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Holland Film Meeting

Stories & Beyond 2023 report

Stories & Beyond is the Holland Film Meeting (HFM) programme designed specifically for a select group of highly talented screenwriters. This edition we have presented an eclectic blend of 5 projects with fantastic, horror, science-fiction, dark thriller and afro-surrealism elements, creating an imaginative and genre-bending cinematic mix of works pushing the boundaries of imagination. The programme provides participants with the possibility to meet with industry professionals from the Netherlands and abroad in individual meetings and coaching sessions to discuss their projects.

.Nevel by Herbert Alfonso (Production company: CABIN content)

Written and directed by debutant Herbert Alfonso, .Nevel promises to be the first Dutch-Afro surrealistic movie ever made. He elaborated: “Afro surrealism is an artistic movement that combines elements of surrealism with African-American, or in this case, Afro-European cultural experiences. It often explores the complex relationship between reality, the dream world and the subconscious, and uses symbolism to illuminate social and political themes from the black community. With this Dutch film, Afro surrealism should now find its way into European cinema. My aim as a filmmaker and as an artist is to represent the Afro European community in a profound way.”

The plot of .Nevel is fascinating and mysterious, telling of Djunie, a Dutch-born suicidal black Antillean artist, who cannot escape from his hometown Zwolle, nor his own life. He checks into a clinic, where he starts to believe he is trapped in a poem about something greater than both himself and life itself. The story involves suicide, medical misdiagnoses and the despair felt when the eventual illness isn’t as bad as the assumed prognosis. The film also offers up the nihilistic filmmaker Awa, who is persuaded to create a documentary about Djunie's supposed final days. At the end, there is the realization that the whole thing may be a simulation of a white man who wants to experience life as a black artist.

The 90-minute film, currently at script stage, is produced by Jonathan Smit of CABIN content who has raised €25,000 of the film’s €650,000 budget. “Our mission is to amplify the hopeful sound of a new generation by telling powerful stories that resonate to a broad audience,” he said of the project that was selected for development at the impACT lab at Cannes Marché 2023. “This helped to make it even stronger and more powerful.”

“We expect to fully fund the total budget in 2024 and release the film in 2025. Currently, we are mainly looking for a distributor for sales opportunities, and we in general just want to speak to inspiring people about this film on how to make it even stronger.”

The Mantra of the Thief by David Verbeek (Production company: Conijn Film)

No stranger to the Holland Film Meeting, Dutch auteur David Verbeek pitched his 90-minute Dutch-language feature, described as a personal diary that records the deep and hidden thoughts of a thief who's reflecting on his life from the future. Wout Conijn of Conijn Film will produce the €1.5 million arthouse/sci-fi film that is currently at early script stage.

Verbeek articulated his vision of “The Mantra of the Thief as essentially a love story. It's about a character [Jasper] who is a thief in the sense that he doesn't steal out of necessity, but he steals for the kick, and he's addicted to this feeling of empowerment that it gives him to steal, until one day he steals something of a young woman (Rim) [who] he later on meets as well. And at that moment when he starts to connect to the victim, that's actually when things become more complicated for him,” he said.

“It's a story that's told in two times, the present day and also a date far in the future where the old version of himself, when he's around a hundred years old, lives predominantly in a metaverse. And this metaverse is using all of the data that we now generate on all of our phones and all the data points that are collected on our lives to reconstruct any date of any place.” And so, in the film, Jasper becomes a detective in his own love story, to find once again the love who disappeared early in their relationship.

“What we want to do with this project visually is…to discover a new visual language,” Verbeek continued. “We want to look at those same data points that the film is about. I think that one of the main challenges is to basically have something that is created by a lot of animation, andto do it in a way that isn't necessarily the high budget studio approach, but actually a kind of animation that you can make, even on your phone. And the roughness of that 3D world, I think, is going to be very interesting to look at. I haven't seen it before in a film.”

“The challenge of this project for me, as an audiovisual artist and filmmaker, is to make a film in which the character study of Jasper and the dystopian vision of the future, born of my fascination for virtuality, are a natural extension of each other,” Verbeek adds in his notes. “By crawling into Jasper’s world of thoughts, the virtual visual language will come to life and take us to an initially mysterious but ultimately oppressive future. A future that is an extension of current developments.”

Keelin's Return by Erik de Bruyn (Production company: The Rogues)

Erik de Bruyn shot like a comet onto the Dutch and international film scene in 2000 with his Wild Mussels, and has remained an articulate cinematic voice ever since. De Bruyn’s J. Kessels opened the Netherlands Film Festival in 2015.

The synopsis for his new project Keelin's Return, produced by Rianne Poodt of The Rogues, tells of the young intersexual Keelin (23) who is haunted and troubled by her youth in which she was forced to be a drug dealer and a criminal. She seeks redemption and freedom by fleeing to a remote location, but soon her past follows her. One day, her unconscious young niece Amy is dumped on her doorstep. Keelin must travel back to the thing she wanted to escape from in order to unravel the truth behind her half-sister Moira’s death. Keelin discovers her mother, Maren, now runs an illegal trade in human blood harvesting. Keelin must decide whether she will run, with the knowledge of what her mother does, or take revenge and consequently stop her mother’s dangerous business.

