Arabilicious-Arab Cinema Reloaded

Arabic Cinema is the latest new focus at the Short Film Festival of Leuven in co-operation with the Swiss short film festival Kurzfilmtage Wintertuhr. The initiative is nothing but relevant in the time and context we live in. Due to migration, all kinds of people live together, no matter the race, religion or sexuality. And therefore, I think films can offer us more insight and cultural understanding. The specific kind of humour or way of narrating is a matter of “Love it or hate it”, but still all of the films in this series were very different in many aspects.

Since September, I study Arabic at university, which is mainly focussed on Fusha, the Standard Modern (Egyptian) Arabic. Consequently, I really tried to compare the different variants and dialects in these 6 shorts, which wasn’t easy to do. Indeed, only in the Egyptian films I managed to understand some bits of it

Thematically, the Lebanese films seem to contain more modern and liberal ideas, also filmtechnically they are more sophisticated like for example the special effects in Ercevax. But all 6 of the short films do point at deeply rooted sociological problems in a witty way to make the thematic less heavy. In my opinion, there are 2 ways of interpreting from our Western viewpoint. These short films either show us the Arabic encounter  with a -for them- Western culture, like our pop culture -or death metal to be precise- for example in Heavy Metal Drummer or Silence Radio. On the other hand these films are a perfect proof of the fact that the Arabic world is not so different after all and does not only consist of the stereotypical ‘deserts and camels.’

Here is a short overview of the shorts in the Arabilicious-series.


Sometimes is an Eyptian short by Mahmood Soliman, made in 2008. It tells the story of a bus driver who constantly kicks people out of his bus, whenever their behaviour is not compatible to his rules. In the end it becomes clear that the story symbolises the power of love, acceptance and tolerance.

A beautiful message indeed, if it wasn’t for the technical flaws of the film like wrong subtitles, asynchronical sound and simply a story plot on the verge of pure absurdity. But Sometimes is a good warm-up to get in the mood for some more Arabic vibes.

Heavy Metal Drummer

Heavy Metal Drummer is a 2005 production by a UK co-directors  Toby Macdonald and Luke Morris. One can clearly notice the Western influences when it comes to story-telling. Macdonald and Morris use a voice-over to lead us into the mind of a young Arabic boy who starts his own music band. He feels like his musical orientation is neglected and like he has to conform with the cultural traditions. He wants to be a rockstar, that’s for sure!

Watch Heavy Metal Drummer entirely on YouTube.

A Resident of the City

aresidentofthecityA Resident of the City is an 2011 Egyptian film by Adham El Sherif and to me a balad -or rather protestsong- for his city Caïro with dogs as the main characters. These dogs are metaphores for the citizens of the city and how they are so small as individuals. The film is shot like a documentary with a voice-over for the main part, namely the dog Boss. Along with his friends Zyga and Candy they own the city and have to defend their territory like real dogs do, even when it gets stacked with new buildings. The dogs symbolise the position of human nature in opposition to imperialism and urbanisation.

Visually, A Resident of the City is very beautiful, with loads of close-ups and contrasting images of light (day) and dark (night), by this, the director creates a warm atmosphere. You can almost feel the heat of the city through the screen.

Watch the entire short film on Vimeo.


naamloos (3).png

Ercevax is a 15-minute Lebanese film from 2014 by Oliver Bou Eid in the same style like Robert Zemeckis Back to the Future (1985). Althought this one is more a version of ‘back to the past’. Bou Eid uses a lot of special effects and his story plot has high complexity level, although the goal of the head character, a scientist, is to go back into time to cure his son from a mortal disease with a medicine called Ercevax. This short film shows no differences from what we are used to in American films. It is very action-driven and has plenty of modern montage techniques.

For more info, visit the Facebookpage of Ercevax.

De L’Autre Côté

naamloos (2)

De L’Autre Côté is a Moroccon film by Youssef Maman and tells the story of a man and a woman who incidentally happen to look for a lift across one another. There is a sexual tension between the two. Consequently there is only one question: where can they go have sex? The film ends by them asking each others name, which to me points at the superficiality of modern relationships and how easily physical attraction i.e. lust dominates over emotions.

Maman makes his film worth watching by the beautiful compositions of his characters in the empty sandy landscape.

Silence Radio (The Song Remains the Same)

naamloos (5)

Also in 2015, the Lebanese director Reynald Bassil made his short film called Silence Radio (The Song Remains the Same) about a boy Elie living in the liberal 70’s, which period seriously clashes with his traditional environment and upbringing in Beirut. The story is set several months before the civil war. His life is dominated by music and the local radio presenter Sam Debs.

