Thu 08 Oct 2020

Young, gifted and Dutch

Four highly promising new Dutch talents, two filmmakers and two producers, were introduced to the great and the good of the international film trade during 2020 Holland Film Meeting online.

Back in 2017/18, director/scriptwriter Ashgan El-Hamus was in such demand in her native Amsterdam that she had to give up her masters course in direction at Brussels’ LUCA School of the Arts. She was writing the Dutch version of the Norwegian teen hit Skam, and there was simply not enough hours in the day for both. (She subsequently wrote the second season too.)

Nevertheless El-Hamus, a born story-teller, was determined to pursue her desire to be a filmmaker. So she applied to the Netherlands Film Fund Shorts Scheme which offered the kind of flexibility to deliver her debut Birdland, which premiered at the Netherlands Film Festival this year.

In the intensely lyrical and mature work, eight-year-old Skye and her mother Joy live on a trailer site on the edge of town. Skye wants to be like her mother so much that she copies her behaviour. In the process, Skye explores the boundaries of Joy’s liberal style of upbringing.

Just before HFM, the filmmaker underlined what she felt was a strength within her approach to filmmaking. “I think I am always looking at actors, just looking all the time. Do I believe what I am seeing? Is it real to me? Or does it seem fake? I think this is the most important thing, and it kind of comes to me naturally. I don’t have to force my focus there. It goes there automatically,” she says.

“I think the greatest compliment I could ever get is that somebody looks at my film and says ‘oh yes, that is Ashgan’s film. I can see it. I can recognise it’,” she adds. “I would like to have my own stamp.”

For self-taught filmmaker Aiman Hassani, this is the fourth Netherlands Film Festival in a row, following three selections at three consecutive Netherlands Film Festivals, running 2017-19.

His 2017 KORT! film #YOLO4REAL concerned Ahmed, a 21-year old man who is told he is terminally ill. After a phase of denial Ahmed starts to take action to escape this horrible truth. In You are Moroccan, right? (2018) Hassani himself must make a choice, to conform to the wishes and obligations of his Moroccan family or to follow his own path, thereby jeopardizing his relationship with his parents.

His 2019 short Khata, which garnered a 2020 Prix Europa nomination within the TV Iris category (announcement of winner late October 2020), is about the gentle adolescent Kamal, who works with his older brother Hatim as a boy prostitute on and around Rotterdam Central Station. The parents of the brothers think they are just hanging out with friends on the street. But when Kamal falls in love with a male customer, the situation seems to escalate completely.

“It literally placed the problem that the film highlights onto the political agenda,” director Hassani underlines. “I am very thankful that I have had opportunities to make a film of such a scale and hope to make many more.”

Young producer Chris Stenger successfully harnessed her lifelong love of animation to the extent that now she develops animation projects for the highly regarded Dutch production house Family Affair Films, run by Floor Onrust. (Stenger actually completed an orientation year at the renowned Rietveld Academy studying animation, before realising that it was a very solitary occupation and that she worked a lot better as a practical and collaborative creative).

In 2019, she made the stop motion film Human Nature with acclaimed Norwegian animator Sverre Fredriksen, an experience which was transformative for her. “Making stuff that is not moving come to life. It’s a kind of magic,” she says.

At Netherlands Film Festival 2020 is her short animation Tourist Trap (Ultrakort, supported by the Netherlands Film Fund) by Vera van Wolferen. The film, about an adventurous jeep who arrives at the perfect vacation spot only to find that all the other cars had the same idea, has very contemporary environmental resonance. Stenger and Van Wolferen are currently discussing potential collaboration on a feature.

Following the success of the Hideous Henk pilot in early 2020, the Family Affair producer is developing the rest of the first season with NDR, with the support of the NPO Fund. Hideous Henk is about a very ugly chihuahua whose owner uses him as an Instagram vehicle because he is the ugliest dog the internet has ever seen.

After graduating from the Netherlands Film Academy in 2014, Tom van Blommestein worked as a creative producer at NL Film and Endemol Shine. He worked on the development of various drama series, including The Menten Case (Golden Calf winner for Best Dutch TV Drama, 2016), Floor Rules (Emmy Award, 2018), Casper and the Christmas Angels (Emmy Award, 2015) and YouTube hit Meet The Stockers (NPO3, 2018). He was also involved in box office hits Men in the City 2 (2015) and Made for Each Other (2017).

At Lemming Film, which he joined in 2020, he produces high-end drama series with an international focus. Projects that Van Blommestein is working on include Simone van Dusseldorp’s adaptation of the classic kids story Floddertje, created by Annie MG Schmidt.

“It is a unique and rare example of a story and a character that has connected over and over again with new generations of readers,” he comments.

Van Blommestein is working on the sequel to youth sci-fi series Zenith, which builds on the universe of the first season, but takes us even further into the future to a time where robots are secretly invading the world of teenager Zoey. He is also producing Idje, an adaptation of Michael Middelkoop’s children’s book ‘Idje does not want to go to the hairdresser’.

“Looking further ahead my long term ambition is to create a home for great storytellers who have the ambition to create local content that travels the world,” he says. “An ambition that fits in perfectly well with my very experienced colleagues at Lemming Film, whom I hope to learn and grow with for many years to come.”

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Written by: Nick Cunningham