BERLINALE 2019: GOLDIE
Sam de Jong spent two years writing and researching his second feature Goldie in the US, writes Geoffrey Macnab. The new work is selected for Berlin Generation 14plus.
The young Dutch director didn't have the money to rent an apartment. He therefore stayed in the "shittiest, smallest" Brooklyn Airbnbs he could find or couch surfed with friends. He spent some time in Harlem but couldn't afford to venture into Manhattan. "Starting life in the US is really hard. If you don't have any credit score, it is hard to rent an apartment," De Jong observes.
In the end, someone he met through FilmBuff/Gunpowder & Sky, the US distributor of his debut feature Prince (2015), gave him a room.
De Jong was finding out about the welfare system and the plight of homeless families. His own experiences bouncing around New York helped give him an insight into their worlds. His research also took him to LA, Seattle and Boston. He met counsellors, social workers and homeless families. He visited youth juvenile centres and visited a Brooklyn family centre.
Goldie, world premiering in Berlin, is a coming of age story about a young woman trying to keep her family together, and her sisters out of the clutches of the welfare services after her mother is imprisoned. Goldie is played by Slick Woods (the gap-toothed, shaven headed Vogue and Calvin Klein fashion model). "The film ended up being a collaboration between us. A lot of elements in the story are based on her life and journey," De Jong says of his young star. He met her through New Yorkbased casting directors who had worked with her before she was famous.
Not many young Dutch writerdirectors have their second features financed by Twentieth Century Fox. That, though, is what happened with Goldie. The film was made through a joint venture between Fox and Vice Films. "It was quite scary at first to deliver a first draft and to work on building a trustful relationship - to feel free to be yourself and experiment," De Jong says of the relationship with his backers.
Early on, De Jong made the decision not to foreground the politics. As an outsider, he didn't feel qualified to comment on US welfare issues. His interest was in the human side of the story. "For me, the story focuses on the idea of pop culture being a way out of a tight situation - a way out of being marginalised."
Was the experience of his first American movie exhilarating or deeply stressful? "There were extreme highs and extreme lows," he says. He was very excited to discover the film was actually happening. All the time he spent researching and writing endless drafts of the screenplay, he had been constantly scared the project might collapse. He had heard all the stories about actors dropping out and films being put into turnaround or losing financing. "The first day of shooting, I couldn't believe it was actually happening. At the same time, you feel this extreme pressure. It's your second film. You're in a foreign country and you're the only Dutch guy in the crew!"
Now LA-based, De Jong has various other new US projects on the boil but has also been developing a new film with Dutch outfit Halal (with whom he worked on Prince). "Yes, I want to start a project in the US and it would be stupid to leave now.... but I also feel a great desire to work with my Dutch friends again."
SEE NL Magazine #34 November 2019 / Sundance, IFFR, Berlin and Clermont Ferrand issue
SEE NL is published four times per year by Eye International and The Netherlands Film Fund and is distributed to international film professionals.