Elies’s coincidential reunion with one of his youth friends serves as a frame to the main narrative. Silence Radio has a pleasant narrative pace and is very character-driven. Bassil uses a voice-over to make the audience experience what goes on in Elie’s mind. And then there is also the typical status of a radio presenter as a role model for the younger generation. He is the one who teaches them about music and in the 70’s also mostly makes them acquainted with certain anticultures. Elie gets trapped between going his own way or opting for what the law implies him to do.

Watch the trailer on Vimeo.

Artist in Focus: Wim Willaert

At this year’s edition of the Short Film Festival in Leuven, the West-Flemish actor Wim Willaert (48 years old) is part of the jury, but also gets honoured in his very own short film-serie.

Wim Willaert is known for his outstanding acting performances in series like Eigen Kweek (2013) or feature films like Ex-Drummer (2007). Also to me he is one of Flanders’ best actors, who is able to play in all kinds of roles, not only the comical ones. Therefore he has a series of short films dedicated to him this year at the Short Film Festival. All of them are very different from one another in genre and style. But these are only 5 out of a full list of 17 short films, several television series and a handful of feauture films.
Welkom (2013)

naamloos (8)

Welkom by Pablo Munoz Gomez tells the story of the Spanish migrant Jorge and his father. They face the issues of proper integration before they can make use of their rights as Belgian citizens. when Jorge simply  wants to build a henhouse in his garden for Maria, the so-called wife of his father. Consequently, this short is definitely sociologically relevant. Wim Willaert plays the caricatural role of a nationalist major of a Flemish village next to the border with Wallonia, who makes it very hard on the two men by forcing them to take Dutch classes even though they live on the French side of the country. Gomez’ short film reminds me a bit of a situation comedy, in which action-reaction and dialogues are key elements for the story-plot.

Solo Rex (2014)

naamloos (6)

Solo Rex by François Bierry is a beautiful short film about the lonely woodchopper Erik, who is a drunk and therefore lost his driver’s license and what happens when he meets Kevin. The latter is the young choir master of the local street band, who cruises through the area riding tandem -very special concept! When Kevin falls in love with Jessica, a girl from the band, he asks Erik for help. What follows is a one day-adventure in which both Erik and Kevin will learn from each other, just like you saw in Disney’s Up (2009)!

Remarkable for Solo Rex are the beautiful compositions and perfect symmetry of the shots. Bierry most definitely pays attention to the mise-en-scène of his films.

N.B.: “Solo Rex” is the brand of chainsaw Erik works with, so that is where the title comes from.

Watch the teaser on Vimeo.

Wien for Life (2014)

naamloos (7)
Wien for Life is probably the most briliant crime short you will ever see. Directed by Alidor Dolfing, it tells the story of 2 friends, Pierre and Jean, who finally get the chance to say goodbye to their miserable lives after a costumer in Pierre’s gasstation wins with Win for Life (Belgian Lottery).  The film’s characters are nearly pure caricatures and the violent action scenes are in the same style as Quentin Tarantino’s . The merry and bouncy final score is a complete oppossite of the film’s final sequence though, which is yet another typical Tarantino-element.
The human relationships in Wien for Life are all entirely built upon trust -or actually distrust and conflict. All the actors perform equally well, with a personal standing ovation for Mieke Dobbels, who really impressed me with her performance as Angie Lee, the dissolute girlfriend of Pierre, who eventually not really is who she seemed to be.
Alidor Dolfing stands for the 2 co-directors Nyk Dekeyser and the Dutch Mark Bouwmeester. Wien for Life is their first co-production, but it won’t be their last.

Check the website for more information and trailers.

Ijsland (2010)


Ijsland stars Wim Willaert in an entirely different part from what we saw in the first 3 films. He now is a tormented soul, searching for a way to pick up his life again after he went to prison.

Ijsland is Gilles Coulier’s first short film and there is something we can call the ‘golden alliance’ between Coulier and Willaert. The combination is simply magical. 2015 was the year of Bevergem, a series on the Belgian national television in which Willaert also took part. The strength of Ijsland, as well as all the others of Coulier’s work, lies in its authenticity. Real human beings in real-life situations with real emotions. And on top of that, all the dialogues are in the local West-Vlaams (Western Flemish) dialect.

Overall, the atmosphere is very dark, because of the specific use of lightning and contrasts. Also, the entire story is set at night. The only moment we witness (day)light is in the final sequence. In my opinion Ijsland ends as a closed narrative, in which love conquers all.

Check the trailer on YouTube.

Lilith (2013)



Lilith by Maxim Stollenwork is a plot-driven fantastic horror short film about the young woman Lilith, who tries to fit in society, despite the fact that she has supernatural powers. One night she meets a young prostitute and from then onwards things get out of hand.

