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Interview | Tom Geens

 

Award-winning Belgian arthouse director Tom Geens – whose short film You’re the Stranger Here will be screened at this year’s Kinemastik Short Film Festival – speaks to Teodor Reljic about how he carved a name for himself in the London scene.

teodor_reljic
Teodor Reljic
31 July 2010, 12:00am
 

Who or what, would you say, drove you to filmmaking, and why? Did you flit around other artistic avenues before taking the celluloid plunge?

I was always looking for something creative from an early age. After studying politics and economics at the University in Belgium, I did a postgrad in cultural studies. I told my parents it was some kind of art gallery management, but in truth it was a really hardcore theatre science course, very experimental. I saw three plays a week a year and it totally blew me away. I was set to become an actor, but my parents didn’t agree. So I decided to come to London and was very lucky to get a place on a course to become a creative in advertising. That course (and London, naturally) really opened my eyes. I was never really taught how to tap into my creativity and here you had to do it military style: constantly, in high volume and when it was bad, you’d know it. Anyway, I totally got the bug from that time onwards, and whilst looking for a job in the London advertising world, I did a drama course, started writing short screenplays and watched more and more films. I was offered a place at Lamda (the acting school in London) but at around the same time I had a short film made by a director I knew. When I saw Festen (the Danish Dogme film by Thomas Vinterberg), something clicked in me. I bought a digital camera and decided to make my next short film myself, and I have never looked back.

Would you say your aesthetic is fully ‘British’, or does it have any Belgian residue? Do you even believe in such nationalistic boundaries when it comes to filmmaking?

My aesthetic is definitely hovering somewhere across the channel. When I make a film here, people go “oh, it feels really continental” when I make a film in Belgium, people there go “it’s quite British”… so I don’t know anymore. I guess from the moment you decide to emigrate from your country of birth, you always end up being an outsider, which is probably not such a bad position to be in for a filmmaker.

Every country has their idiosyncrasies and they definitely seep through in their films, so in that respect nationalism is a fact. And a very good thing too, because it makes the film industry more interesting and more diverse. Even when they try to emulate a more generic model (Hollywood being the obvious one), you will always notice, however subtly. You can’t erase your background.

Since ‘Stranger’ was financed by the UK Film Council, I imagine you reacted quite strongly when you heard that the government just gave it the boot. Why do you think this decision was taken, and what kind of an impact do you think it will have on the UK film industry in the future?

I reacted strongly from a personal point of view as I have my second feature film script in there as we speak, so I don’t know what will happen with it now. But I guess you don’t come to this industry for an easy ride, so I don't feel too desperate about it at the moment (though I might soon enough!)

The reason why they did it is obvious: they want to save money, and the arts are an easy target. Since I made my first feature in Belgium, my involvement with the UKFC has been limited, so I’m not really in a position to comment whether it will be bad or good for the UK film industry. But I do think this industry is by its very nature resilient, and perversely revels in such challenges. It’s important to see the opportunities that could come out of this: it will definitely force people to take a good hard look at the state of the industry and make them think how things can be done differently.

How would you describe the current short film circuit?

There are a lot more films being made, because it is much easier to make them and also there are a multitude of outlets... from the small amount I see of it, it doesn’t seem it has really increased the amount of risk taking. In essence that’s how I judge film making: how much did this person put themselves on the line? I see a lot of films in the UK which follow a certain formula because that's how they think they will get to the next level. It’s a shame that not enough people are pushing the envelope these days, despite all the possibilities we have nowadays. Maybe that's something to think about in light of the UKFC’s demise.

The Kinemastik Short Film Festival will be launched on the roof of the City Lights Cinema, Republic Street, Valletta on August 6 and continue at the Herbert Ganado Gardens, Floriana over the next two night. For more information about the festival, visit www.kinemastik.org.

Tom Geens’ official website: http://www.chickenfactory.co.uk

teodor_reljic
Teodor Reljic is MaltaToday's culture editor and film critic. He joined t...
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