Kristof Hoornaert about “Empire” and the banality of human existence

!SPOILER-ALERT!

Empire by Kristof Hoornaert left me wondering about its content and the specific visual techniques. The first time you watch Empire, this short film seems very simple and empty, almost sterile. But there is so much more behind it, so that is why I talked with the director himself and his producer Wim Vanacker (Sireal Films) to get the answers to my burning questions.

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I found the loft where the family lives in to be very cool. But then there are little colour-elements like the pink dinosaur. It fascinated me, although it seemed so banal and out of place. Why exactly the dinosaur or other elements?

Well, when we arrived at the loft,the pink dinosaur was already there, and we considered this dinosaur an actual proof of human life inside the house, the fact that there is a family living there with a child that plays, watches television etcetera.

Props are very important in Empire, like the clock next to the window, which symbolises that our society is based on timing things. All we do is scheduled. ‘Time’ is something we seem to lack, but it is what our life is based on.

Why did you opt for Kris Cuppens and Ina Geerts to perform the main characters?

The answer is very simple. I wanted actors who are good enough to perform these parts, who are able to carry this film and help me convey my message.

I consider Empire to have a close-end, no matter what the husband decides to do when he comes home. Or he shoots himself, or he turns himself in by calling the police. His life is over, no matter what.

In the first version of the script, he killed himself, but then I canged the end, because I wanted him to live and carry the burden of what he did. I wanted him to carry it along for the rest of his life. That is even harder than killing yourself, I think.

The camera is very static and the audience almost automatically pays more attention to the audio than to the visuals. The only moment I felt that the camera was moving, was when the husband came in. From then onwards the camera zooms in on him, and the wife and son are left out. You only hear them. Why is that?

You only noticed the zooming in from then onwards? Actually, I started zooming in from the moment the mother started ironing, so right at the beginning. But for the audience it looks like going fast forward from the moment the father comes in. I zoom in, because in the end you can watch the city of Brussels and the square full of playing children through the window. That is to show the contrast with what happened inside and to show that life goes on outside of the loft . The loft is so serene and sterile, and outside there is movement, visualised by the playing children.

The child is barely visible, you only hear him. And the mother is filmedfrom behind. Why is that?

Because I did not want them to be ‘the’ child and ‘the’ mother, I wanted them to represent any child or mother. Consequently, I wanted the audience to be able to identify with the situation and the general image of a family, and not with individual characters.

I’ve read about your plans to make a feature film, called Resurrection? Will the feature be about the same issue as your short films (Kaïn, The Fall and Empire), namely existential crises? And will it be equally heavy-loaded?

Yes, that is what concerns me the most personally,  and what I feel I should tell the audience. Resurrection will also be about the human society and our relationships.

Thank you very much for the conversation!

Resurrection is now in pre-production and will be produced by Fobic Films. Hoornaert did not want to give any details yet about the cast, but that is yet another reason for us all to go watch the film after its relaese expected in 2017.

Some more information about Resurrection and Fobic Films can be found on the website.

“Umpire” – Leonardo Van Dijl: Interview

Umpire is the 2nd short film by Leonardo Van Dijl (24 years old). His 1st short called Get Ripped was his graduation film for Sint Lukas Arts School in Brussels and was also selected for the Short Film Festival in Leuven in 2013. Leonardo Van Dijl is a familiar face for fans of the festival. Umpire is up for competition in the Vlaamse Fictie 4-series.

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Umpire tells the story of Axelle (Lilith Kempynck), a young promising tennis player who has a special relationship with her trainer Jeremy (Benjamin Ramon). He films the trainings with the girls, but also in their spare time he uses his handheld camera to capture their moments together. One day, Jeremy gets arrested and Axelle, unknowing of what happened, gets heared by the federal police. Afterwards, the trainer gets suspended and the rumours start.

The focus of this short film definitely lies on the young girls.  Therefore, there is the constant switch between what happened on and off the tennis field, and the hearings by the police. Mainly, it seems to be all about Axelle, but what you wonder about, is whether she was exclusive to him, or whether he also abused her 2 other friends (performed by Alexandra Lymarev and Mirthe Tavernier).

The film has an open end for both Axelle and the audience. For Axelle, because she is passionately waiting for Jeremy to come back, and for us, because we will never really know what happened and have to make our own conclusions.

I met Leonardo Van Dijl at the festival and had a talk with him about his work in general and Umpire in specific. From what I can tell, he is very ambitious, yet down to earth. The film and the conversation made me realise that this short film is not only about the young Axelle, but it tells the story of so many girls and women around the world, that it was even hard for me at times to imagine that Umpire is actually made by a man. The interview tells you why.

What does the title Umpire exactly mean?

An umpire is a judge in tennis games and therefore symbolically refers to Axelle. In the entire proces, she is the real judge, the one who has to decide for herself whether her trainer Jeremy crossed the line or not.

Aren’t you scared that people would mix it up with Kristof Hoornaert’s Empire, which is also selected in this year’s competition?

