The opening shot of EN UN MOMENTO DADO (2004), Ramón Gieling’s much-heralded documentary about Johann Cruyff’s Barcelona years, suggested the mysterious meteorological context for the director’s TRAMONTANA, that will open the 2009 Netherlands Film Festival.
’That day I was shooting in the Bay of Cadaqués, on the Spanish Mediterranean, and there was an incredible, special wind,’ Gieling explains. ‘I was told that this wind was called the Tramontana. Then I remembered a short story by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, also named Tramontana, written during the three years he lived in Cadaqués. At that point, my attention was grabbed.’
Gieling’s Spanish-language film is not an adaptation of the Marquez story, although its influence is clear. Rather, the film is an amalgam of folklore and original screenwriting in which every scene is dominated by the same pervasive and ominous wind. Gieling takes up the story.
’In the Marquez story the characters eventually run away from Cadaqués because they cannot stand this wind. It reminds them of the winds of the Caribbean where they come from - winds that are infused with a lot of superstition.’
But then another story came to Gieling’s attention, the true tale of an old Cadaqués man who, fifty years ago, had a relationship with a girl in her late teens. It was a genuine tale of love and passion that culminated in the man’s suicide on a Christmas Eve. ‘Some people said he killed himself because of the Tramontana wind that exerts a considerable influence on the human mind,’ Gieling muses. ‘But when I asked further questions nobody wanted to talk about it anymore. They didn’t want to discuss bad things about the village, especially to a stranger.’
So then Gieling decided to write the story himself, at which point it changed from a documentary to a feature film. ‘So now this is what the film is about, an old man in a forbidden relationship – an amour fou – with a very young girl from the village. And all the time, the Tramontana is in the background, pervading the minds of the two characters.’
Gieling admits that the process of raising the film’s €640,000 budget was both difficult and frustrating, despite the consistent support the project received from the Dutch Film Fund. The film was produced by Pieter van Huystee Film with additional funding derived from the Thuiskopiefonds, the CoBO Fund and the Jan Heeremans Fund, as well as The Buddhist Broadcast Organisation (BOS). ‘In Holland the broadcasting companies, as well as the media funds, have a big problem when you make a film in a foreign language. Wilfried Depeweg [Netherlands Film Fund arthouse film intendant, total investment €500,000] was very enthusiastic about the project from the very start but we were just about ready to pull the plug when the investment from BOS saved the whole project. In Holland they are more interested in rules than in quality.’
Nor did the project receive co-production support from Spain, and more specifically the region of Catalonia. ‘It’s the story of my life. I try to co-produce with Spain but it never works.’ Of course an exception to this was the 2004 Cruyff project which was co-produced with the Barcelona-based outfit La Productora. ‘That film was very easy to produce,’ Gieling points out. ‘It was like scoring into an empty net.’
’Maybe I’m not a very Dutch filmmaker, perhaps I don’t fit into the Dutch filmmaking tradition,’ he continues. ‘But if I present an application for a documentary film, I will be criticised for including too much fiction in it. If I present a feature film script, I’m told that there is too little Dutch content. We’re looking now at a particular culture of commissions and commissioners and people who decide what films can and what films cannot be made be made. This may explain in part why Dutch cinema has very little international significance.’
Gieling is, however, very grateful that the Netherlands Film Festival has chosen his non-Dutch language film to open what is, in effect, the most important celebration of Dutch cinema during year the yearly calendar. ‘When twelve or fifteen films are suggested as the possible opener and they choose yours it is very nice,’ he comments. ‘Doreen [Boonekamp, festival director] and Herman [De Wit, festival programmer] took a big and very daring risk in choosing a Spanish-spoken film as the opening film.’
Right now, Gieling is developing two new projects, a documentary about O.N.C.E., the Spanish lottery for the blind, and a Netherlands-based feature entitled TERESA IMMACULATA. ‘The feature is very similar to TRAMONTANA in that it is also a tragedy about forbidden love, but this time between a brother and a sister. Nothing is as yet financed. Things will be clearer I six months, but it is the destiny of the filmmaker to make new films over and over again.’