Algemeen Dagblad: “A glimmer of hope for film city Rotterdam”
Last weekend, newspaper Algemeen Dagblad reported extensively on the Rotterdam film scene. One of our core producers, Joeri Pruys, was interviewed about Rotterdam, I Love You and our other film-related activities. Read below what we and our partners Hans Groenendijk (48 Hour Film Project), the Rotterdam film commissioner, and HotelRebel had to say.
Article by Yvonne Keunen for Algemeen Dagblad
A glimmer of hope for film city Rotterdam
The Rotterdam film industry collapsed when the plug was pulled out of the local film fund. But there is hope. More and more advertisers spend their budgets shooting commercials in Rotterdam. And local young filmmakers have begun seeking new ways of filmmaking. Rotterdam presents itself as a film city again, but now on an international level.
“The film industry here has had a particularly difficult period”, says Saskia Kagchèl, Rotterdam’s film commissioner. The main cause was the whittling down of the Rotterdam Fund for Film and Audiovisual Media in 2012. Once the financial assistance the fund supplied to Rotterdam film productions disappeared, local filmmakers went bankrupt or moved to Amsterdam. There is more work there. “The industry here has become smaller”, says Kachgèl. “Not just because of the fund: the crisis also didn’t help.”
But the tide is turning. On behalf of the municipality, Kagchèl guides producers who want to shoot Rotterdam, and she has her hands full providing her free services to makers of films and commercials. “The interest in Rotterdam as a film city is growing again”, she says. “It is a seasonal interest though. Most movies are shot when the weather is nice.”
The advertising industry leads the way. Especially big car brands are enamored of Rotterdam. “Because of the high-rise, the city has plenty allure. The two bridges and tunnel also help. These are extremely popular shooting locations”, says Kagchèl. “In that sense it is a pity that the Maastunnel is now closed for quite a while.”
For a new type of Lexus, on a Sunday in July, a car park at the Wilhelminapier was covered with a meter-thick layer of foam. Because the white stuff was blown in all directions by fierce winds, it looked like it was snowing in the city center in the middle of summer. Eye-witnesses to the foam spectacle may have to wait a quite some time to see the clip, if they will ever see it at all. “The ‘shampoo commercial’ by Lexus was made purely for Asian markets”, says Kagchèl. Lots of productions shot in Rotterdam never make it to cinemas and television in this country. The Belgian film Le Monde Nous Appartient may be set in the suburbs of Brussels, parts of it were shot in the Maastunnel and the Van Nelle Factory, both Rotterdam locations.
And for those Rotterdammers who recently witnessed the film set on the Schouwburgplein and in the Markthal: chances are only Asians will see the result. Dutch interest in a Chinese TV series about vampires, after all, will not be large.
With the slogan ‘Hollywood on the Maas’, Rotterdam used to try to compete with Amsterdam as national film city. That didn’t work out. So now, the beacons have been moved: Rotterdam is working on its international profile. “National film productions are difficult to obtain because most companies are based in Amsterdam. Shooting far outside of the canal district is expensive. But that does not apply to international productions. They have to be flown in anyway, so it doesn’t matter where in the Netherlands they will shoot.” Another advantage is that international productions spend a lot. “The entire crew needs somewhere to eat and sleep.” On behalf of the film commissioner, Rotterdam production company HotelRebel is now producing a showcase of films shot here in the past two years. Moreover, they are making a movie trailer containing an array of attractive film locations, as well as a photo essay that shows the city’s diversity. As a whole, these projects form the international campaign for Rotterdam as a film city. “The Dutch Film Fund will take the footage to the Cannes Film Festival, to advertise Rotterdam there”, says Sandra de Boer, account director at HotelRebel.