No, I’m not, although I first thought about maybe changing the title of Umpire, when I heard about Hoornaert’s film. But eventually, I stuck to what felt right. Also , what we do is so different, that I cannot really feel threatened by it, although we are in the same competition. It would have definitely been the other way around, when it was a film by another student.

Where did you find the actors? Did you do proper castings?

I did castings and first I casted Mirthe (Tavernier) for a role, when she told me she had a friend (Lilith Kempynck) who played tennis with her. Lilith thought she would be an extra, but she ended up in the main part and did great. Alexandra (Lymarev) I already knew from other projects.

You are from West-Flanders, but the actors are clearly from Antwerp. Where did you shoot the film and was this a conscious decision?

I made the film in the area around Brasschaat and Schoten, because of very practical reasons. Most of the actors are from Antwerp, except for Lilith, who is from Brussels. In that way it was very easy for everyone to reach the set and to reduce the costs for things like taxis. Another advantage is that these villages have plenty of sports clubs and tennis fields.

Also, I am in favour of a realistic approach. I don’t believe that different dialects in one short film add up to the film’s credibility. Once I knew that the actors mainly spoke AN or The Antwerp dialect, like Alexandra, I casted the others in this part of the country as well.

Is the story plot- or character-driven? Or would you rather leave this open to the audience’s own interpretation?

Umpire is character-driven. That is also why it has an open end. I want the audience to look at Axelle and to understand what she is going through in this situation. I wanted to highlight her point of view.

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Photo credit: Lara Gasparotto

A remarkable scene is the hearing at the police station, where the officers are shot from the back and serve as some kind of frame for Axelle, who is sitting in the middle. The officers are also out of focus. Any reason for this kind of technique?

Before I started the production, I did a lot of reading, especially on Laura Mulvey and her theory of the ‘male gaze’ in cinema. That is also why only the female officer asks questions, if you noticed that. Umpire is a film carried by women, not by men, but stll it has something voyeuristic, also because of Jeremy’s shots with the handheld camera. I use a lot of symbolism in the way of shooting the girls, like with a net between them and the camera, to keep a distance, but at the same time you still feel with them and become subordinate to this ‘male gaze’. It is a very fascinating thing.

Is there any moral message you’d like to convey with Umpire?

Not in that sense of the word, but I would like to point out that there is much more to sexual abuse than people think. They always talk about a culprit and a victim.  Sometimes it is a doubtful thing to talk about a victim, because they are unaware of that position. Just like Axelle. That is also why I chose a tennis club as social context, because these are the kinds of places where young people idolise their trainers, especially when they are handsome like Jeremy. They don’t always see whether their relatonship with their trainer is acceptable or not. I would like to point out how strongly these girls are manipulated and how they can struggle with the perception that they are complicit. That is why you see Axelle becoming mad during the hearing. She defends Jeremy in her very own way. The feelings of shame and guilt  often keeps girls like Axelle silent.

Next to short films, you also direct videoclips for Belgian bands like Clouseau, Oscar & The Wolf and School is Cool. Ar you going to stick to videclips and short films? Or do you have any ambitions to make a feature film?

Well, I would like to try everything. I love the videclips, but I also love making the short films, because those I can call my own. I’ll have to see what the future brings.

Thank you for the lovely interview, Leonardo!

Check the Facebook-page for more information.

Or check his Vimeo for more work and videoclips.

NB: In the night of December 4t, the VAF (Vlaams Audiovisueel Fonds) Wildcards were distributed. Umpire won a Fiction Wildcard, which is a fee of €60.000.

 

“Junk of the Heart”-Mieke Briers + Interview

BE15-2-9DF8Junk of the Heart is a short erotic psychological drama directed by the 24-year old Mieke Briers as her BA-graduation film for Sint Lukas School of Arts in Brussels and is now selected at the Festival in Vlaamse Fictie 1, the same series as Kristof Hoornaert’s Empire. Also, Brier’s film is in the running for the VAF Wildcard, which is a money fee rewarded to upcoming talent in the Belgian film industry. So this award could be the right push forward for young directors as Mieke.

Junk of the Heart is about  the only 17-year old Elise (Martha Vandermeulen), and the sexual experiments and experiences she has with a much older friend of 28, called Felix (Sid Van Oerle). Junk of the Heart opens very action-driven -a bit in the style of Danny Boyle’s Trainspotting (1996)-, you immediatly get overwhelmed by a sex-scene accompanied by a heavy soundtrack.

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Mieke Briers attented her screening at the Short Film Festival and was very pleased to answer some of my questions about Junk of the Heart.

First of all Mieke, how did you come up with the idea to make an erotic film?

I first called my film a psychological drama, but I know that people expect melodramatic things to happen when you use such terms, and yes, Junk of the Heart is most definitely an erotic film. I was always fascinated with ‘boundaries, physical as well as emotional. And that is what the film is about, what are their boundaries?

How did you cast the actors? Where they friends of yours? Where they willing to do these kind of scenes from the very beginning?

