody Mondays & Strawberry Pies, by Coco Schrijber
PHOTOGRAPHY Dirk Braeckman
A glimpse in the photo album of the Bullhead delegation that flew to Los Angeles to attend the 84th Academy Awards ceremony
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N ATA S H A 'i’ve always dreamed of working as a walrus!' exclaims gennady in natasha. 'dreams do come true,' replies his friend. roman klochkov returns to the theme of immigration in his new 13-minute animated short. the hero of natasha is nicolaï, a very large russian bear who has emigrated to europe, where all immigrants work in the zoo. 'Tamara is a teacher, but she has to work as a cow. andre and sergei are engineers, but they work as giraffes,' he patiently explains to the latest arrival from russia, gennady. But when it turns out that gennady is married to nicolaï’s ex-wife, the beloved natasha, the relationship turns into an integration competition. natasha is about the lack of opportunities for those arriving in a new society, particularly if your grasp of the local language is poor. it’s a theme close to the heart of 30-year-old klochkov, who immigrated to flanders from kazakhstan as a teenager with his family. The animator and photographer’s 2006 short administrators, the story of a rabbit caught up in the red tape of immigration, won more than 10 prizes worldwide. natasha won the sacd prize at Brussels' anima festival this year, with an award of €2,500. produced by cinnamon entertainment and with a sad jazz piano score by Tiffany veys and kris van roy, natasha will screen at the krakow film festival in may and is in consideration for several other festivals.
take 23 | summer 2012 | € 3.99 Cover Matthias schoenaerts by thomas vanhaute Credits editor Christian de schutter deputy editor + art direction nathalie capiau deputy editor / digital karel verhelst sub editors john adair, saidja callewaert, an ratinckx Contributors lisa Bradshaw, karl meersman, ian mundell, henry womersley photo credits p 10-11 © kris dewitte; p 20-23 archive photos, courtesy of the red star line museum (redstarline.org); p 29 © jonathan wannyn; p 32 adil el arbi & Bilall fallah © Bart dewaele, kenneth mercken © philip james mcgoldrick all other stills copyrighted by the respective producers design
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