Together with Annemieke de Vries, in 2008 Sandra founded her production company in Rotterdam, the city where they both love to live and work. “Rotterdam is now featured on many international lists of ‘hippest world cities’. That has an impact on the demand for filming in Rotterdam”, says De Boer. It makes sense that Rotterdam clients such as local public transporter RET would film their commercials in their own city, but now also foreign companies are happy to come here, mainly because of the international character of the city. “Rotterdam is valued for its high-rise buildings and skyline. Clients often need a city to shoot in, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be recognizable as a specific city. ”
Last year HotelRebel made an commercial for Mercedes Benz. “For this project we needed an empty stretch of road for a car and a big truck to race on. That’s impossible within the city itself, so we shot on the Maasvlakte on the outskirts of Rotterdam”, De Boer says. “That area has an international feel: the footage could have been shot anywhere.”
Besides producers of commercials, makers of feature films also are looking to film in Rotterdam. Among them is film producer Joeri Pruys. Together with Matt Jaems, he is currently bringing the international film franchise Cities of Love to Rotterdam, which is due to be filmed next year.
It all started in Paris with the cinematic ode Paris, je t’aime, then followed by New York and Rio de Janeiro. Now, it’s Rotterdam’s turn to be featured in a mosaic of urban tales for the global cinema market. Some of the Dutch actors in Rotterdam, I Love You are already announced, including Nasrdin Dchar and Halina Reijn. “We are talking to many international directors and actors for this project”, says Pruys. The talent will be of the same caliber as in the earlier films, which included names like Gérard Depardieu, Juliette Binoche, Natalie Portman, and Harvey Keitel.
“When Matt and I started preparing Rotterdam, I Love You four years ago, a lot of people were skeptical”, Pruys says. “Why such a big production in a city like Rotterdam? At the headquarters of Cities of Love they didn’t think it was a very obvious choice. But we managed to convince them that Rotterdam is the city where it’s happening the next few years. That wasn’t easy, but we succeeded anyway. And now, wherever we go we hear that we made the right choice to opt for Rotterdam.”
Nevertheless Pruys realizes that it’s still difficult to make a film in Rotterdam. “There is a lack of resources and the expertise is fragmented.” Good cameras will have to be brought in from Amsterdam, and there are no subsidies to apply for in Rotterdam. “Though that doesn’t really hinder Rotterdam, I Love You. We finance the film mostly with the help of sponsors and investors. So we demonstrate that there are other ways to finance a movie.”
Pruys is also working on Film Platform Rotterdam, to be launched at the Rotterdam Filmfeest in October. One of the proposed board members of the platform, filmmaker Hans Groenendijk of Groener Gras Producties. Groenendijk thinks it’s high time for a new interest group. “We will do some lobbying, but the main intention is to bring parties together, so they can reinforce each other. We are not competitors, but share the love for film.” Groenendijk successfully brought the 48 Hour Film Project to Rotterdam. During this weekend-long annual event, dozens of film crews participate to create a short film within 48 hours. Talent ranging from budding screenwriter Elfie Tromp to established actor like Jack Wouterse, all participants love to make a film at breakneck speed.
Each year, his project gives another boost to Rotterdam as a film city, but more is needed, realizes Groenendijk. “Filmmaking has a couple of core ingredients: training, a network, financing, facilities, film locations, makers and exhibition opportunities. In Rotterdam each of these were more or less present, until the plug was pulled from the Rotterdam Film Fund. A carefully accrued industry was killed off.”
But is it such a bad thing that almost all Dutch are made in Amsterdam? It is, according to Groenendijk. “If everything is produced in one city, you get a one-sided perspective. In all those romcoms I see at the movies, canals pass by endlessly, but I hardly ever see the Erasmus Bridge. It’s impoverishment, I think.”
At the same time, Groenendijk does see that the Rotterdam film industry is slowly getting back on track. “Oh well, we’ll do it without the subsidies, but with the Rotterdam mentality: don’t talk, just make it happen. The city has an international character, there is a lot of talent around and there are many people today who like to come here.”
Film Platform Rotterdam is intended to put Rotterdam back on the movie map. “But we don’t want to become a second Amsterdam. Rotterdam contains a certain creativity that you won’t find in the Amsterdam canal district. Rotterdam is the city of the experiment. That attracts creative people.”
Translated and published with Algemeen Dagblad’s permission. A Dutch summary of the article can be found here.