Doreen Boonekamp Reflects
Doreen Boonekamp will be leaving the Netherlands Film Fund in October 2019 after ten years at the helm. She reflects on a decade of profound change across the Dutch and international industry with Nick Cunningham.
It wasn't the easiest of starts.
Just as Doreen Boonekamp was taking over from Toine Berbers as head of the Film Fund in Autumn 2009 (she had previously headed up the Netherlands Film Festival for eight years), the world was experiencing financial meltdown. The crisis had a huge impact on the audiovisual industries as it triggered a steep decline both in core cultural financing and also within the media budgets of the public broadcasters. Prestigious Dutch talent institutes like the Binger and Niaf were closed down, as was the Rotterdam Media Fund and later on the national Media Fund. The Netherlands Film Fund itself faced both a significant decrease in budget and an extension of its remit.
At the same time the global film industry saw the emergence of the enormous online services, which began to dominate the way content was made, distributed and viewed, in the process effecting huge shifts in the industry infrastructure.
It was obvious therefore that if there was to be ongoing meaningful investment within, and stimulation of, the audiovisual landscape in the future, a change of both mindset and modus operandi was necessary.
"We needed to find new solutions immediately, so we shifted focus to greater international collaboration and to seek new partners both in the international industry, but also in the Netherlands, to support new and established talents," Boonekamp explains. "We forged new partnerships with labs such as Torino and ACE, we devised several co-production treaties, such as with South Africa and China, the French-speaking Belgian Community and Germany, and we designed new schemes for talent development within the Film Fund both with local and international partners. By doing so, new possibilities were created for both established and emerging professionals not only to hone and improve their talent on the job but also through expert training."
Encouraging results were not long coming. Yes, Dutch shorts, documentaries and youth films were already established brands and continued to thrive internationally, with A Single Life nominated for an Academy Award, and ongoing successes such as the documentaries Miss Kiet's Children, Strike a Pose and A Family Affair and the fiction features Prince, Romy's Salon, Fight Girl, Cobain and My Extraordinary Summer with Tess.
But then Dutch arthouse came into its own with the likes of Alex van Warmerdam's Borgman competing for the Palme d'Or in Cannes 2013 (the first Dutch film to do so in 38 years) and the audacious ‘Dutch western' Brimstone (Martin Koolhoven) selected for competition in Venice 2016, the first Dutch film to do so in 10 years. 2019 itself is proving a bumper year with significant firsts from distinctive female voices. Sacha Polak's Dirty God was selected for Sundance Competition while Halina Reijn's Instinct won the Variety Piazza Grande award in Locarno. In addition Ena Sendijarevic's Take Me Somewhere Nice won Best Film in Sarajevo.
Boonekamp also points out how selective funding in local films was counterpointed over this period with minority investment in a slew of successful international titles that included The Lobster (Yorgos Lanthimos, Greece), Zama (Lucrecia Martel, Argentina) and Girl (Lukas Dhont, Belgium). "In order to increase skills levels among Dutch creatives and business professionals, as well as stimulate more releases across borders, we funded more Dutch majority productions while gaining a greater position as a minority partner," Boonekamp underlines.
2014 was a true watershed year for the Dutch industry as two major initiatives were launched under the umbrella of the Film Fund. The Netherlands Film Production Incentive (in 2017 widened to embrace highend TV productions) offered cash rebates of up to 35% production spend in the Netherlands. The Netherlands Film Commission meanwhile, under the stewardship of Bas van der Ree, was created to show the world how beneficial shooting in the Netherlands could be.
"Both these instruments had a very transformative effect on the Dutch industry and boosted international collaboration, raised ambition levels within the sector and enabled Dutch professionals to team up not only with smaller productions but also with bigger, major productions coming to shoot in the Netherlands such as Dunkirk (2017) and The Goldfinch which world-premiered at Toronto 2019.
Boonekamp also highlights the enormous strides taken in the stimulation of, and investment in, the Dutch animation industry. Ten years ago, Dutch cartoons were something of an afterthought, despite an admirable tradition in the short form (three Academy Awards for Best Animated short since 1977). But feature production seemed dead and buried. That is no more the case, as evidenced by the boom in feature production over the past decade and Cartoon Movie's celebration of the Dutch animation industry in Bordeaux in March at which nine feature projects in development were presented from the likes of Submarine, BosBros and Lemming Film.
"The Incentive gave this part of the industry an additional boost, even more so when we opened up the scheme for high-end series," claims Boonekamp. "One example is
Undone made with Amazon, produced by Submarine and directed by Hisko Hulsing, using strong Dutch talent. The Incentive also enabled the industry to construct additional animation studios because there are a lot more international productions on the way. This specific part of the industry sees a lot of international talents collaborating on series and features. It is great that the Dutch, in such a short period of time, have quickly become part of the international animation community."
While the Netherlands continues to strengthen its international position there is the perennial problem of retaining local cinema audiences for locally produced content, in the face of online domination. Which is why additional policy steps were taken by the Fund in 2017 to allocate substantially more budget for development (the figure in 2019 was three times that of 2013) and also to increase the amount of grant per project to counter continuing decreases in contributions from private sources.
Boonekamp is delighted that the government recently set aside funding to build a network of film education hubs, and to further invest in talent development, innovation and internationalisation. "To invest in both future audiences and in talents is highly important - and this all starts with film education which was something very much lacking in the Netherlands. The film community should also aim for a Creative Talent & Skills Lab that would play an important role in guaranteeing top quality output in the future, which could be developed through close collaboration between the existing Fund-supported festival talent labs and training programmes such as ACE, as well as with leading associations and trade bodies."
Looking to the future, Boonekamp calls for the development of "a new eco system" to enable the independent screen industries in the Netherlands and across borders to grow, to shine and to connect to audiences across all platforms. "It is of upmost importance that cinema remains prioritised as an art form. The fast changing landscape demands a new framework at a national level which includes a sophisticated and integrated film and media policy as well as the enforcement of circularity within the value chain through levies and investment obligations (including sustainable regulation on piracy and the fair remuneration of authors)."
"With the upcoming Audiovisual Media Service Directive in mind (whereby on demand services provide at least 30% of European content in their catalogues) there is a challenge to make sure this tool is implemented in Dutch law in such a way that it helps to boost the quality of Dutch content and its prominence within this 30%," she adds.
Looking back, Boonekamp pays tribute to the film community both home and abroad, "It has been a tremendously fascinating and inspiring period of time. For sure nothing could have been achieved, nor will we be in future, without the energy, dreams and creative vision of our writers, directors, producers, animators, designers, DOPs, editors, composers, cast and crew. I am very grateful for their commitment, the collaboration with all those distributing, selling and exploiting films and the continuous support of the festivals, markets, talent labs, archives, our colleagues in the EFADs, Cine Regio and BPX, and not least the whole team of the Netherlands Film Fund."
"The work of a fund is never done," Boonekamp concludes. "I knew this when I started off and I am very happy that Bero Beyer is taking over this position, and confident that together with the team he will guide the Dutch film industry through the coming years with all the new and as yet unknown challenges that will have to be faced. One of the characteristics of the film industry is that it is always changing. It is over a hundred years old but it is still a young art form and in a state of flux. This is what funds and governments must always keep foremost in mind, to remain clearly focussed on domestic and international concerns, but at the same time to offer both continuity and long term sustainable policies."
SEE NL Magazine #36 September 2019 / Locarno - Venice - Toronto - Netherlands Film Festival Issue
SEE NL is published four times per year by Eye International and The Netherlands Film Fund and is distributed to international film professionals.