Flemish films heading to New York's MoMA

Summary

Tomas Leyers talks about Lost Persons Area and I’m the Same I’m an Other, two films he’s produced that have been selected for screenings at New York’s prestigious Museum of Modern Art

A very special voice

Imagine you’re a Brussels producer responsible for local art-house drama, and one day you get a call: The Museum of Modern Art in New York wants to know if it can screen your films. You’d probably choke on your coffee.

That’s what happened to Caroline Strubbe and Tomas Leyers when they were asked for permission to show their films in one of the world’s veritable temples of modern culture: the MoMA.

Strubbe is the director of the breathtaking films Lost Persons Area and I’m the Same I’m an Other. Leyers (pictured) is the producer; he is a co-partner in Minds Meet, a small, and particular, production company. With a proven track record of artistic, independent projects, Leyers seems to have a nose for talent and a sense for out-of-the ordinary films. They are two things he manages to combine rather well: He’s been a regular guest at the most prestigious film festivals around the world, from Toronto to Venice, Berlin and Cannes.

When I meet him at his office, overlooking the port of Brussels, it doesn’t take much to get him started.

“Producing non-commercial films is a challenging job,” he says. “It’s not easy to get funding for films like Lost Persons Area, and the distribution part is hardly a walk in the park, either. Yet Caroline Strubbe gets recognition from all over the world – Dave Kehr from the film department at MoMA describes her as ‘a voice he has never heard before’. And still we can’t get the Flemish public broadcaster to show her films. That’s just a bit sad.”

Feelings, not numbers

The problem, Leyers believes, is that the quality of a film is expressed in numbers. How many people saw the film the first weekend it came out? Is it paying off? “These are awkward ways to talk about art in the cultural section of the media,” he says. 

I’m the Same is practically a silent film, but that doesn’t make it less accessible

- Producer Tomas Leyers

Such reports, he continues “have meaning in the financial pages of the newspaper, not the cultural. The critic should write about the emotions the film triggered, the camera work, the music, etc. And if it’s not a mass success, so what? Is fast food better than cooked vegetables because more people tend to like it? Of course not!”

Leyers holds up Denmark as an example: “The country is about as small as we are, and they speak the same impossible language. Yet they manage to make their films and television series one of their most successful export products in Europe. How? By giving production companies some structural funding. It offers directors and producers breathing space, allowing them to explore and develop.”

To conclude, Leyers tells me about his dream: a House of Flemish Film in Brussels that would “show Flemish films for tourists and a local audience, without focusing on how much money it will generate, but more as a tribute to the gems that are being produced every year here in Flanders. Wouldn’t that be nice!”

That his films attract only a select audience is not an argument. “It’s also a matter of budget,” he says. “Give me a big promotion budget and a broadcaster willing to co-produce and promote it, and people will come. “People say Strubbe’s films are too difficult, too ‘artistic’. But if they knew more about them, they would see they are very accessible. I’m the Same (pictured) is practically a silent film, but that doesn’t make it less accessible. Maybe intimidating, that’s all: Without words, a film becomes about emotions. Nothing is more accessible than emotions.”

Tomas Leyers talks about two films he’s produced that have been selected for screenings at New York's MoMA

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Flemish cinema

Thanks to a federal tax shelter system, support from the Flemish Audiovisueel Fund and the rise of a new generation of talented filmmakers, Flemish cinema has been riding the crest of a wave since the mid-2000s with distinctly locally flavoured features that have appealed to both crowds and critics.
Loft - With more than one million viewers, Erik Van Looy’s Loft was the most successful movie ever made in Flanders.
Bullhead - In 2012, Michaël R Roskam’s directorial debut Rundskop (Bullhead) was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language film.
Names - Well-known current Flemish directors include Erik Van Looy, Jan Verheyen, Michaël R Roskam, Fien Troch and Felix Van Groeningen.
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in 5 movie tickets sold in Flanders is to see a Flemish movie

226

international festival nominations or prizes in 2012

1 462 160

people went to see a Flemish (co)production in Belgium in 2012