New Dutch 2023 comprised a curated selection of the most exciting new projects from The Netherlands, encompassing fiction and documentary. The new works were presented to the HFM network of international film professionals, made up of sales agents, financiers, distributors and festival executives.
New Dutch 2023 report
Everything Will Be Fine (Alles komt goed) by Marcel Visbeen (Production company: De Productie)
At HFM, Dutch writer/director Marcel Visbeen described his new work as “an inspirational character-based drama that celebrates the indestructible power of familial bonds.” In the 100-minute film, which is at advanced script stage, a social worker who helps underprivileged people build new lives faces an existential dilemma when his father asks for help with his self-elected death. As he unravels the background of his father's death wish, the social worker realizes that his own life has been on hold for years. “At the same time, it shows how each generation clears the way for the next, and how most people can only fully embrace life after they've come to terms with loss,” Visbeen added during his HFM pitch.
The €2 million film (with €69,000 in place) is supported by the Netherlands Film Fund and is produced by the experienced René Goossens and Annemiek van Gorp of De Productie.
“Personally, I have always had a very difficult relationship with my family since both my father and my mother were self-destructive,” Visbeen said. “How they each in their own way, gave up on life, made me think a lot about how much people are in control of their own destiny, and if it is true that you are responsible for your own success and happiness, why can't you decide the way to end your life? It seems like the final taboo to even talk about that. With this film, I want to explore the theme of life fulfillment in a positive, sincere, and confrontational way.”
The film will star Dutch acting royalty in the form of Fedja van Huêt, Katja Herbers and Derek de Lint. “I like to cast at an early stage so that the actors can contribute to the script and give useful input while building their characters,” Visbeen commented.
“This story will be visualized in an imaginative style, closely linked to the protagonist and his character development,” he continued. “As he is emotionally stuck in his youth, his memories seem to be more vivid than the reality around him. This is not only reflected in the house he lives in and the music he plays, but also in the cinematographic style. The film starts in black and white with a reference to Anton Corbijn's photography and artwork from eighties bands like The Sound, Joy Division and Simple Minds. As the protagonist flourishes, the music also becomes more colourful, just like the flashbacks, and in the end, [so does] the complete movie. This style will give the film an almost fantastic quality as if everything is lifted just above reality.”
An Other Green World by Jesse van der Kolk (Production company: No End Cinema)
Jesse van der Kolk’s new project, which he calls a “historical arthouse drama” is set against a little-known piece of mid 19th Century Dutch history, when a farming crisis led to poverty and starvation across Europe. At the same time, overseas slavery was abolished, and Portuguese settlers in Brazil wanted cheap laborers to come to further populate and cultivate their land. Dozens of desperate farmers from the province of Zeeland were tricked to leave everything behind to start a new life far away.
One of these is Dutch farmer Jan who migrates with his family to Brazil. He is promised prosperity, but it transpires that he and other families have fallen for a lie. After the death of one of his children Jan’s life plummets towards failure and despair, at which point his wife Neeltje falls for an altogether more capable man, Leendert. Engulfed by jealousy, Jan must decide whether to carry on living in a world in which he does not belong…
“There are personal themes of shame and humiliation but also broader themes such as migration, communal living and our relationship with the natural world,” van der Kolk explains in his notes for the project. “The film is an exploration of this situation in which these Westerners decided to migrate to hostile lands, and therefore forced to form a new way of communal existence. Our earliest ancestors lived a tribe-existence because humans are social animals and ill-equipped to live alone. I want to show how a more primal way of living relates to modern life. Subsequently an understanding of how mankind relates to nature is essential. We have an innate need to affiliate with other life such as plants and animals, something which we lost in modern life.”
The 120-minute film is currently at treatment stage and van der Kolk is set embark upon “a more extensive research and script writing trajectory,” he told the HFM audience.
“Previously, I participated in Torino Film Lab with the project, and the next step would be to find a main production company to start this journey with. Furthermore, we're seeking for co-production possibilities with Brazil, Portugal, Austria, and Germany. I know this is such a challenging project, but I fully believe in the potential of doing something special with this piece of Dutch unknown history.”
