Marinus Groothof ‘s short film SUNSET FROM A ROOFTOP, which won the 2009 Golden Calf for best short film, and was this year’s official Dutch entry in the short film Oscar category, plays as a prelude to the director’s new project THE SKY ABOVE US. Both are set in the Serbian capital Belgrade and both tackle the same theme, what producer Sander Verdonlk (pictured above, right) calls the “schizophrenic” response of the city’s inhabitants to the NATO bombings of 1999.
“Marinus has a personal connection with Serbia as his wife is Serbo-Croatian and he has a half-Serbian child,” Verdonk emphasises. “Because of that he went to Belgrade. When he first saw the city it was so cinematic and so he used it in another short film, MORNING TIL NOON, just as a backdrop. There he found out about the stories, especially about the bombings of 1999 and about this young generation, with millions demonstrating against Milosevic on the streets. Then just a few weeks later they were bombed by the NATO people who they thought would help them.”
Verdonk describes the atmosphere that he wishes to portray in THE SKY ABOVE US, a pervading fear of what lies above the city. He is also looking to depict a generation emerging from their teens but caught between two worlds, one in which they could embrace the right to protest against the propaganda machine of Milosevic, another in which they had to deal with the intrusive and hostile, albeit targeted NATO bombing raids. “Some of these people, my generation, were experiencing these times by dancing on a volcano,” says Verdonk. “They didn’t go into the shelters that much, especially as the bombing locations were published in advance on the NATO website. And we found out that some of the people not only went raving 24/7 but some of them went to the rooftops to have parties during the bombings. That’s the backdrop of the situation that we portrayed initially during the short film. Then we encountered more stories and felt that we weren’t ready to finish with the subject yet. So we decided to develop a multi-structured film about three characters within this situation who are trying to live normal lives in an abnormal world, connected by one central bombing, that of the television and radio tower which was at the heart of the propaganda machine.”
Hence Verdonk’s tagline for the film: create your own reality in order to keep your sanity.
Verdonk claims that his NPP goal was to secure a German co-producer to the project. Titus Kreyenberg of Unafilm duly stepped up to join LEV Pictures and Belgrade-based coproducer Art & Popcorn. “The two countries we want to co-produce with are aligned,” Verdonk confirms. The project had already received development support to the tune of €20,000 from the Netherlands Film Fund, courtesy of artistic film intendant Frank Peijnenburg. Before year-end Verdonk will apply to the Fund for a further €500,000 production support. Thereafter he wants to secure German and Dutch broadcasters and a sales agent, as well as local funding via his co-producers.
“I am confident of getting these although a Dutch broadcaster may be problematic as there is an aversion to supporting non-Dutch language films,” Verdonk stresses. “We won the battle with the Fund, who agreed that it is a Dutch production with a Dutch producer, director and writer. It has a European theme, and the Netherlands was a supplier of the F16s – the biggest after the US – that did the bombings. Also in The Hague we have the international crime court, so there is a natural connection.
“Our original plan of an August 2011 shoot will be difficult to make so we will shoot in the period when the film is actually set,” he adds. “So the chances are quite big that we will be shooting May/June 2012.”
“Winning the Kodak prize was great – I even put it in my finance plan. It’s €5000 more which we can spend. It was the first time that we went out in the world with the project. To get such a stamp of approval is a strong support for the project. Nobody can doubt any more that it’s coming.”
LEV Pictures is currently shooting WORK: THE LIFE OF ANTON CORBIJN, a feature documentary about the Dutch director and is hopeful of shooting its first feature film, PLAN C, in 2011.