The end is surreal and horrific. When you want to know what happens to her customer ‘Horny Hans’ (performed by Willart), you should go and watch Lilith.      

Check the Facebookpage for more information.

“Empire”- Kristof Hoornaert


Empire is the 3rd short film by Kristof Hoornaert after Kaïn (2009) and The Fall (2013) and is the final piece in his short film trilogy about the cruelty of human society. This year at the Festival, he is selected in the Vlaamse Fictie 1 (Flemish Fiction 1) after he already got selected for many other filmfestivals around the world, such as Film Fest Ghent, THISS, or Sleepwalkers Festival in Estonia.

Empire is an experimental drama and a visual masterpiece in a real-time plan-sequence shot. Hoornaert himself calls his film a portrait of a modern middle class family. The leading parts are performed by  Ina Geerts (Adem, 2010) and Kris Cuppens (Rundskop/Bullhead, 2011).

The film is very slow, so for example already in the very beginning, where we feel like standing in the middle of the appartment listening to a radio talkshow about the European sushi-hype. This sequence already takes 3 minutes, after which we watch the moher’s back while she’s ironing and we have to listen to a phonecall. This all takes place before there is any ‘action’. In that way, Empire visualises the banalities of life.

The setting is a very cool and modern loft, with several coloured elements that pop out, like the pink little dinosaur on the cupboard, that keeps on catching my attention. It is clear by now, that Empire is more about the auditive, than about the visual aspects, but nonetheless, the simplicity of what you can see adds up to the message Hoornaert wants to convey.

At 5.12pm the father comes in after work and from then onwards, the static camera starts to zoom in on him standing in front of the window. Very slowly. Until he choses to take a drastical life switch -NO SPOILERS! After that the camera zooms in more further to the outside view through the window and we can only hear what he is doing next. Consequently, the audience is fully dependend on its imagination, because of the lack of visual support.

Empire is a Flemish short about the existential crisis of the modern human being ,and the emptiness and loneliness he experiences. In my opinion, because of its visual beauty and simplicity, contrasting with the heavy subject, Empire has the potential to beat the others in the Vlaamse Fictie 1 series. It might go worldwide, which I sincerely hope.

You can check the Facebook-page here.

Opening Night 27/11

No idea what I had to expect at the official Opening Night of the 21st edition of the International Short Film Festival! It takes place in Leuven, a city only 25 kms away from the Belgian capital Brussels and is as tiny as can be actually, but still this festival is very renowned AND Oscar-qualifying!

Once I entered Kinepolis in Leuven and saw its red carpet, I felt that little bit more special. I did not recognise that many people, also because short films and their directors is a different kind of filmmaking. Lean-back in my comfy seat, we had the popular radio presenter Kirsten Lemaire hosting the evening and she introduced us to the Programmer of the Festival, Maarten Alexander (Fonk vzw), who was very pleased to welcome us and tell us some more about the festival programme and the different focusses, like the Arabilicious-series, or the focus on Spanish shorts.

After that we watched 1 videoclip and 5 shorts. 3 out of 5 were made by Flemish directors and participating in the Vlaamse Competitie. Tonight was also the première of these films, so there was quite a nervous atmosphere. Of course the directors and their actors are excited to know what the audience would think about their work.

First things first. There was the videoclip, which serves as the trailer to Kung Fury (2015) by David Sandberg. The title already gives away what the film’s about, indeed kung fu. The soundtrack is made by David Hasselhoff. The video clip was simply ridiculously genious. So do watch the it, then you’ll understand.

Poster Adri

The first real short film was a Spanish one called Adri (2013) by Estibaliz Urresola Solaguren, that is also selected in the Cortitos 1-series and was already selected for Brussels Short Film Festival earlier this year. Adri tells the story about a young competition swimmer who has her first period.

Then there were 2 Flemish shorts, who were at least to be called “alternative”, namely Guest by Moon Blaisse and Niemendal by the 25 year-old and most talented director Harm Dens.The latter we will surely keep an eye on, because his way of constructing settings and creating atmosphere by opting for specific perspectives is intriguing.

Both shorts were slow-paced and seemed to lack a proper story plot. Nonetheless, both tell the story of loneliness and boredom and how to cope with it. Guest stars Peter Van Den Begin and Niemandal has only 2character, namely 2 inmates performed by Titus De Voogdt en Stefaan Degand. All these actors are well-known among the Flemish audience and much appreciated for their acting.

