‘The recurring scenes in my films concern the power of imagination,’ explains Dutch director Ineke Smits who is currently sound-editing her second feature, THE AVIATRIX OF KAZBEK. Set on the Dutch island of Texel during the Second World War, THE AVIATRIX tells the story of Marie, a village girl from a large family, who seizes the chance to escape her claustrophobic environment when she meets two Georgian boys, Goga and Irakli. Smits describes the film as a universal and personal love story played across different cultures, and based on a ‘forgotten’ event.
‘I am interested in looking at different cultures that have their own habits, their own languages, their own ways of looking at life,’ Smits explains. ‘In THE AVIATRIX, these cultures come together to allow the main character to escape her suffocating milieu. It forces her to look at life from other perspectives.’
Right now Smits is applying the soundtrack written by long-term associate, Georgian composer Gio Tsintsadze, with whom she collaborated on her feature debut MOGONIA in 2001 and the documentaries PUTIN’S MAMA (2003), BLACK GOLD UNDER NOTECKA FOREST (2005) and TRANSIT DUBAI (2008) ‘The music is very important,’ Smits explains. ‘It’s not like a full-blown musical where everybody bursts into song. It works to transform the realistic scenes into the imaginary visions of the main character. Marching soldiers become the source of a song, as do the creaking floorboards in her bedroom.’
The film is budgeted at €3 million and is a co-production between Isabella Films (Netherlands, majority partner), fellow Dutch production houses Volya Films and Fu Works, and the Belgian Serendipity Films. Production and development monies were sourced from Dutch broadcaster NPS, the Dutch Film Fund and the Rotterdam Film Fund. Producer Els Vandevorst raised further production finance via a pre-sale to local distribution outfit Benelux Film Distributors. ‘It has taken a long time - eight years - to get it to this point,’ comments Smits. ‘It’s not a nice process, having to wait for so long.’ Smits is, however, confident of a world premiere at one of this year’s major international festivals.
Smits formed the Rotterdam-based Volya Films with French producer Denis Vaslin in 2004 in order to produce films using an extensive co-production network both within and beyond Dutch borders. ‘You use your international contacts and start to make it known that you’re doing this particular type of project,’ she comments. ‘I think that our signature is quite clear. At Volya we want to produce, internationally-oriented auteur films.’
Since 2004 the company has produced seven feature-length documentaries, including Smits’ festival hit PUTIN’S MAMA (2003). At Rotterdam 2009 the company presented the Armenian feature-length drama BORDER, on which it was minority co-producer. The company took the same credit on the Flemish DOUBLE TAKE that was presented during the 2009 Berlinale. Volya are also co-producers on Ciro Guerra’s WIND JOURNEYS (Colombia), a project they joined at the 2007 Cannes Atelier. The company is hopeful that the film will be selected for Cannes 2009.
At IDFA 2008 Smits’ documentary TRANSIT DUBAI screened in the Premieres of the Lowlands section. The film, Smits’ third feature-length doc, looks at the new desert city through the eyes of four photography students. ‘It was a very, very difficult project to put together,’ she explains. ‘Filming in the Middle East is something in itself but you always have to be creative and in the end I found the angle to tell the story that I wanted to tell.’
While acknowledging that the funding set-up in The Netherlands has improved since the Netherlands Film Fund placed more emphasis on the funding of art films in 2008, Smits expresses concern that satisfying the requirements of a Dutch broadcaster in order to guarantee crucial production finance may limit the international outlook and appeal of the film.
‘Mentality-wise I find this really difficult,’ she stresses. ‘If you finance things within Holland there are a few partners that you must have on board, and that does not always make it easy. Broadcasters have their own set of expectations and objectives and that can make it difficult to get projects that are different or strange to get financed.’
‘Holland is an inward-looking place,’ she continues. ‘I wouldn’t say navel-gazing, but introverted nonetheless. That’s what makes it difficult when you want to produce different kinds of projects, both on a co-production level and in terms of producing what international buyers are looking for. OK, there were four Dutch films in Berlin official selection this year, which I think is very good, but still most of the films produced in this country are geared towards the Dutch market. This is strange as we are a very small country within a big Europe. It would be much better if the films produced here were wider in terms of conception and ideas. We must look at a broader audience than just the Dutch audience.’
Post- AVIATRIX, Smits is committed to raising finance for THE HOUSE OF MY FATHERS, an English-language film to be produced by Volya Films and based on the novel by Danish writer Jørn Riel. But before that she is looking to take a well-earned break to assess her future directorial schedule. ‘After a project such as THE AVIATRIX OF KAZBEK I’m thinking about smaller and more experimental films, something more low key,’ she confesses. ‘I’m just thinking about subjects. I’ll finish this film, reload the batteries for a couple of months and then see what comes up.’