No, at school people knew about my project, and one of my coaches introduced me to Martha (Vandermeulen), because she got casted once already and apparently she had this kind of hyperactivity and enthousiasm I needed for the part of Elise. Sid (Van Oerle) already performed in other projects and when I saw a video of him doing absurd things like imitating deers, I just knew he was the right guy for this part. They also didn’t mind doing the scenes, because the sex scenes are not explicite. I don’t think explicity is neccesary. Suggestivity can be so much more inticing, because you have to use your own imagination.

The use of a high-8 camera as an intermediate adds up to the multimediality of your film. Is that  a plain technical choice or is there another explanation?

I do believe that the images you get by using a high-8 camera are more authentic, and make things appear more ‘close’ to you. They look more familiar. In that way, all the sexual adventures Felix and Elise put on tape are a way to make the audience aware of their voyeurism.

Your characters, Felix and Elise, do they actually really love each other, despite the fact that they have a deal? Or do you like to keep this open for the audience’s interpretation?

That is partly for the audience to decide, but referring back to the boundaries-issues, it is Elise who pushes it too far and tricks Felix into jealousy. Also the end is very open in that sense, that you can see on one of their tapes that their game goes on ‘until the end’, but when is the end exactly?

The soundtrack of the film, was it Belgian?

Yes, the band are friends of mine and called Piquet. The song is also Flemish. I chose to use their music, because it is rebellious and up-tempo, so very suitable for the film.

What is a good film to you? One with a strong narrative, or a film that is more aesthetic?

A film with a strong narrative that attracts the audience surely has more to offer, because it can be suggestive and non-suggetive at the same time. Of course, good camerawork is important, but making poetic films rather than a narrative one does not lie in my abition.

Talking about ambitions…Are you going to shoot more shorts, or do you have the ambition and dreams to shoot a feature film in the near future?

 I would love to do a feature one day, but now I have to focus on my next short film, which will be my MA graduation film.

Thank you, Mieke, for the talk and fingers crossed!

Check the Facebook-page for more information.

“Victor XX” -Ian Garrido Lopez: Interview

Victor XX is the 2nd short made by Ian Garrido Lopez (26 years old) and is selected in the Hola  Catalunyaseries at this year’s Short Film Festival in Leuven. The film is a project for the Spanish Arts School ESCAC and set in  Almeria, where Garrido himself comes from.

victor1I’ ve already watched Victor XX at the Cannes Film Festival last May, where Garrido was selected in the Cinéfodation-section. There he won the 3rd prize. What struck me most though, was that jury member Cécile de Freance, a Belgian actress, asked for a standing ovation for the main actress Alba Martinez, who performs the role of Victor. A girl, who questions her gender and sexuality. In her search for her identity she gets confronted with how it feels to fall in love, while you are actually a boy in a girl’s body. Also, the film depicts the difficulties of keeping a secret in a small village in contrast to the anonimity of the big city, where you can be whoever you want to.

The entire cast consists of actors without any previous experience, which Garrido himself explains by stating “that it is there, where the magic of the story lives. The story is built with people, not characters.”

I met Ian Garrido Lopez at the Short Film Festival to talk about his film.

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Ian Garrido Lopez

Alba Martinez did an excellent job in performing the role of the transgender Victor/Mari. Where you already friends with her before you started the project?

No, I did some serious castings in Almeria, where I live, because I wanted to find the suitable person to express my feelings to the world, and to kind of play ‘me’. Alba was perfect for the part, because she looks a bit androgynous. She’s tall and quite muscular, that is because she used to be the junior champion in putting the shot when she was 16 years old, so she has very strong arms and shoulders. When we started the shooting, she already turned 18.

Nice! Was it hard for her to do the explicit scenes, like those where she films herself in front of the mirror?

No, she was immediatly willing to join us in the project, once she knew what Victor XX was all about. She wanted to help me in telling the world what I was going through, namely the search for my sexual identity.

So, like I already assumed, the story is autobiographical?

Yes, entirely.

Did you get any negative reactions on your film, because of the heavy subject?

Yes, of course there are always people who judge you, but nobody ever said something negative to my face. Mostly, I got positive reactions, also from other young people that struggle with their sexuality, like I did. They felt like I made it easier for them to talk about being a trandgender.

You won the 3rd prize at Cannes with your film. So what are your plans now?

I’m planning on doing another short film. But it takes time to do it properly, also the writing and collecting fundings. Although, since I won the prize in Cannes, getting funded has become easier. The money I won in Cannes, though, we split up with cast and crew. We also use it to travel around to promote Victor XX.

And also, I don’t have that much time right now to be creative, because I am doing all the travelling, which is an amazing opportunity! And I’m so grateful. Cannes was my first film festival ever, and look where I am standing now, I recently even went to Seoul in South-Korea!

Thank you, Ian, for the nice talk! I wish you nothing but the best in the near future. You’ve got my full 100% support and respect for reaching out to a thematic that is not always so easy.

 

 

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Check the website for more information.