Boni by Edson da Conceicao, Timo Ottevanger (Production company: Staccato Films)
Producer Emjay Rechsteiner made a lively pitch for their historical action drama Boni during HFM 2023. Based on true events, the film tells of the eponymous hero who raids rain forest plantations in order to free the enslaved, but who must face his greatest nemesis - his white half-sister - who raises an army against him. “Boni is based on facts,” said Rechsteiner. “I studied the archives on Boni's revolt, but they're all from the point of view of the oppressor.” For the first time, therefore, this story will be told by the descendants of the liberated Africans.
“Think Ben Hur meets The Woman King and we take our quote from Malcolm X – ‘nobody can give you freedom, you take it,’” said Cairo. “There is another voice, that of the liberated Africans that we never hear. For us, he [Boni is] a superhero. Our African rituals, his spirituality survived in the South American jungle for hundreds of years.”
Rechsteiner explained how researcher Kenrich Cairo gathered these histories and acquired the blessing of the Grand Chief to make this film. He further revealed a poignant personal aspect to the story. “This is the true story of both our families. My mixed race forefathers enslaved Kenrich’s forefathers who escaped from the plantation and were freed by Boni. And it's a very strong motivation for both of us to tell you this story.”
“Stories about the European slavery past and the colonization that preceded it have only been slowly finding their way into our public domain,” they continue in their notes for the film. “Especially a story like Boni [told from] the perspective of a freedom fighter should be much more widely supported and enrich our Western view on that period.”
“Boni is not only a story for the Surinamese Dutch, it is a universal story about finding your identity and fighting for your freedom. A story with a beating heart carried by true and layered characters. A film in which we can do justice to the legend that Boni still is for many people.”
The 100-minute film is budgeted at €4,312,350 with €1.1 million in place. The team’s primary goals at the HFM were to source a French co-producer and to bring on board an experienced screenwriter.
Her Name was Laboni by Claudio Montesano Casillas. WINNER: Cam-a-lot & Filmmore Best Live Pitch Award (Producer: Loretta van der Horst)
Rotterdam-based Claudio Montesano Casillas presented his drama telling the tragic story of three people: Laboni, an ambitious garment factory worker; Nazmul, an at-times unethical TV reporter; and Himu, a courageous rescue volunteer, all set against the backdrop of the collapse in 2013 of Bangladesh’s Rana Plaza building, a poorly designed, eight-story structure housing multiple garment factories and bustling with approximately 5,000 workers. Laboni was one of the 1000+ people who lost their lives in the tragedy.
“Their intertwined stories [those of Laboni, Nazmul and Himu] shed light on hope, dishonesty, and selflessness amidst the catastrophe,” says the director. Budgeted at €2 million, the film is produced by the talented Dutch auteur Loretta van der Horst.
“I first met Laboni’s family at the Rana Plaza site in 2015. The world had seen images of the garment factory collapse in 2013, a disaster that claimed over 1,100 lives,” Casillas explains in his film notes. “I, too, had seen these images, but they couldn’t capture the profound sorrow of a family mourning a loved one. I contemplated Laboni’s life, realising it was much more than just a tragic death. She was an intelligent, ambitious young woman, dedicated to securing a better life for herself and her family.”
He continues: “In 2015, I visited Laboni’s village, Mohira Para, with her father and younger sister. Situated in Ishwardi, in the Pabna District, this was her home before she ventured to Dhaka in search of a better life. I met people who knew Laboni, such as her primary school teacher, aunt and neighbours. As part of a documentary series for German television in 2019, I had an intimate interview with journalist Nazmul, who candidly shared his overwhelming guilt and responsibility related to the tragic event. During this trip, I learned about the heroic efforts of Himu and other volunteers, leading to deep research into their aspirations and resilience.”
