Dutch Projects at Venice Gap
Five new projects with strong Dutch interest were presented at the Venice Gap-Financing Market in 2019. Nick Cunningham reports.
Brussels-based Dutch filmmaker Moon Blaisse's documentary The Miracle of Almería looks set to lift the lid on the tomato production industry operating in the southern Spanish province of the title, an area that is suffering the dire ecological consequences of plastics and pesticide (over)use. The logline reads how the legal and ‘illegalised' inhabitants of Almería, the largest vegetable patch of Europe, collaborate to reveal the system of violence behind the tomatoes we eat.
Close to full finance prior to Venice, with €80,000 left to find of the €840,000 budget, the film is a BelgianDutch co-production between Cassette for Timescapes (Belgium) and Baldr Film (NL).
Dutch elements within the production include the work of composer Jens Bouttery and the sound design of Evelien van der Molen and Michel Schöpping. Dutch DOP Emo Weemhoff has also been drafted in, together with historian Leonor Alvarez Francès, who teaches at the University of Leiden.
Producer Emmy Oost points out that she is also in search of an international co-producer that can help with post-production funding. "And we would love to work with an international team in the editing room, adding a very experienced editing consultant from France, Germany or Italy. We are also looking for distributors, especially in Spain and Italy where "illegalised" people work in slavelike conditions on the vegetable fields, but also in the rest of Europe as we all consume the vegetables produced in Almería."
"I am determined to use film to show things that otherwise stay invisible," explains director Blaisse. "A lot of the problems that we face today are very hard to describe in an anecdote, and film can be something that gives a deeper insight into these problems. These can also be migration, oppression, climate change, [problems] which are all very much intertwined."
Ricky Rijneke's thriller/drama The Hunter's Son is a Dutch/Belgium/Poland/Iceland co-production (plus Eurimages) budgeted at €2.6m with €2.4m already in place. In the film, a terrible and unexpected act forces a border guard and his 14-year old son to face a crossroads in their lives.
"I think the film is really about the human psyche, like my previous film Silent Ones (2013, IFFR Tiger Award nominee), and that is something that really fascinates me, the inner world of characters," comments Rijneke. "With this film I want to explore the [notion] of being a stranger and what it is like to become estranged. The setting of the film is not a concrete place but somewhere along the European border, but it is also set within a state of mind."
"I like to use cinematographic elements to make immersive cinema; cinema as an experience," she adds.
Produced by Rotterdam Films, Rijneke is in pre-production right now ahead of a February/ March 2020 shoot and is heavily involved in casting and location finding. "I am looking for visually strong landscapes, which is why Iceland is prominent, which also reflect the inner world of the characters in the film. Raw locations, but at the same time poetic."
The Last Ride of the Wolves is an audacious hybrid feature documentary in which artist/filmmaker Alberto De Michele follows his criminal father Pasquale and the eponymous Wolves on a final heist designed to secure their retirement pensions.
The Italian-spoken film is produced by Amsterdam-based Halal with the support of the Film Fund. In Venice producer Gijs Kerbosch was looking to raise the remaining €270,000 of a €700,000 budget. His other reason for attendance was to secure Italian and international distribution partners.
"The film is set in Veneto, the region where the Wolves have operated for three generations. They are the last of the craftsman thieves that exist in that part of Italy. The fun fair attractions is their cover and when the fog comes down, and during these months it does a lot, they go out and steal," explains director De Michele.
"My father will play my father, I will play myself and the Wolves are going to be the real Wolves. We will get access to this world which is impossible to penetrate but which is bound to disappear. At the same time this film will give me a chance to give an account of where I am from and this crazy upbringing that my father gave me and which had a huge impact on my development as a person and also as an artist. At the end it is also a personal tribute to the favourite antihero of my life, my father."
Submarine Channel brought the Daniel Ernst AI-driven VR project The Great Orator to Venice to raise both its finance and its international profile. The concept is intriguing, with the logline reading how, within this story world, "a hysterical dictator madly spews his uninterrupted flow of absurdities to crowds of people that have been vaporized from their physical existence into the staged screen presence of enthusiastic followers."
Ernst explains a little more. "The Great Orator is not a linear story, nor is it a story with a beginning or an end. It is a place that exists somewhere in the virtual ether, and you can go there whenever you please. But even if you don't, the Orator is continuing with his oration and the characters in that world are doing their thing. A person in China will be hearing exactly what you are hearing if you log in at the same time."
He further points out how he and Submarine Channel are working with Leiden University in trying to incorporate AI and texted speech elements, with the result that the generated oration will be based on current affairs every time you log in. "It is a perpetual world that goes on even if you are not there," he underlines.
And who is the orator? "It is like a Wizard of Oz story where you don't know who the wizard is but you know there is this big presence, but perhaps he or she doesn't even exist and perhaps he/she is just an AI gone rampant. It's a nice metaphor for AI and VR in general... you have to believe to make them real."
Jasmila Zbanic's Quo Vadis Aida is a Bosnia and Herzegovina production that currently boasts seven coproducers, the Dutch element being leading production house N279 Entertainment. Set in Srebrenica during the Bosnian War, the €4.3m production (€3.95m in place) tells of teacher Aida who, when forced to leave the UN safe zone, must selflessly plead with the Serbian army to guarantee the lives of her children.
Comments director Zbanic: "Our film is an intense and emotional one done from a feminist perspective. Its emotional intensity is a challenge: to give an account of a human tragedy, truthfully but without falling into a trap of sentimentality. Our aim is to draw those who refuse to deal with ‘difficult' topics into the story which is European, but was seen as the story of others. Until now."
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.