Screen-shot Feel Sad for the Bunny
Screen-shot Feel Sad for the Bunny

The 3rd and final Flemish short was actually French-spoken. Feel Sad for the Bunny (2015) by former professional cyclist Kenneth Mercken seriously opposes the other ones, because of its narrative complexity and depth. Feel Sad for the Bunny tells the story of 2 brothers and their nanny, and how lust and the lack of a mother-figure tears them apart. By the way, for those who know Black by El Arbi and Fallah, must have recognised Simon Frey as one of the actors. But mostly, this shortfilm reminded me of Felix Van Groeningen’s Helaasheid der Dingen (The Misfortunates, 2009).The result is stunning and the VAF Wilcard from last year definitely well spent.

Screen-shot Slaves of the Rave

The last one of the night was the trippy Slaves of the Rave by William Garratt, which is only 2.39 mins. but takes us on a trip through music land. For all those music lovers out there Slaves of the Rave is a undeniably briliant animated short film and the perfect end of a series of sometimes rather confusing and heavy fiction shorts.

Afterwards, the audience could meet the directors and crew of the Short Film Festival at the reception.

More than meets the eye: the professionals behind the best of Belgian cinema

Published in The Spread

From casting directors to editors, directors and composers, these are the craftspeople who are responsible for most of the product – but don’t always get as much of the spotlight.

When people are watching a film in the theatres or at home, they mostly only pay attention to its narrative or the famous actors and actresses. But they forget that filmmaking is a long process which is impossible without the help of many others. A film could not have the same dramatic effect without a proper soundtrack or sound effects made by a sound mixer, and a good cameraman is an essential sidekick to help convey the director’s message. These are only a few examples.

Making a film is about pre-production, the shooting or production itself and eventually post-production, which involves all the montage. You could not imagine, how many important professionals are involved in every stage of film production.

This article is not about the film itself, but about the people behind it, because many hands make light work. These profiles hope to make clear how these people work, how they feel about what they are doing, and why they are so passionate about their jobs. On top of that, a 24-hour journal by one of our respondents offers a unique insight into what making a film is all about – read on to find out!

prod4Chafic Amraoui & Max Moutschen

Age: 27 & 25

Function: Casting managers

Nationalities: Belgium

Organisation: Hakuna Casting

Why and how Hakuna grew: Hakuna Casting came to life only in 2014 as an initiative of two friends, Nabil Mallat and Chafic. Along with the help of the director Bilall Fallah and many other participants, a new casting agency was born! The goal and positive mindset of the Hakuna Crew is all about pointing at diversity.

In a land like Belgium, where so many different kinds of individuals live together, one should definitely realize that not only natives or Flemish/French-speaking people can act or show their face on television. Commercial television focuses on political correctness, but still stresses the cultural and racial differences too much. There is also the strong division between Flemish and Walloon television, that never actually seem to cooperate.

That’s why Hakuna tries to fade out these lines and differences between people and wants to show that talent is everywhere, no matter what size you are, what the colour of your skin is or what your sexual orientation is. Yes, Hakuna Casting aims for ‘diversity’, and in their opinion a Belgian native is equally diverse in his own country as someone who originates from Japan or Mexico.

Working methods: Hakuna makes up a database of actors by organising events like open casting days, like most recently on the 11th of July in Brussels. Headhunting is a 24/7 job. Hakuna also takes care of the coaching of actors who have no experience in front of a camera or on a stage.

Works: The feature films Image, Black, and Belgica; the short films Broeders, Sonar, and Hand in Hand; the music video 03 by NoMobs; commercials for Dash, Unibet, and IP: Creative Solutions.

Duration of casting: Depends on the client; sometimes a selection of actors only takes 1 day, sometimes our actors have to wait for over a month before the client decides!

Do you work with famous Belgian actors or directors? Yes, the directors Adil El Arbi & Bilall Fallah are booming business in Belgium!! And some of the actors who played in their films and who are known by the mainstream audience join and support Hakuna as well (like Matthias Schoenaerts for example)!

Dream: To keep on working with talented people from any possible background on an equal level. Although they might differ in some way, they all belong to one race, and that’s the human race. Any talent is welcome to the Hakuna family.

Motto: “A generation of new talent!”

Find out more about Hakuna on their website

prod3Ben Verrept

Age: 24

Nationality: Belgium

Function: Director & film student at KASK School of Arts in Ghent, Belgium

Works: Constant & Cécile (short film), The Notorious Visitor (short film for The 48 hour film project), The Desk (Admission for KASK)

Favourite part of film production: Shooting the film itself is without a doubt the most exciting, because it is THE moment where everybody has to perform, but also where everything could go wrong. You have to focus, and clear communication with the cast and crew is of upmost importance. Proper preparation and a motivated team make the work lighter. There is nothing more pleasant than to work with people who feel you and cooperate with you to achieve that specific goal. For example, an actor who keeps on redoing a take until he thinks it’s perfect – that makes shooting a film so fun!