Montesano Casillas has been active in the film industry for the past 10 years both as producer and director. He also previously worked for the UN team in Geneva and Switzerland, and was posted to Bangladesh and Cambodia. “While I was based there, I had the opportunity to work on different stories and in particular, I worked documenting with film and photojournalistic essays the people behind the fashion industry…I think that through my work I helped to raise awareness about the dark side of the fashion industry and the consumption of fast fashion.”
The project has a budget of €2.5 million, with €3k raised. Montesano Casillas is planning a research trip to Bangladesh in the coming months to further research his two main characters. “My vision is to write a script in local Bengali language. I'm also the founder of the New Producer Academy, which is a grassroots initiative based in Rotterdam that has the goal to bring more producers of colour into the industry. For me, it's important to collaborate with local communities and with Bangladeshi talent to bring this story to life. So I'm looking for a like-minded production company that shares my vision and my ideas and can help me to bring this untold and mutual story to life.”
Mester Muri by Kristen Dania. WINNER: Global Audience Award (Production company: N/A)
Filmmaker Kristen Dania describes his new project as “an introspective urban coming-of-age drama, set in the Caribbean island of Curaçao.” In the film, Railison, a 22-year-old man, feels trapped working in his family's fishing restaurant on the coast of Curaçao, where he struggles to break free from their expectations, and find his own independence. But when love and loss enter his life, Railison must navigate the complexities of his emotions and desires while accepting himself and pursuing his dreams.
“Finding yourself is a universal theme,” Dania points out. “This coming-of-age film combines with the themes of letting go, love and death. Which creates a layered character driven film. Our main character, Railison, has to battle his internal wants and desires with the harsh reality of the external world. He must learn to let go of what he loves, the past and take the leap of faith to regain power in his own life. The purpose with most of the characters is to humanize them, even in their most flawed form. The more that the audience can see them as people, wholly and fully, the more that they can have a connection with them that can impact how they see themselves.”
The 80-minute drama is at early script stage with a budget of €500,000. Spoken languages in the production will be Papiamento, Dutch and English.
“Now more than ever, a film like this is begging to be made,” Dania told the HFM audience. “A contemporary film that is a human story anchored in the Caribbean. I want to delve into the raw and unfiltered reality of this coming-of-age film in the vibrant and culturally rich Caribbean country of Curacao. The film will be gritty, authentic, and emotionally charred.”
“There's something uniquely magical about the light that shines in the Caribbean that cannot be found anywhere else in the world,” Dania continued. “Capturing those warm tones will bring a nostalgic character and will further envelop us in Railison 's world. The camera will serve as Railison's imaginary frame. We'll be able to feel all of his emotions that he's going through and his highs and his lows up close and personal. There's an untapped world of stories waiting to be told in the Caribbean.”
Porte Bagage by Abdelkarim El-Fassi (Production company: Zouka)
Abdelkarim El-Fassi’s comedy drama Porte Bagage will tell the story of a dysfunctional Dutch Moroccan family making a nostalgic car trip to fulfill their father's dying wish: to return to his birthplace Morocco. Does this trip bring the family members closer together? Or will they become further alienated from each other?
The project was selected by Netflix from over 500 entries within its New Voices competition. “We were supported by a script coach in writing a first version of the script,” producer Asma El-Fassi told the HFM audience. “Now, three years later, we have a final version of the scenario and 90% of our funding in place thanks [in part] to the Dutch Film Fund. The project is currently in pre-production phase and shooting is planned in Spring 2024.” The film’s total budget is €550,000.
“This movie is important because it's European history. It's not only our story, but also your story,” El-Fassi told the HFM professional audience. “We want - we're talking about millions of people in Europe - to humanize migrants, children of migrants, the diaspora, and I think film is the best art form to do that, to ensure that people who may not initially look like me say ‘hey, that could have been my story as well…’ Also because there are few films about us that are told from the inside. We give an insight into the life of a large Dutch Moroccan family that struggles with [the same] identity problems as any other family (eg elderly care, dementia, sense of belonging, family dynamics etc). The genre of the film is mainly drama, but in our movies, we combine tears with laughter, and they’re also a way of processing trauma.”
