Five highly promising new Dutch talents, three filmmakers, one producer and (for the first time) a distributor, were selected for full immersion into this year’s NFF Professionals Programme and promotion to the international film community during 2021 Holland Film Meeting online.
Kevin Osepa, filmmaker
Kevin moved to the Netherlands at the age of 18 from the Caribbean island of Curaçao, where he had learned the rudiments of filmmaking as a boy. “I used to photograph my sister,” he says. “That's how I started creating these fantasy worlds. The things that we would now call art direction and set design, back then it was just play. And there was something magical about a lot of the images that I created - I felt they needed to move. So it was just that naive feeling, that curiosity of having them move, having a compilation of images tell a story, that intrigued me.”
In his 2020 short film Watamula, which received a Golden Calf nomination for Best Short Film at the Netherlands Film Festival 2020, the Watamula of the title is a place where the island breathes and where the elements meet. It is also the destination of René, who emerges from a river and staggers across the island on a fateful journey. He comes across sharp thorns and sweet rose petals, meets with rejection and comfort, clutching the amulet he was given at birth, all the time propelled towards his destiny.
Caribbean identity and spirituality are, Osepa says, what interest him, alongside queer and black identity which is “a red thread in my work.” He is also, he says, a conceptual maker who uses a lot of symbolism. “I really like to use symbolism to invoke the feeling that there is more lingering underneath the surface. Give the viewer something to dissect after the film - images that get almost stuck in your head,” he stresses.
Right now Osepa is developing a magical realist feature in which two men seem fated to fall in love when specific lottery numbers are drawn. The film will once more embrace notions of spirituality and superstition, the belief in destiny and the psychological dependence on that belief.
During the Holland Film Meeting Osepa was keen to meet international professionals who have a similar love for the type of stories that he wants to tell and who understand their potential impact, and how best to maximise this. He looked forward to finding people with whom he can go on a creative “journey” with, he said.
“Watamula is very representative of the visual language that intrigues me, but can also help me shape-shift into a sort of more traditional narrative in which the magical visuals can combine with a very strong plot as well to create something very beautiful,” he ends.
Joosje Duk, filmmaker
Joosje was quite rightly introduced by Jordi Wijnalda during HFM 2021 as a “force of nature.” When studying at the NYU Gallatin School of Individualized Study Joosje Duk looked at her options and settled on a very satisfactory compromise.
“Initially I studied acting and journalism,” she explains. “What I loved in acting was the creativity, and what I loved in journalism was the control of telling certain types of stories that you care about. In filmmaking, I kind of found the happy medium.”
Her audacious and insightful graduation film Night, about an evening out and subsequent sleepover involving four teenage girls, two of whom are of colour, two of whom are white, tackled head-on the subject of race. Subsequent works take on other equally contentious issues. The web series #FitGirls addresses body image, social media rivalry, fillers and crash diets, while the short film Thin Ice examines the reaction of a skating rink employee when he sees a suspicious looking man carrying a backpack. The film has so far been watched 400,000 times online. At NFF 2021 she was in Golden Calf Competition with the web series Almost Starring.
Duk describes her upcoming Netflix Original [One plus one is three, Dutch working title: Eén en één is drie] as an anti-rom com about female sexuality, and how a woman who never orgasms with her partner suddenly does so when a third person is invited to join them. She is also in development on the feature film Sunshowers, described as “a whimsical story tackling mental health issues through the eyes of a teen girl who loses her visual colour sense.”
“I always find light and comedic and colourful ways of dealing with tough issues,” Duk responds when asked what she believes her filmmaking strengths are. “That's where my happy place is. I like taking topics that are uncomfortable or painful, or that people don't really want to interact with, and then find a way to make them jump onto that story.”
Her goals at HFM were clear, both to emphasise and marry the geographically disparate aspects of her filmmaking. “I'm either making a project that's Dutch, fully set in Holland and with a Dutch cast, or because I studied in the US I'm thinking about my English language projects. So I would love to figure out what my possibilities are as a young filmmaker, having one foot in these two different worlds. One is very local and one is more international. How can I bridge the two?”
Zara Dwinger, filmmaker
Zara arrived on the Dutch filmmaking scene in 2017 with her fearless graduation film Sirene, which not only demanded profound physical change of one of its leads but also our attention, and in the process told the most delicate and nuanced, and memorable, of love stories.
She followed this in 2018 with Yulia & Juliet, a modern interpretation of Shakespeare’s tale of desperate young love, set in (and out) of a detention centre for girls. The film starred Sara Luna Zorić, who filmmaker Ena Sendijarevic signed up for the lead role in her Take Me Somewhere Nice, which world-premiered at Cannes 2019.