Another thing is that we shot all the short films on location. Standing in a church or in the woods is absurd and fun at the same time. You have to ask people for their permission to shoot there. Most of the time they love to cooperate, like in The Notorious Visitor, where we shot a scene in a shop. 

But eventually, shooting a film is also a bit of improvising. It is just not possible to have everything on a piece of paper. When these things end up to work out just fine, it’s a great kick.

Duration of work: Hard to say, because it depends on how professional you want to be and what the story is you’d like to tell the audience. Script-writing and preproduction like casting, settings, rehearsals, making of storyboards, that takes the longest. The shooting itself should be a process as compact as possible, mostly because then I cannot afford to pay the people I work with and they do it voluntarily. But, of course, it’s all about the quality of the shots.

Post-production is fun as well, because you can check whether what you shot actually works on screen, but in the meantime it’s a lot of work and fumbling around. You can hire a professional editor, but still it could take weeks or months because of the synchronization, soundtrack, etc…Again, if you prepared well before the shooting and already have something in mind for the editing, your time will be spend more efficiently.

Dream: Making a real feature film that becomes selected for a couple of film festivals (Cannes, Berlinale or Venice would be epic of course.)

Motto: “People are beautiful, because they are so absurd.”

Check out Ben’s work on Vimeo

A day through the eyes of Ben Verrept

4-5.30 am: Because I cannot sleep, some inspiration comes up. Quickly take a pencil and paper and continue writing the script.

9-12 am: Finish the script and write down some suitable locations for the film’s setting. Fix a camera and call some actors I know.

1-5 pm: Time to visit some of the possible locations and check them with a camera and script/storyboard. Take some pictures there of shots I have in mind and change them when they don’t seem manageable in reality. Note down which lenses I have to use in order to get the best shots (long shot, close up, etc), in a professional situation, that would be in cooperation with the DOP.

Pay attention to possible disturbing noises, which you should normally do together with a sound technician. Also ask for permission to film at the locations when necessary.

5-7 pm: Watch some films. Change the storyboard when possible and order a camera according to the storyboard (I don’t own many of the camera types I need myself). Also, the actors confirm, after which I send them the script and inform them about what I expect from them. Are directions clear? Make appointments with the actors to meet and discuss the script.

8-10 pm: Run through the script once again. Make out for myself what kind of feel and emotion I would like to put into the film. Act the script for myself, imagining the actors doing it.

Make a list of all the props I need on all of the locations and write down every single possible difficulty (weather circumstances, noises, and so on). Shall I use music in my film or not? What kind of music? I don’t necessarily have to know that already, those things may change, but at least it leads me in a specific direction.

prod2Beth Dewey

Age: 53

Nationality: American

Function: Director

Production company: Film Entity

Work: The feature films Tweeked (which won Best Actress at the Brussels Independent Film Festival), Kill House, Erasing Eden and Pimp Girl (currently in production); the short films Outcall, Conflicted, and The Agency; music videos for Vampire Moose and The Lonely Trees; the web series Shadowlands and Living the Dream.

Influences: Kathryn Bigelow, Catherine Hardwick, Jane Campion, Agnes Varda, Michelle MacLaren

Favourite part of film production: Most definitely pre-production, because that’s where the magic happens. You first prepare and then everything else comes to life in the moment.

Duration of work: It really depends on the financing. Fund raising and packaging can take the longest. It generally takes me a couple of years – at least -to make a film from start to finish. Sometimes the film gets hung up at the end of post-production because there’s no money left and we go into a holding pattern while we finish fundraising.

Dream: Bigger, better, faster, more!

Plus, since I am  a female director in a business that is (unfortunately) still dominated by men, I also prefer to give a voice to women in my productions.

Motto: “Slates are for pussies” (something I live to regret at times)

Find out more about Beth’s work on her website 

12032260_10156016582680024_1553052085153946996_n (2)Bilall Fallah

Age: 29

Nationality: Belgium/Moroccan

Function: Director (partner of Adil El Arbi)

Works: The feature films Image and Black (in post-production); the short film Broeders, the TV series Bergica.

Influences: Great directors like Oliver Stone, Spike Lee and Martin Scorsese. These directors inspired me and Adil when we were still in school.

An important source of inspiration for our first feature film Image (2014) was La Haine (1995) by Mathieu Kassovitz, which is a rough film about life in the suburbs. Our next film, Black, is based on a book by the Flemish author Dirk Bracke, but one could definitely compare the atmosphere of the film with that of the 2002 Cidade de Deus by Meirelles and Lund.  

