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Film Academy's 2019 batch graduates from a course where change is in the air

At the Film Academy, a screen hangs in the lift. On it, only films made by students can be seen. No other images, for example news flashes or a glimpse of something going on elsewhere in the world. I attend the press presentation of the Film Academy's graduation films. One of the students mentions the above example to illustrate that, in her opinion, the course might be a bit introspective.

At the time, I am talking to the trio (producers Hester Breunissen, Yasmin van Dorp and director Hannah van Tassel) who have just completed their documentary Un chanteur invisible has shown. A film that carefully steps off the beaten track. Because with an invisible protagonist. Namely the mistral, the cold, unpredictable wind that is present in all sorts of ways in the lives of people in Provence. After a still somewhat conventional beginning, it grows Un chanteur out to a poetic, and even surprisingly personal impression.

Criticism

Given that creative angle, I want to know a little more about the two sides of the academy: vocational training versus fostering one's own artistic vision. This in response to a pretty critical article By Karin Wolfs on the Film Academy in May's De Filmkrant. Followed in June by a reply by Academy director Bart Römer. The thrust of the criticism is that the Film Academy would take a mainly corporate approach to filmmaking. With little focus on encouraging creative autonomy and storytellers with their own voice.

Yes, that article has certainly caused some discussion among students, the trio confirms. It is an issue that has been under discussion at the academy for some time. It partly has to do with the fact that the student finance system makes film students much younger than they used to be. But they say there is also too little room for subjects that can provide depth, such as philosophy or sociology. Things definitely need to change. On the other hand, if a film student really wants something special, that is possible.

The next film I see seems intent on proving that. (to be determined) is a curious project with which Martijn de Vos, with a great sense of self-mockery, wants to say something about the confusion of contemporary twenty-somethings. Caught between choice stress and performance anxiety, he tries to find out whether he can erect a statue of himself in anticipation of great deeds. Demonstration of derailing individualism with a firm wink.

Experiment

An even better example, as far as I am concerned, is When you grow up by Max Baggerman, who was inspired by the work of Nikolaus Geyrhalter (Our Daily Bread, Homo Sapiens). Beginning with a stylised image of a baby in a playpen that is as tight as it is telling, the documentary unfolds as a purely visual poetic impression of working people. Understated, yet aptly composed with a decidedly melancholic tone. I am curious what he will make next.

Baggerman, as he tells me, had no experience with such a thing, so did take a risk. But he definitely wanted to try it while he could. By which he means that it is easier to venture into something experimental at the Film Academy than later in the professional field.

Tension

To my question about possible changes at the academy, he confirms that the discussion is alive and well. As a member of the faculty council himself, he has argued for more room for experimentation. But directing is not just creative expression, it is also a profession. It is a tricky area of tension.

According to him, just take the annual logistical puzzle required to accommodate all students from all disciplines involved in the graduation films in a work and shoot schedule. With documentary in particular, he would like to see more space there. Because yes, sometimes you just have to shoot for a year for a particular subject, and that is difficult now. But he expects the newly developed propaedeutic to improve. He too argues that while a student who wants something extravagant should be able to defend it well, he should be given the chance.

Dark fiction

Incidentally, this change that is hanging in the air is not yet immediately apparent in the work of this batch. The documentary section comes out stronger than the fiction section this year, as far as I am concerned. Interestingly, of the makers of the seven short feature films, five have opted for a dark genre exercise in a rather ominous fantasy world. Which occasionally produces a mix of promising and contrived.

Porfotto (director:Edson da Conceicao)

I was most impressed by one of the few works of fiction that simply play in the here and now. The relatively traditional, yet raw and tightly twisted Porfotto is set in Rotterdam's Spangen district. According to director Edson da Conceicao, that colourful, fine neighbourhood where he grew up.

So for a moment I thought, is it necessary to put that in the form of a violent crime thriller? But gradually it does grow into a trio of portraits with feeling. A film that shows a very different Netherlands than we are used to. Da Conceicao seems ready for a feature-length film.

Hate systems

The last student I speak to on this day is Myrte Ouwerkerk. She directed the satirical science fiction OFFBEAT, which amusingly shows how only thoroughly tested people are admitted to the ideal world. Prior to the screening, Ouwerkerk had revealed that he hates systems. So my question now is: what about the Film Academy system?

Yes, that is indeed also a system. But she adds that she got on much better with that than with the system of schools before it. The fact that you go for your passion here helps. According to her, even the Film Academy tries to push you in a certain direction, but if you push hard you can still make what you want. She is very happy that she did this course. OFFBEAT has at least turned out as she imagined.

In transition

In terms of changes at the academy, she has great faith in Danyael Sugawara, the newly appointed director of fiction studies last year. Sugawara graduated in 2004 with the short film The Quiet One and saw his first feature film Everything Flows awarded a Golden Calf.

That change is in the air had also been touched upon by academy director Bart Römer in his opening speech. According to him, the Film Academy is an art school in transition. Among other things, there is going to be more emphasis on individual development, more self-activity and research into more varied options for graduation. He speaks of extensive processes that we will hear more about in the next few years.

Good to know:

All the graduation work will be on public display from 2 to 6 July during the Keep an Eye Film Academy Festival at Eye. Prior to that, from 29 June to 2 July, during the Artistic Research Week see the research results (not yet previewed) of the master students. The presentation of the various awards will take place on Friday 5 July.

Leo Bankersen

Leo Bankersen has been writing about film since Chinatown and Night of the Living Dead. Reviewed as a freelance film journalist for the GPD for a long time. Is now, among other things, one of the regular contributors to De Filmkrant. Likes to break a lance for children's films, documentaries and films from non-Western countries. Other specialities: digital issues and film education.View Author posts

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