The characters in Dwinger’s films are young and possessing of a particular dynamism which is enhanced by the director’s expressive mise-en-scène. “I really like to let people have an insight into the worlds of others, and I like beautiful images,” she says. “I love how form can sweep you away on this dream journey. I like a bit of realism but I think it is really nice when a film is larger than life, not really of this world but dreamier and more exaggerated.”
This is very much the case in her 14-minute short film A Holiday from Mourning (2020), also starring Sara Luna Zorić. In the film, a late adolescent girl escapes the pain of her mother’s death by jetting to Portugal for a few days of drug-fuelled and alcohol-laced indulgence and contemplation, before returning home to face a future devoid of a maternal presence.
NFF 2021 saw the world premiere of Dwinger’s 45-minute film, The Girl Who Was Cursed, about a girl who spends her days smoking dope on the couch and spying on the neighbours through binoculars. When the boy living across the street disappears, she has to leave her comfortable smoke cloud and embark on a strange, tragi-comic search.
When asked if every film she makes improves her as a filmmaker, Dwinger’s answer is instructive. “I think I have more control each time, which is maybe better. And also I feel less insecure each time about the work. With previous films, maybe I wasn’t happy with them, or I wasn’t happy enough. Now I am in a place where I'm, okay, maybe there's stuff that I would do differently, but, I mean, I am ok with it.”
Jasper Boon, producer at [boondocs]
“There was a certain point when I said farewell to fiction because with documentaries I don’t have the feeling I am living in an artificial bubble,” says Jasper Boon, MD of [boondocs] of why he chose doc over fiction. “I really like the human aspect of filmmaking. For documentaries, that means working in smaller crews and having more intimate relations, as opposed to fiction, which is, for me, often like a military operation.”
“Also, what I really like about documentaries is how you grab something from reality and put it into your own concept, and then all of a sudden you have a film built from the world around you. That's what’s really satisfying,” he adds.
On his website Boon writes how “he and a selection of young, diverse and ambitious directors find each other in making cinematic stories.” These have so far included the likes of Guido Hendrickx, whose A Man and a Camera was selected for CPH:DOX Competition and received a Special Jury Mention at Docaviv 2021. Also on the [boondocs] roster is Sarah Blok and Lisa Konno whose short doc Baba was selected for Clermont Ferrand Competition in 2021.
Book cites seminal Dutch documentary works such as Renzo Martins’ Enjoy Poverty and Morgan Knibbe’s Those Who Feel The Fire Burning, (both of which opened IDFA, in 2009 and 2014 respectively) as key influences.
These were the kind of author-driven documentaries that Boon subsequently set his heart on. “Morgan and Renzo are really conceptual filmmakers, and especially within documentary that's what really touches me,” the producer underlines. “Likewise Guido Hendrickx with his film A Man and a Camera where the form is always just as, if not more, important than the subject, more important than what is actually being said.” In Hendrickx’s doc the filmmaker simply knocks on the doors of random people saying he is making a documentary, and sees where matters go from there.
But is there a living to be made in producing auteur docs? Yes, Boon argues. “Pieter [Van Hustee, leading Dutch documentary producer] always tells me, if you produce it well then you can make money out of it. He's a real entrepreneur and that's what really inspires me, to have hardcore artistic author-driven films and still find a way to bring them to an audience. If you strongly go with it, it can work.”
Boon is currently developing/producing three shorts and two mid-length projects and has recently signed up to Producers LINK, the Cinekid + Kids Kino initiative.
What’s more, the theatrical release of A Man and his Camera elevates him into the category of producer for whom co-production funding is possible, and he therefore has his sights set beyond Dutch borders. “If you want to produce arthouse documentaries, then you have to co-produce,” he underlines, although he remains tight-lipped about a certain international feature project on which he is far down the line. “In future I will be much more oriented on an international audience,” he says.
Hidde de Vries, distributor at Kapitein Kort
Hidde stressed to online HFM attendees from the get-go how it is young talents that he is reaching out for in his role of MD and distributor at Kapitein Kort.
“We work from a talent development perspective. So we believe in a strategy that works, that focuses on getting shorts to an audience, to film professionals and to fellow filmmakers…a strategy that works for the development or the long-term goals of the director,” he said. “We work a lot with female directors, with queer directors and queer films, but specialize mostly in narrative shorts for younger audiences.”
He founded Kapitein Kort in 2016, and quickly developed an expertise in festivals and specifically the modus operandi of programmers. Not surprisingly, one of his most important yearly events is Clermont Ferrand. “Everybody who is anybody in the short industry is there,” he says.
Hidde has already built up long term working relationships with numerous directors such as fellow Dutch Talent en Route Zara Dwinger whose career he has closely followed since her 2017 graduation film Sirene, through the Berlinale 2019 selection Yulia & Juliet to this year’s Netherlands Film Festival pic The Girl Who Was Cursed.
