With three titles at Cannes, Belgian cinema is on the rise | Features
Three is the magic number for Belgian cinema at Cannes this year. Local filmmakers have made a trio of films in Competition: Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne Tori and LokitaFelix Van Groeningen and Charlotte Vandermeersch The Eight Mountains and that of Lukas Dhont close.
bad boys for life the family drama of directors Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah Rebel receives a midnight screening and Belgian producer Bert Hamelinck’s Caviar company produced the title Un Certain Regard war pony, directed by Americans Gina Gammell and Riley Keough. “It’s thanks to the talent”, explains Christian De Schutter, director of the promotion agency Flanders Image.
It is also partly a serendipity of timing and the willingness of established Belgian producers to support young and inexperienced directors – and to continue to support them.
Producers like veteran Dirk Impens, alongside Bart Van Langendonck at Savage Film, Eurydice Gysel at Czar Film and Hamelinck at Caviar are at the forefront of the Belgian boom, even if Impens shrugs off any age-old talk. ‘gold.
“In the many years I’ve been involved with the business, I’ve always been, ‘You know what, things are going great.’ And then, two years later [it’s]’Oh fuck, Belgian cinema sucks, and everything is going to hell,’” he says.
Impens Producer Credits Span From Oscar Nominee Daens in 1992 to films with the Dardennes (I think of you), Van Groeningen (The breaking of the broken circle) and, now, Lukas Dhont. Impens has been at the heart of the Belgian industry for three decades and was planning to retire in 2017, but then came the success of Camera d’Or winner Dhont. Daughter in 2018, and he decided to stay in the business a little longer to produce the director’s second feature film alongside Michiel Dhont, the director’s brother.
“I was pretty sure that Lukas had it in him to make an even stronger movie than the first movie,” says Impens. “It felt like a responsibility for me to help Lukas prove to the world that his first movie wasn’t a coincidence.” For Michiel Dhont, close is his first feature film and it is already in competition at Cannes.
There are good practical reasons why Belgian filmmakers are thriving and this boom may well be sustainable: the Belgian tax haven system, the support local filmmakers receive through public funds, including the Flemish Audiovisual Fund [VAF], which celebrates its 20th anniversary this year, and Wallimage, as well as regional funds such as Screen Flanders and Screen Brussels. It also helps that Belgian films are enthusiastically marketed by Flanders Image.
Another factor is the choice of material by the filmmakers. After the success of Daughter, Lukas Dhont was courted by everyone, from major French producers to Hollywood studios and streamers. He decided instead to stay in Belgium and do another intimate local drama.
“He chose to do a small story with a big impact. I think it was a very brave choice,” says Frans van Gestel, founding partner of Topkapi Films, the Dutch minority co-producer of the two Daughter and close.
In contrast, Van Groeningen and Vandermeersch ventured far from Flanders for their adaptation of Paolo Cognetti’s novel The Eight Mountains. The film was made in Italian, a language the two directors didn’t even speak when they started working on the project.
“We said we wanted to learn Italian to make this movie – and we did,” says Van Groeningen. “Charlotte speaks better than me. I speak very little but I understand enough to make the film.
They started writing the screenplay in their native Dutch, then came up with an English version before finally putting it in Italian. “The film tells the great moments of life told in a very sensitive way, which is really what Felix’s cinema is about,” says Vandermeersch of The Eight Mountainswhich explores the friendship between a city boy and the last child of a forgotten mountain village.
“I like that there is a clash between an old world and a newer world; the way of life in the mountains, the old way of life that has endured for centuries, is disappearing”, she adds on the subject.
After completing the first draft of the screenplay during the first lockdown, Van Groeningen asked Vandermeersch (who is an actress, writer and musician as well as a filmmaker) to co-direct.
Impens suggests that filmmakers like Van Groeningen, Vandermeersch and Dhont thrive as much for their work ethic as their talent. “They’re always willing to go the extra mile, it’s as simple as that. They never give up. As a producer, it sometimes drives you crazy,” he says of the extra production days they require or the time they might spend, for example, grading a film – or their willingness to learn. a new language.
“I can relate to that. My brother always wants the best. Lukas wants to challenge himself, push himself to go higher than he did with Daughtersuggests Michiel Dhont, who produced close alongside Impens.
It also helps that the new generation of Belgian filmmakers is tough. To make their films, they must apply for funding from the VAF. It can be a brutal process. Last month, Impens was part of a VAF jury, helping to evaluate the presentations of 23 filmmakers. “Out of 23 projects, only six were successful,” he reveals. “The selection, at a very early stage, is very harsh, which makes 17 filmmakers very unhappy. They cannot continue. They have to forget their idea and find another project.
Impens thinks this rejection process “really helps”. When filmmakers are told by VAF juries that their projects aren’t good enough, the best are encouraged to come back a few months later with another idea.
Many other filmmakers also have striking new projects. Actress-turned-director Veerle Baetens (whose When it melts will be released later this year), Fien Troch, Jessica Woodworth, Tim Mielants and others have all anticipated new projects in the works.
Van Groeningen is optimistic about the future, convinced that success breeds success. “When you see someone being successful, going to the Oscars or going to Cannes or having a film distributed internationally and finding an audience, it makes you think, ‘Yes, it’s possible.’ People start to think bigger.You start to believe more and influence each other by daring to dream and chasing those dreams.