Mon 01 Oct 2018

Sold! Selling Dutch

The first edition of the SOLD! Programme of NFF Professionals 2018 opened with pitches of five diverse Dutch projects in development or in post-production to leading European sales agencies. The session was moderated by EYE International’s Marten Rabarts.

By: Nick Cunningham

Dutch Mountain Film’s Wilant Boekelman pitched the The Flying Dog together with his colleague Ernst de Jong. The very amusing mockumentary tells the story of Johannes’ dream to teach his dog to fly. A Dutch/Austrian co-production, all territories are available outside The Netherlands and Austria, Boekelman underlined. Commented the producer on the story’s appeal: “What struck me most was when friends and family would ask me what kind of films I am making right now, I would tell them about our whole slate and of course about The Flying Dog, and when I talked to these people a couple of months later every single time they ask just about the dog. That’s the one that always gets the attention.”

Producer Jessica van Tijn was next up to pitch Pamela Sturhoofd’s documentary Truus’ Children which uncovers the true story of Truus Wijsmuller who saved 10,000 European children from the Nazis prior to and during the Second World War. The part-animated film will be available as a 90-minute feature, a 50-minute television doc and a multi-episode educational series. “It is an important and educational story, and more people need to know it,” commented Van Tijn. “It [the story] is not in the books yet, nor in schools or museums, but we have a lot of contact with the educational system both in Holland and Vienna and across Germany, and many museums are now ready to show the movie once it is out.”

Director Guido van Driel and producer Floor Onrust talked about their dynamic psychological thriller/drama Bloody Marie. The film concerns graphic ‘novelista’ Marie Wankelmut who lives in Amsterdam’s Red Light District where she spends her time at home, in the pub and in the liquor store. Her life is empty after the success of her graphic novel but horrific events next door stir Marie into action.
“She has a serious drink problem and has feelings of guilt about the recent death of her mother… and amidst all this makes a big mistake and gets into really serious problems with her neighbours, but ironically in the end things work out better for her. It is a story with quite a positive ending,” asserts Van Driel. The film is inspired by a good friend of the director’s with a serious drink problem. “When Lennert [Hillege, fellow screenwriter] and I started this film, we did it sort of out of frustration watching a nice person go down the slope, and you can’t do anything. So I wanted to do something with this frustration… and in a way seek a solution. While working on it we decided to make the male a female, which is a bit more of a challenge. We made [actress] Susanne Wolf a good alcoholic – and she did a wonderful job.”

Producer Steven Rubinstein Malamud (Ijswater Films) and director Jaap van Heusden pitched the highly ambitious North America/Canada-located In Alaska. In the “95% English-language, 5% Inuit” film Woody, a seventeen year old boy from a tiny village in Alaska, is so depressed he wants to end his life. Instead he does something epically stupid: he shoots the oil pipeline that crosses the state and overnight becomes a most wanted criminal, hunted by special agent Susan Tarheel. While he has to run for his life, he’s learning for the first time what it truly means to be alive.
In Alaska will be a movie finding humour within the worst of depression, a film about a chase for a needle in a haystack,” stressed producer Malamud. “We are looking at a Dutch/Belgian/Canadian co-production all set in the amazing landscapes of Alaska and Canada. Susan Tarheel is not called Susan Tarheel for any reason. She is inspired by the great performances of Susan Sarandon in the 1980s and 1990, movies we grew up on, so we are really trying to find an actress, American or Canadian, who can reinvoke those performances.”

Kasia Karwan of Paris-based sales outfit The Moonshot Company was impressed by what she saw. “We have just seen five very different projects. What can I say about the current state of Dutch cinema? They were very diverse…all very interesting and very ambitious, and all quite accomplished in their categories. I am intrigued by all of them, and all potentially investable in, by different companies. I would say that all of them might find their place in the market.”
“What I have experienced here is that the level is really high,” she continued. “It is quite rare for me to see at the works-in-progress [events] that I go to from time to time to see that nine out of ten projects are really appealing to me. Usually it is rather like one or two out of the whole selection… [On these] I would like to know more. Not all would be for my company as I rather work with fiction films and most of them are debuts…but at least from my personal curiosity I would love to know more about all of these projects.”

EYE International’s Marten Rabarts offered his assessment of the event: “For me it reaffirms the diversity of voice, of tone, of fascination here in the Netherlands. There is a project that is focussing on a story that unfolded in Alaska within the Inuit community. I think Dutch producers and directors are terrific at finding these stories, travelling to those places and immersing themselves into that world, so they will tell an authentic Alaskan/part-Inuit space-specific story without any sense of the Dutchness behind it.
“Or a wacky potentially wonderful comedy about a dog that is intended to fly by its owner, across to an important untold Holocaust story, so inspiring and really relevant today when we look at migration in Europe but also the recent stories about children who, in a very wrong way, are taken away from their families at the US border – so very current.
“And then a hard-nosed Dutch psychological thriller based in the heart of Amsterdam, which is an unusual thing. We rarely have stories told in Amsterdam in the Red Light district because Dutch filmmaker kind of see that as a Dutch cliché, but here we have someone who really bites into that, holds on to it and tells a story that could not be told anywhere else. It is so specific in place and time, and with a wonderful character who just celebrates her alcoholism and then comes to terms with the internal struggle that she is having. “Beautifully told, perfect situation, a story that could not be told anywhere else.”