El-Fassi further explains his approach to the business of filmmaking. “As a filmmaker, I bear a profound responsibility to combat damaging portrayals and rectify them with integrity. I am driven to humanize marginalized groups in society, challenging the conventions that limit our understanding. While individuals may feel overwhelmed by the transitory nature of the world, I wholeheartedly believe that film possesses unparalleled power to cultivate empathy and foster cohesion within communities. This conviction becomes even more potent when we strive to reshape the very landscape of storytelling.”
Stairway to Earth by Finn Szumlas (Production company: Goldman Film & Phanta Film)
In Finn Szumlas’s feature debut Stairway to Earth, described as an arthouse romantic drama, Luiza, a ‘dreamy’ literature student from Poland becomes pregnant after a magical, but anonymous, night with Jan, a Dutch urban gardener, After she travels to him full of expectations about the future, the reality of their situation forces her to descend from her ‘pink cloud’ and make a choice that will change their lives forever…
“The kind of film I really hope to make with Stairway to Earth [will have] this really strong atmospheric experience,” director Szumlas explains. “I want to get really close, really intimate with the characters. Sometimes you are a step ahead of them and you know more than they do, and sometimes you're a step behind and wondering what they're going to do next. I think this is something that I do particularly well.”
The project has a particularly personal undertow. “I have based the story of Stairway to Earth loosely on how my Polish father and Danish mother met and fell in love. My great desire with this film is to reconcile the contradictory claims of heavenly and earthly love: to find a filmic synthesis of romanticism and realism that fills the viewer with a bittersweet reverence and joy.”
The 120-minute film, to be shot on 16mm, is budgeted at €2.4 million, with €68,000 in place. In Utrecht, producer Edwin Goldman was seeking co-production interest and international sales, and looking to determine a festival strategy on the Polish/English/Dutch-language project.
“Slowly but surely, the images and the atmosphere begin to reveal the drama that is unfolding,” Goldman told the HFM audience. “I think this is something that's going to work really well with this scenario in Stairway to Earth. These two young lovers hardly know each other, but already there’s so much at stake. They're in love, and it's terrifying, romantic, intimate, a very real, and therefore ultimately moving, experience for the audience. We are now at an advanced stage of script development with the support of the Netherlands Film Fund and Media Creative Europe.”
24 Strong by Rieneke van Santen (Production company: Dendezo Productions & Harald House)
Rieneke van Santen’s feature documentary 24 Strong tells the story of Papua New Guinea’s first independent investigative media which emerges under fearless female leadership within a poverty-ridden country with the highest rate of gender-based violence.
The driving force of this film is the charismatic energy of the protagonists, one of whom is Julie, a mother of five and the award-winning star reporter, who continues uncovering bad governance, illegal house evictions and land grabbing from the rural highlands. Her reporting comes with death threats to her home, and one particular investigation becomes especially personal when her own family's land is placed in jeopardy.
The 85-minute film, “is an extraordinary story about survival, collectivism, the struggle for gender equality and the fight for democracy and press freedom from an underrepresented part of the world told through a feminist lens,” the film notes read.
Director van Santen further explained her project to HFM attendees. “What strikes me most in this story are the women. The men are doing the camera work. They're doing editing. [But] it's the women that are leading this organization. It's the women that are leading the investigations and that are exposing corrupt businessmen and politicians. They are the ones getting the death threats for the work that they are doing. And this is not any country. This is Papua New Guinea with the highest rates of gender-based violence in the world.”
“So it's not uncommon for female journalists to go out and report about social issues and injustice in their country [and then] to go home and find more violence with their husband,” she added. “And so this is why in addition to this beautiful team that is basically a protagonist in the film, I want to tell the story of Julie and her development, not only as a journalist, but as a woman and a mother of five, and the stories that she's reporting on from the remote highlands that puts her family at risk.”
“The project is in development. We have done our first research shoot and we estimate the budget to be about €500,000, so we're definitely looking for financiers. We're also looking for production partners, particularly in the Netherlands, in Australia and the Pacific region,” she ended.