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JOAO AND THE KNIFE by George Sluizer

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Cannes IFF Classics - George Sluizer

The late George Sluizer’s João and the Knife is selected for Cannes Classics 2018. Nick Cunningham talks to the auteur’s wife (and fellow producer) Anne Lordon, as well as Eye’s Anne van Es who supervised the film’s superb restoration.

When, in 1971, Dutch auteur George Sluizer decided to produce and direct his adaptation of the intensely lyrical novel João and the Knife he was immediately captivated both by the landscape of north eastern Brazil and its vibrant inhabitants. Nevertheless the production was beset by problems from the outset. A devastating fire in Amsterdam destroyed much of the film’s research documentation, severe illness incapacitated the initial lead actor (which opened the door for revered Brazilian actor Joffre Soares) and there was a scarcity of food to feed the cast and crew. What’s more the Amazonian rain forest suffered a particularly virulent plague of mosquitoes that year.

But Sluizer was indefatigable. “When he wanted something he wasn’t going to be stopped by anything,” points out producer Anne Lordon. “But it was tough. After the fire at the office, there was nothing left, and I never saw George so depressed. So I went to search in the ashes and I found his half burnt script for the film, and I said to George, ‘this is a good sign, we are going to do it’, so we started again.”

Despite these many hurdles, the film was eventually made. There was very little money but George and his co-creators received invaluable help from the local population and its highly skilled non-professional actors. “When we finally saw the film we were very happy. It was very good and when you know how it was made and the circumstances behind its completion, it was a miracle.” In Europe, João and the Knife was selected for both Berlinale and Edinburgh competitions in 1973. In Brazil it was submitted to the Academy for consideration in the best foreign film category.

Since 2017 EYE has collaborated with Stoneraft Films, founded by son and daughter Joris and Anouk Sluizer, and Haghefilm Digitaal to create new digital restorations of their father’s titles to be included in a DVD box. EYE digitised the original materials on 2K or 4K resolution, depending on the source material available, and supervised the restoration work. Image and colour correction was carried out by Haghefilm Digitaal. João and the Knife, a full 4K restoration of the original Techniscope camera negative, was selected by none other than festival chief Thierry Frémaux for Cannes Classics 2018.

“The new version is wonderful. I have never seen it look so beautiful,” comments Lordon. Adds EYE producer Anne van Es: “From the perspective of an archive the restored DCP of João is a fantastic result, but the most important thing is the restoration and digitisation of the whole collection which goes into the EYE archive and is preserved for the future.”

Lordon stresses how her husband Sluizer was a driven man, stimulated as much by documentary production as fiction work. She remembers how he made four short docs about the north eastern region of Brazil (where João is set) even before he shot any of the film footage. He was, she adds, a consummate cineaste.

“We first met in Paris and we got married, but it took me five years to understand that I was not the first thing in his life, but that film was. Antonioni was like that too. Film was George’s love, and then me... and the children after,” she laughs.

What’s more, she is delighted that her wish (and that of her children) to preserve George’s films and memory is shared by the Dutch film industry. “George is dead now, and he is not going to make any more films, but what he did we must look after and keep well. This is very necessary. He is one of the great filmmakers of Holland. EYE has recognised this too and has been a great support.”

SEE NL Magazine #31 May 2018 / Cannes & Annecy Issue
SEE NL is published four times per year by EYE International and The Netherlands Film Fund and is distributed to international film professionals.

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