Favourite part of film production: The production itself, by which I mean the moments on the set. At that stage, you really get the chance to really shoot all the material you need for the final cut. It is exciting and also the moment of truth, where you have to make the right decisions. You can witness your characters and written-down scenes come to life! Shooting a film is a moment of total devotion to your work!

But also most definitely the editing, because as a director you are still involved at this stage and the film takes on its final shape!

Duration: Depends on the project of course, whether it is a short film or a feature film.

Dream: A double one. Firstly, I love conveying the message of only 1 person and making it interpretable for the rest of the world. And also, I want to make it internationally, so I can make real big ‘epic cinema’ like Ben Hur or Gladiator!

Motto: Multiple. But maybe in this context the most suitable would be: The less f***s you give, the more happy you will be!

Find out more about Bilall’s new film Black on its official website

prod1Thijs Van Nuffel

Age: 27

Nationality: Belgium

Function: freelance editor/assistant editor

Works: The feature films Moroccan Gigolos, Wat Mannen Willen (What Men Want – expected in theaters November); the short films De Weg Van Alle Vlees (The Way of All Flesh), De Smet, Lilith, Kus Me Zachtjes (Kiss Me Softly), Aller-Retour, Dit Is Ronald (This is Ronald); assistant editor on D’ardennen, Galloping Mind, Waste Land, The Land of The Enlightened, and Home (currently in production).

Influences: When it comes to editing, it is quite hard to be influenced by someone, but I do admire Nico Leunen (Belgium), who I assist regularly, for his approach to the editing job.

Favourite part of post-production: Film editing is my favourite, no doubt about that! Although I do like to keep track of the sound editing, grading and mixing as well. Right now I am assisting, which means I have to make back-ups and have to synchronize all footage that has been shot the day before. This also includes doing the pre-cuts of every scene, which is the most interesting thing about assisting, in my opinion.

Duration of editing: That depends on the film. People keep on asking me that question even when the film is still in production, which I obviously cannot answer. You never know whether there are going to be any problems and how long it will take before they get solved, but the most recent film I edited (What Men Want) only took me 13 weeks.

The process that takes the longest though, I think, is optimizing the narrative structure. Some scenes might belong somewhere else, are superfluous, or need editing to such a high degree to make them valuable for the narrative. The entire process is one of trial and error.

Dream: To be able to always make films that are valuable to film as an art form!

Sample Thijs’ work by watching the trailers to Lilith (2013) and What Men Want (coming soon).

prodHannes De Maeyer

Age: 29

Nationality: Belgium

Function: Composer

Works: The feature films Image and Black (currently in post-production); the short films De Applausman, Baghdad Messi, Land of Heroes, How to Enrich Yourself by Driving Women Into Emotional and Financial Bankruptcy, Jappegem, On the Road and 19:00; the TV shows Voor Wat Hoort Wat and Professor T.

Favourite part of film production: That moment at the end of the day when you can look back at the beginning of it and realize you started with nothing on your computer screen, but by then you composed something that is beautiful and fits on the film tracks. This also counts for the final mix of a film, the point at which I think back at the start where I was in doubt about how I would manage it and where I had no clue at all about what I would compose.

Duration of work: Depends on the kind of music and how much music is needed, but the entire process will take approximately 1 to 2 months. Sometimes it’s a bit shorter, but it could take longer as well.

Dream: To help with many other inspiring and interesting projects, like films or TV series which I would like to watch myself as a viewer. And, of course, to work with talented, fun and inspiring people in the film industry.

Motto: How about ‘turn on the volume of the sound mix, please!’

Visit for more about Hannes’ work.

Johnny Depp brings life to monotonous “Black Mass”

12246767_10153699059592591_411165353807225750_nPublished in The Spread

Black Mass might not be the exciting action-drama fans of gangster movies we’re looking for, but committed performances from Johnny Depp and Joel Edgerton keep the film watchable.

bmScott Cooper’s 3rd feature film, after Crazy Heart (2009) and Out of the Furnace (2013), is the crime drama Black Mass. The film is based on the book Black Mass: The True Story of an Unholy Alliance between the FBI and the Irish Mob, written by Dick Lehr and Gerard O’Neill and published in 2001.

Black Mass, though labelled an action/crime film, is mainly a dialogue-driven drama that tells the life story of one of South Boston’s most wanted gangsters from the 70’s onwards, James ‘Whitey’ Bulger, and his FBI friend and ally John Connolly. He helps Connolly to solve federal crimes, and in return he stays free from all legal charges against him. That, of course, does not last, and the bulk of the film explores what happens when all this corruption comes out.

The main plot, then, is framed around the hearing of the accused gang members of Bulger’s gang, Winter Hill, and is told as a chronological story from the 70s up to the 00s, making Black Mass more of a biopic than the action film some might have expected. And to be honest, I’m not really a fan of the gangster biopic, but I’ve of course seen the classics. I could easily put Black Mass in the same category as Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas (1990) or Mike Newell’s Donnie Brasco (1997). Unfortunately, this one misses the extra punch to live up to these classics.

