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Sheffield Doc/Fest: Shooting from the hip

Revolver Amsterdam may have two new documentaries at Sheffield Doc/Fest (7 - 12 June 2018) this year but Raymond Van Der Kaaij, executive producer & founder of the company, takes the double success in his stride.

Revolver is a company that always has multiple projects on the boil. This isn’t just a production company specialising in feature dramas and docs. It makes branded and online content as well, has a thriving commercials department, makes transmedia projects and is very active in digital and online too.

The first of the new Sheffield-bound docs is Bruce Lee And the Outlaw. Directed by Joost Vandebrug, this is a story about Nicu, a young homeless boy in Bucharest who is adopted by local gangster Bruce Lee, the notorious King of the Underworld. As Nicu grows up, he starts to realise that Lee may not be the perfect father and has to make a choice between staying below ground with him or living a ‘normal’ life above ground.

“It’s an amazing story,” enthuses Van Der Kaaij. “We knew Joost as a photographer and we knew that he had been working on the project [for many years].” The director already had UK partners in London-based Grain Media, the outfit behind the Oscar nominated Netflix documentary Virunga. “This was a passion project for everybody,” Van Der Kaaij says of a film which will be available both as a feature film and in a shorter TV version.

Revolver’s other new Sheffield doc is likely to change name before it hits the fest. The film, about a women’s boxing in Cuba, was originally made under the name Namibia. (Its main protagonist is Namibia Flores Rodriguez, a woman in training to fight for Cuba at the Olympics.) However, at the time of this interview, Van Der Kaaij suggested the film was almost certain to be re-christened as Too Beautiful: A Woman’s Right to Fight.

Cuba is renowned for its boxing prowess. It has produced many Olympic champs – but they’ve all been men. Women are banned from the sport, supposedly because Raul Castro’s wife once said that women were “too beautiful for boxing.” Namibia dreams of overturning the ban but her dreams are slowly left to crumble. The project was initiated by Maceo Frost, a director who has worked regularly for Revolver on commercials. He lived briefly in Cuba, which was where he found out about Namibia.

It has been funded in an original way. Van Der Kaaij brought on sportswear giant Adidas as one of the main partners. But it wasn’t a case of the multinational corporation taking over the film and turning it into a promotional vehicle for its own goods. Van Der Kaaij insists that Adidas allowed the director complete creative autonomy. The brand came on board at short notice, when Revolver decided that the film (originally a 5-minute short), was worth expanding to 50+ minutes. With their support, the filmmakers were able to go back to Cuba to shoot extensive new material.

“They (Adidas) really loved the idea and decide to come on board. They left the film fully independent. There’s no branding, no shoes, no product placement. They haven’t
had any say in the editing,” the producer explains, “Brands like Adidas and others are moving away from traditional advertising. They realise there is a big value in supporting independent film.” Adidas are bound to be useful and powerful partners when it comes to the marketing of the film, but all the rights remain with the producers.

Van Der Kaaij talks of his company’s “hybrid approach” to storytelling, how they are “platform agnostic.” And a basic requirement is that their stories “have punch and are daring.”

“Overall, if you look at all the work we do, you can see a red thread running through it,” he suggests of the boldness / irreverence that his company seeks in every project it tackles.

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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