“I'm here to meet programmers,” he added to Holland Film Meeting’s online participants. “I'm always super curious to meet them and to get to know what their festivals are all about and what makes them so special, but also to get their views on the cinema world of these days, what they think is cool or what they think is not so cool. If you are a producer or director and you just finished a short film or are working on one, or you're looking just to meet and get my feedback, please feel welcome to reach out. I would love to meet everyone.”
“Basically, I was in film school. I was studying producing and I was just being a bit bored. I started making some stuff outside of school, two short films…and a short needs to be seen,” Hidde de Vries explains how he came to set up his short film distribution agency, Kapitein Kort in 2016.
“When I graduated and was working as a producer, I noticed so many good films are being made - and so many are not seen at all. I just wanted to work on that.”
None of his friends at the Netherlands Film Academy knew anything about festivals and how to get their work into them but he quickly developed an expertise in this very field. He took time to visit the events, to meet the programmers and to work out how they made their selections.
In the five years of its existence, his agency has represented short films which have been shown in official selection at major events from Cannes to Berlin. He has been a regular visitor to Clermont-Ferrand in France which he describes as “one of the best festivals if you work in short films. From there, I was introduced to many people in the industry…everybody who is anybody in the short industry is there.”
The real roots of de Vries’ passion for promoting film stretch back all the way into his childhood. He grew up in Kollum, a small town in Friesland. His mother ran a community cinema there. The venue has just celebrated its 40th anniversary.
“When I was a very young age, I learned that a film is a film when it gets seen,” he says of what he learned from watching his mum run a “very classical art house” theatre that catered for local audiences, screening work for adults and for kids.
De Vries is the first distributor ever selected for the Holland Film Meeting Talents en Route programme, usually reserved for directors and producers. That’s a tribute to his entrepreneurialism and his creative spirit.
As his company has become better known, he has received more and more inquiries from filmmakers hoping he will represent their work. Early on, his catalogue was based around shorts from film school colleagues and acquaintances he had built up in the Dutch industry. Now, the footprint is international. He will often pick up new titles at festivals.
The economics of running a short film agency remain daunting. De Vries admits he couldn’t “live off” short films alone, especially as he keeps his catalogue relatively small and won’t represent more than 5 to 10 new films a year. However, he also works for Kaboom Animation Festival in Amsterdam as its Head of Industry. He also has various other “side” jobs.
“I just started my own festival but it doesn’t take any money,” he confides of the new The Living Room Film Festival, which is programmed by under-25s so that the selection is fresh and original.
Kapitein Kort has electric tastes. The agency represents documentary (for example, Milou Gevers’ heartbreaking film about children, parents and suicide, Why Didn’t You Stay For Me, and Sarah Blok & Lisa Konno’s Nobu, about former karate champ and Japanese immigrant, Nobuaki Konno.
“In general, my heart lies in narrative shorts, mostly for younger audiences,” de Vries says. But, yes, he likes documentary too, as long it is innovative and playful. He has already built up long term working relationships with directors like Zara Dwinger (a fellow Talent en Route) whose career he has followed since her graduation project and whose short Yulia & Juliet was chosen for the Berlinale in 2019. Her latest film, Het meisje dat vervloekt is in Utrecht this week.
“I want to keep on building with her because I believe a lot in what she does. She is going to make a feature film next year…if this film fits, then it could be a feature film I could work with,” he says of the possibility that he might represent selected longer films alongside the shorts which make up the backbone of his catalogue. “Especially when it's catered to a young audience.”
“In general, I work from a talent development perspective and just want to help short filmmakers who are making amazing films,” de Vries says of the philosophy that was behind the setting up of Kapitein Kort - and which is still the credo he works by today.
Hey everyone. My name is Hidde de Vries. I'm a film festival distributor from, uh, Amsterdam, the Netherlands. Uh, my company is called capita and quite, uh, we work from a talent development perspective. So we believe in a strategy that works, uh, that focuses on getting shorts to an audience, to film professionals and to fellow filmmakers, so that the strategy works for the development or the long-term goals of the director, And sometimes also the inspiration. Um, we work a lot with female directors with queer directors, queer films, but, specialize mostly in narrative shorts for younger audience. So it films have been in Berlinae, but also Semaine de la Crituque at Cannesat IFFR EFR. And here, obviously at the Netherlands film festival, um, I'm here to meet programmers. So festivals I'm super curious always to meet them and to get to know what their festivals are all about and what makes it so special, but also to get their views on, uh, the cinema world of these days. And, uh, what they think is a goal or what they think is not so cool. Um, and if you are a producer or director and you just finished a short film or are working on one, or you're looking just to meet and get my feedback or yeah, something like that, uh, please feel welcome to reach out. I would love to meet everyone. Uh, I'm here all week, so see you there.
Written by Nick Cunningham