Black Mass has a rather weak plot, lacks complexity, and never reaches a real climax. There’s nothing that makes the audience want to sit on the tips of our chairs. Overall, the film is really one long continuity of small things happening without much suspense, though the strength of the actors manages to push the story forward.

The cast deserve a huge shout-out. Bulger is played by Johnny Depp, whose most popular roles in the last decade have seen him typecast as the silly moron and anti-hero, as in the Pirates of the Caribbean series (2003-2011) or in Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland (2011). In Black Mass, Depp seems to finally break the curse of these typical roles, and is almost unrecognizable covered under heaps of make-up, a wig, and blue contacts.

Depp performs Bulger as a mobster with equal capacity for both cruelty and humanity. Throughout the film he retains his cold-blooded poker face, which unfortunately almost turns caricatural near the end. Depp’s performance – and, for the most part, his transformation – is nonetheless outstanding, but in my opinion not as remarkable as his role of Donnie in Donnie Brasco.

The real standout of the cast, however, is Joel Edgerton, playing the opportunistic, corrupt FBI agent John Connolly. Edgerton’s acting is never overdone, and always realistic. Other popular faces are Kevin Bacon as Connolly’s prosecutor, and Benedict Cumberbatch as Bulger’s younger brother and member of the Massachusetts Senate, William M. Bulger. And then there’s Dakota Johnson, who plays the role of Whitey Bulger’s ex-mistress and mother of his son. Unfortunately, it’s impossible now to watch her acting without thinking about 50 Shades of Grey.

Besides the acting, another thing that keeps on catching our attention is the comical – and rather cynical – dialogue. In one scene, Bulger is supposed to tell off his son Douglas (Luke Ryan) after he has punched a kid in class. But instead of being mad at his son, he gives him tips to do the beating properly next time, saying “if nobody sees it, it didn’t happen.”

And as is typical for a gangster movie, there’s also a lot of profanity: at one moment I started counting the “fuck(ing)s”, and although the amount couldn’t beat Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street (2013), the number of curse words is still quite impressive. bm2

The work of DOP Masanobu Takayanagi, known for his work on Silver Linings Playbook, also makes the film worth watching; he deftly manages to switch between close-ups and panoramic shots whenever it fits the moment best, and he plays with light and contrast to make the Bostonian setting less grey and chilly.

Lovers of fast-paced mafia films and the action of the crime genre should stay far away from Black Mass, because its lack of suspense and lackluster plot will surely disappoint. But for everyone else, the witty dialogue, unrecognizable Johnny Depp and superb aesthetic quality make the film well worth a watch.

“Black” goes loud

As you all know by now, the Belgian film Black by Adil el Arbi and Bilall Fallah is now in cinema’s throughout  Belgium since its release on 11/11.

The film is a major succes and even causes discussion on the minimum age-regulations in Belgium. Black is rated 16+, but the novels by Dirk Brackeon whick the film is based are young adult novels written for 12-18-year olds. This all results in more people wanting to watch the film, everybody wants to know what the fuzz is all about.

In the meantime though, the promo campaign is still on….


Fans and crew are driving around with their own costumized car!

This one right here is mine :)!

Whoever still wants to have a nice black-sticker, can send an e-mail to


Première “Black” Film Fest Ghent 2015

The diverse cast and brutal realism of Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah’s crime drama “Black” breaks new ground for the Belgian film industry.

Screen-shot of Black

The people of Belgium had to wait (im)patiently for quite some time for the release of the romantic drama Black by their own Adil El Arbi (age 27) and Bilall Fallah (29). Both Belgian directors from Moroccan origin spent their time usefully, promoting the film based on the bestseller young adult novels by Dirk Bracke titled Black, and its sequel, Back. Today, 11/11, is the day the Belgian cinema-goer has been waiting for, Black’s official theatrical release. However, the Flemish premiere has already taken place, on October 19th at Film Fest Ghent, and I had the chance to attend.

Black tells the Shakespearian tale of the 15-year Mavela (Martha Canga Antonio), who joins a street gang called The Black Bronx. Consequently, she gets involved in Brussels’ criminal scene of violence, drugs and theft. Parallel to  The Black Bronx, we meet their rival Moroccan gang, The 1080’s, to which Marwan (Aboubakr Bensaïhi) belongs. All members of both gangs have to obey to strict rules when it comes to loyalty: quitting is no option. After some incidents with the police, both Marwan and Mavela get arrested and that is when they meet and eventually fall for each other. They try to keep their love a secret, but what happens when they get discovered?

