Over the past two decades, Belgian cinema, either from Flanders or from the French speaking part of the country, has risen to prominence in the international filmmaking arena, boasting richly diverse films that consistently garner critical praise and worldwide anticipation. Last year, the Consulate General of Belgium in Los Angeles launched a monthly Belgian Film Series in partnership with the American Cinemathèque as a celebration of Belgium’s Presidency of the European Union in the second half on 2010. Thanks to the great success of the series, ‘Grit and Whimsy’ has returned on a permanent basis. Each third Wednesday of the month is Belgian movie night at the American Cinemathèque in Santa Monica!
Here is our interview with Mr. Geert Criel, Consul General of Belgium in Los Angeles about the Belgian Film Series.
Bijan Tehrani: Please tell us about the recent achievements of Belgian cinema.
Geert Criel: I am happy to report that the Belgian movie sector is as dynamic as ever. Just as an indication, let’s have a look at the Belgian participation in this year’s Cannes International Film Festival. “Le Gamin au Vélo” by the Frères Dardenne, “l’Exercice de l’Etat” by Pierre Schoeller and “La Source des Femmes” by Radu Mihaileanu are part of the official selections. Four Belgian movies have been selected for the Director’s Fortnight at Cannes and both films that open (“La Fee”, with Dominique Abel, Fiona Gordon, Bruno Romy) and close (“Les Geants” by Bouli Lanners) the Director’s Fortnight are from Belgium. Belgium is also participating in the short competition (for example “Badpakje 46” by Wannes Destoop or “Dimanches” by Valérie Rosier).
Cannes is certainly not an exception. Another example is the Palm Springs International Film Festival in January this year. Five Flemish films were screened at the film festival’s annual ‘World Cinema Now’ program, at what was named the ‘Flanders Five’ (“Madly in Love” by Hilde Van Mieghem, “Turquaze” by Kadir Balci, “Pulsar” by Alex Stockman, “Dossier K.” by Jan Verheyen and “Oxygen” by Hans Van Nuffel). The film Illégal by Olivier Masset-Depasse –last year’s Belgian entry for the Oscars for best foreign language film- was also included in the festival’s program.
These movies are definitely titles that we will keep in mind for our ‘Grit and Whimsy: The Best of Belgian Cinema Series’ here in Los Angeles. Illégal was already screened last year.
BT: What we should expect to see in May and June from the Belgian film series?
GC: On Wednesday, May 18th, we will screen “Viva Riva!” , directed by Djo Munga and shot in Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of Congo. It is a wildly exciting, slickly executed action-drama, in which affable hustler Riva has set his sights on smuggling a lucrative cache—barrels of fuel, which can be re-sold for a massive profit. Needless to say, an entire web of underworld thugs and crime bosses are also (literally) gunning for the barrels. The movie exposes an intriguing world we hardly see on screen. Because the movie will open in theaters in Los Angeles in June, this screening is by invitation only.
On June 15th we will show “Madly in Love” by Hilde Van Mieghem. In this story, a family of four women work their way through the chaos called love. The result is a roller coaster ride of first crushes, lust, affairs, baby fever, and indestructible love. The four women are beautiful, courageous and sensible, but are also sometimes a bit lost. The question remains whether or not their male counterparts can match them. Both movies are quite different from each other, illustrating once again the diversity of our film production.
BT:How successful have the monthly screenings of Belgian films been, as opposed to having an annual film festival?
GC: I feel that the series is becoming ever more popular. I am especially pleased to see that our public is continuously becoming more diversified, with movie buffs mingling with representatives of the entertainment business in Los Angeles. After every movie we offer our viewers a glass of Belgian beer, which is an excellent opportunity to exchange impressions and to meet new friends. The third Wednesday of the month is definitely becoming Belgian movie night in Los Angeles!
BT: Are you going to have filmmakers as guests of the series in Los Angeles?
GC: Absolutely! We realize that the attractiveness of a movie screening is much greater when the director or an actor is present for a Q&A session. In April Kadir Balci, director of Turquaze, came to Los Angeles and participated in an exciting Q&A moderated by reputed film critic F.X. Feeney. In May, director Djo Munga of Viva Riva will be here and we are working on the directors’ presence for the movies in the fall as well. By the way, Belgian directors and actors love to come to Los Angeles and take advantage of this opportunity to be in touch with the entertainment industry in California.
BT: Any updates on Belgium’s selection for the best Foreign Language Film Oscar?
GC: I feel that we have submitted strong movies for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in the past few years, such as “The Misfortunates” in 2009 or “Illégal” in 2010. This year’s submission will be selected in August or September and you can be sure that I will be right on the phone with the film commissioners in Belgium to secure a screening of the movie in the fall. A nomination or an Oscar would, of course, be a fantastic recognition of the dynamism and creativity of Belgian cinema.
BT: How do you see the future of Belgian cinema?
GC: Very brightly, actually. There is an explosion of talent and creativity in the Belgian movie world that is guaranteeing new successes in the coming years. While maintaining its ‘Grit and Whimsy’ character, Belgian cinema is ever-more proving its dexterity in tone and its originality in aesthetic on the international scene. The industrial environment for movie production in Belgium is positive as well, which of course helps the production of new and innovative movies. The film sector benefits from the support of the Flanders Audiovisual Fund and the Centre du Cinéma et de l’Audiovisuel. On the national level, a fiscal incentive program, which has proven very successful, offers tax benefits to companies or enterprises that invest in audiovisual work, short and feature films, TV fiction and documentaries. Producers in Belgium also have access to European sources of financing, Eurimages of the Council of Europe, and the MEDIA program of the European Commission.
GRIT AND WHIMSY II: THE BEST OF RECENT BELGIAN CINEMA
Presented by the Consulate General of Belgium in Los Angeles, in cooperation with Flanders Image and Wallonie Bruxelles Images, with the support of E.L.M.A. (European Languages and Movies in America).