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PARADISE DRIFTERS by Mees Peijnenburg

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Paradise Drifters is writer-director Mees Peijnenburg’s debut feature, writes Geoffrey Macnab, following on from the young Dutch director’s acclaimed shorts Even Cowboys Get To Cry (2013), A Hole In My Heart (2015) and We Will Never Be Royals (2015).

In Paradise Drifters, supported by De Oversteek scheme and Production Incentive, three young people from different but equally tough backgrounds are thrown together. Lorenzo (Jonas Smulders), Yousef (Bilal Wahib) and Chloe (Tamar van Waning) are outsiders on the margins of society, all “searching for connections, searching for love,” but are continually confronted with violence and rejection.

Peijnenburg chose his actors very carefully. “I think the casting of each film is almost the most crucial part of the process. I like to take time to find the right people.”

Jonas Smulders had appeared in Peijnenburg’s graduation short and is described by the director as “a natural fit” for his role as the charismatic Lorenzo. Tamar van Waning was discovered in less straightforward circumstances. Peijnenburg hadn’t been able to find anyone to play Chloe when his girlfriend tipped him off about an actress she had seen on a Dutch NTR TV programme, Dream School, about youngsters from troubled backgrounds who are given the chance to go back to school.

“She was super pure, honest, open, fragile,” Peijnenburg says of the audition that Van Waring gave him. “She was a powerhouse of interest for me.” The fact that she didn’t look anything like the Chloe he had originally envisaged didn’t put him off in the slightest. “The energy she gave was spot on.”

Bilal Wahib had had a minor part in one of the director’s shorts. “In real life, he has an extraordinary energy,” Peijnenburg says of the actor whose role calls for him to be withdrawn and introspective. “In our film, he has to play an introverted, suicidal character which I was really interested to see… all the energy went into his eyes, his mind, and he was really good.”

The director gave the three leads time to get to know each other and to develop their characters. “I let them write letters to me with their thoughts.”

Peijnenburg did extensive research for Paradise Drifters. “I’ve been working on this film for several years,” he says. He visited numerous child protection homes and Salvation Army hostels where young adults between 18 and 25 “can still find a bed at night when they don’t have some other place to fall back on.”

The film (due to be released in The Netherlands in April by Gusto) develops into a road movie. It was shot all over Europe, in Marseilles and Barcelona as well as in The Netherlands. Peijnenburg sees it as following on from his Golden Calf winning short film We Will Never Be Royals, about a brother and sister living in youth care, moving from foster homes to youth prison and looking desperately for a place in society.

“Even though all the ingredients for a horrible life were present, these kids had a glance in their eyes, had a fighting spirit in their way of talking and behaving,” the director says of the defiance he saw continually during his extensive research into alienated youth. “Whereas my previous film was still set in institutions and under the flag of society, this film starts off where that stops, when you are 18 and being dropped on the streets literally.”

As an adolescent himself, Peijnenburg came from a more comfortable background. “I was a skateboarder, I did a lot of filmmaking already back then, I did pictures. I was very much on the creative spectrum.” No, he wasn’t a rebel himself but he has always been drawn to characters like Chloe in his film who have the energy to fight back, even when everything seems pitched against them.

SEE NL Magazine #38 January 2020 / IFFR, Berlin & Clermont-Ferrand Issue

SEE NL is published four times per year by Eye andd The Netherlands Film Fund and is distributed to international film professionals.

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