Like many others at the premiere, I had already been quite excited for Black for a couple of months, because I followed the boys’ promo campaign on the social media, read both the original books, and because Black had already won its first award, the Dropbox Discovery Award at TIFF, 2 months before its official release.

Screen-shot of Black

The Flemish premiere was an opportunity I couldn’t miss, because the screening was hosted by El Arbi, Fallah and the two leading actors. Both young actors are on their way to becoming cinema’s next big revelation. But the other young actors who played the gang members also blew me away, almost literally. Soufiane Chilah, who plays Marwan’s older brother and the leader of The 1080’s, and Manuel Tahon, who plays the very violent gang leader of The Black Bronx called X, both look so intimidating and dangerous on screen that I was almost scared to meet them in real life.

Some of El Arbi and Fallah’s colleagues from Hakuna Casting attended the screening as well, supporting the two young directors and the even younger leading actors. Hakuna Casting stands for diversity in the Belgian media, and provided Black’s cast with only non-professional young actors, almost literally picked off of the street.

Chafic Amraoui, friend and co-founder of Hakuna Casting. Photo credit: Kurt Vandemaele (Cinévox)

The result of this is phenomenal, but I will admit that it also holds a big risk. Most Belgian cinema-goers would rather go and watch a Flemish film with a cast of well-known and praised actors than voluntarily opt for a film that only stars unknown actors from different cultural and ethnic backgrounds instead of the usual Caucasians. To me this is yet another reason why Belgium needs more films like this: the media has to get more acquainted with the diversity of Belgian society, because it is partly the media that influences our tolerance towards one another, no matter our gender, sexuality or race.

The multicultural cast is one of Black’s strengths. The film is set in Brussels, the Belgian capital, and therefore the language of communication is mainly French, but the characters sometimes switch to Dutch or Arabic as well, which adds authenticity and credibility to the film, since Brussels – and Belgium in general – is one of the most multicultural places in Europe.

Brussels does not only function as Black‘s setting, but also as an important motif to point at this diversity. Several establishing shots provide the audience with city views of Brussels as it is: beautiful and intimidating at the same time. These perfectly symmetrical and well-balanced shots make the film recognizably confronting for the Belgian audience.

The soundtrack is also worthy of note. The film includes a cover of Amy Winehouse’s Back to Black composed by the young and talented Hannes De Maeyer and performed by Belgium’s sweetheart Oscar & The Wolf. Although the song is a cover, it holds the potential to become a big hit even across the Belgian borders.

All the above-mentioned elements point out that Black is a 100% Belgian product and therefore deserves nothing but praise. And with some rather rough and violent scenes, this is a film that truly gets under your skin. You can call Black the Belgian equivalent to Kassovits’ La Haine (1995) or Meirelles’ Cidade de Deus (2003).

After the screening, I randomly talked to people from the audience. Some of them had fallen in love with the film straight away, and others compared it to El Arbi and Fallah’s first film Image (2014), which was not as technically sophisticated as Black. Others were shocked by all the violence in the film and considered it to be a bit too much. Either way, positive or negative, all of them were really impressed.

At the premiere (left to right): co-director Adil El Arbi, co-star Aboubakr Bensaïhi, co-star Martha Canga D’Antonio, co-director Bilall Fallah. Photo credit: Jerroen Willems

When they gave me the opportunity to enter the reception of Black, along with only the top-notch of the Belgian film industry, I obviously couldn’t say no. Although the opinions among the audience were split, at the reception I heard nothing but praise.  Also, those young actors of Black, who looked so threatening on screen, are actually the most friendly and modest youngsters you can ever meet.

In an attempt to talk to both the directors about the film, they frequently got ambushed by fans and I was asked to take some pictures of them – yes, it seems I just changed professions here – and there was no chance for me to have an interview with them. But the audience’s reactions say enough. Black won the Port of Ghent Audience Award at Film Fest Ghent on October 26th, and was selected for this year’s Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival.

12115950_10153640466347591_1201434242866739267_nI experienced some Hollywood vibes that night at the premiere, and like some might already know, El Arbi and Fallah took off to LA the morning after the premiere. They signed a contract with the prestigious American Creative Artists Agency (CAA), which might give them the chance to work with some of Hollywood’s biggest such as Kate Winslet, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, George Clooney, Daniel Craig and many many more. No more little Hollywood in Flanders. As the boys themselves would say: shit just got real! So fingers crossed for Black to be exported to UK cinemas soon!

Visit for more info. Read my interview with Bilall Fallah and Chafic Amraoui as part of my feature on production.

 Nota bene: this lady taking a picture of Biall Fallah and fans is me 🙂