Addressing the HFM audience, de Bruyn explained that he and producer Poodt are looking for co-production partners, especially from Ireland, as much of the film will be shot there. He is also looking for an Irish co-writer for the 100-minute neo-noir thriller/drama that is budgeted at €2 million.

“In the form of a genre film, I want to shape this story around the difficulty of dealing with trauma,” he further expresses in his notes for the film. “Some things in one’s youth can be suppressed, and so cement themselves deeply in your subconscious self. It can take up to dozens of years before this trauma makes itself known through physical symptoms. In my early childhood, I also experienced many unsafe situations, especially with my mother. This remained manageable for a long time, but in the last approximately five years, those earlier incidents started to come to the fore more and more. As a filmmaker, I want to incorporate this partly personal theme within a film with a mix of genres. [It is] a psychological drama, neo-noir thriller with mystery on the character level, in which suspense rises from the questions about the main character: Why is she the way she is? What is happening to her? What will she do? These questions will slowly be answered as the story unfolds.”

Keelin’s Return is not a socially realistic drama. Part of the cinematic reality is recognizable, ‘rooted in reality,’ but not exactly bound to specific times and places,” de Bruyn adds. “It’s more a kind of hyper-realism, as is common in the films of the Coen Brothers, for example. The film will utilize a narrative style with long flashback sequences from the Keelin’s memories as well as daydreams and flash-forwards.”

Lily by Jan Doense (Production company: Windmill Film)

“Take your broken heart and make it into art, they say. So I did,” screenwriter Nathalie Pagie explained at HFM of her project Lily, directed by Jan Doense and inspired by her own struggles as a mother of a teenage daughter. “By making this into a horror story, I put my own worries and uncertainties into perspective, and I hope that by seeing the film, this will have the same effect on parents all over the world who are facing the often challenging task of raising a teenager.”

In the film, fairground mother Loretta struggles to raise her adolescent daughter Lily, whose behaviour has become increasingly violent. It is feared that Lily is possessed by a devilish spirit, and Loretta is determined to save her. But when the life of her youngest daughter Dina is jeopardised, Loretta must choose: will she hold on to Lily or let go?

Writer Pagie further painted a picture of the dilemma at the heart of the 90-minute Dutch/English film. “Picture this gigantic Ferris wheel at night, a woman dangling dangerously underneath one of the gondola cabins at the top. She's holding on for dear life, but losing grip by the second, and she can only use one hand because with the other hand she's holding on to her terrified daughter underneath her. In order to save her own life, she has to let go of her daughter, who will then face a certain death, a devilish dilemma. Can she do it? Will she? Would you hold on or let go? That's what this film is about.”

Director Jan Doense is obviously thrilled to be involved. “I'm a lifelong horror fan, and Lily is just the kind of horror project that I like. I see it as a cross between The Exorcist and Carrie with a little bit of Hereditary mixed in. Or in other words, it's a story about demonic possession and telekinesis with so-called ‘bad seed’ elements. On top of that, it is set in a traveling fair, which will provide it with a fantastic background.”

Budgeted at €3,500,000, the project is produced by Annemiek van der Hell of Windmill Film. “We're looking forward to making Lily into one hell of a ride,” she told HFM guests. “So be afraid. Be very afraid because Lily is coming for you.”

Meet Jimmy by David-Jan Bronsgeest (Production company: Bloodrave)

Tim Koomen (director) and David-Jan Bronsgeest (producer/writer) pitched their 98-minute psychological horror feature that started life back in 2018 as a short film of the same name. The pair had sold the rights to Paramount in the US, but those were returned to them after Covid. Now the €800,000 project (with €570,000 secured) is backed by no less an outfit than Amazon Prime.

The synopsis reads how Dilara returns to her hometown after one of her friends is found murdered. As she starts listening to a true crime podcast about an old murder case that bears a striking resemblance to this killing, the voice of serial killer Jimmy captivates her, leading her to believe that the murderer has risen from the dead to right a past wrong.

“With Meet Jimmy it’s our dream to create a modern horror classic, a dynamic ride that will hunt you from the opening scene all the way to the devastating climax,” say Koomen and Bronsgeest.

During their pitch, the pair jointly explained the appeal of their project, currently at late script development stage, as well as their love for the genre.

“From a young age, we are completely obsessed by horror movies and horror film classics. The true crime era added an extra spin for us. What is fear? Why are we so afraid of just one individual terrorizing the streets out there that nobody wants to leave their houses at night?” they ask. “Or is it possible that our minds go into this victim mentality and we allow the danger to come closer and closer without us knowing it? That's the thin line where Meet Jimmy takes place.”

“We are looking for some feedback on our script, and we're also looking for production partners, international or here in the Netherlands, to develop the film further and also to jump on board…Let's go guys,” the pair signed off.

Curious about the other HFM trajectories?

Read the reports here

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