Ostend Film Festival throws down the guest gauntlet


The Ostend Film Festival has pulled down some major talent this year, with both Adrien Brody and Pierce Brosnan appearing at the Flemish coast’s only film festival

Focus on local talent

The Ostend Film Festival has taken it up a notch this year, veritably throwing down the gauntlet to other festivals when it comes to special guests. Not only did it secure Adrien Brody to present his new film, Third Person (pictured), it announced a couple of weeks later that Pierce Brosnan would be on hand to talk about his new political action thriller, The November Man.

Not bad for an eight-year-old festival in a small coastal city better known for being chilly than being swank.

“We have been working for years to get the word out about the credibility of our festival,” says festival chair Peter Craeymeersch. The media attention continues to grow, and we are well received. After Pierce Brosnan’s appearance, we’ll be giving him his own star on the promenade. In short, this is wonderful news for the festival.”

It will also convince not a few people to head to the coast this month. Flanders isn’t short on film festivals, with themes from kids’ flicks to documentaries. And they host a variety of guests perfect for cinema lovers, with directors and actors of international productions happy to oblige with their presence.

But, aside from Ghent, what most of them lack is heavy star power. While one can find dozens of interesting guests at all of the local festivals, major celebrities are harder for them to come by. And, like it or not, those are the ones who get the festival on TV and the most tickets sold. They also improve ticket sales elsewhere; people coming to see Brody might stay to see another movie or two with an equally talented but lesser-known actor on hand.

“With Adrien Brody and Pierce Brosnan, are we now bigger than the Ghent Film Festival?” asks Craeymeersch. “I really don’t want to create a competition over who gets which actors. We want to stage a good festival and offer value to the public.”

A friendly gauntlet, but a gauntlet nonetheless.

Film highlights

While Brody and Brosnan are certainly event highlights, neither of their films are highlights of the film programme. A better political thriller is Anton Corbijn’s A Most Wanted Man, a nicely crafted adaptation of the John le Carré novel about a worn-out spy focusing on one man in Germany in the never-ending war on terror. It has the added intrigue of being Philip Seymour Hoffman’s final leading role before his death earlier this year. A posthumous Oscar is not out of the question.

With Adrien Brody and Pierce Brosnan, are we now bigger than the Ghent Film Festival?

- Peter Craeymeersch

The Dark Valley, another Belgian premiere, is a welcome return to the big screen from Austrian director Andreas Prochaska, who has concentrated on TV for the last 15 years. In classic western style, it finds a 19th-century American (Sam Riley) riding into a remote village in the Alps, where he soon finds himself in an inexplicable conflict with the local baddies.

On the lighter side is the highly entertaining The Trip to Italy, Michael Winterbottom’s follow-up to The Trip, with Rob Brydon and Steve Coogan now joking their way through the country of wine and pasta.

But one of this festival’s strengths has always been its focus on local talent, and this year is no different, with a number of Flemish productions on the programme, as well as the annual Ensor awards for the best in Flemish cinema. Koen De Graeve (De helaasheid der dingen, Halfweg) stars in Dutch director Nicole Van Kilsdonk’s Onder het hart (Under the Heart) as a recently divorced father of two who begins a new relationship only to test the relationships of everyone in his life when he becomes sick.

Premiering at the festival is Flemish writer/director Roel Mondelaers’ Plan Bart, a romantic comedy in which Wine Dierickx, desperate to have a baby, convinces her juvenile ex to get her pregnant (before he heads off to the Air Guitar World Cup).

More bizarre is Liebling, Flemish theatre collective Het zesde bedrijf’s film debut, based on their stage play of the same name. Absurd comedy abounds as the arrogant Remsk (Steven Aernouts) and his pot-addicted partner Sarah (Ellen Schoenaerts) head off on holiday to France with reluctant friends.

Movies at the pub

The Filmcafé on tour programme features recent Flemish flicks in bars across town, including the Rocco Granata biopic Marina, the gruesome police drama De behandeling (The Treatment) and the broad comedy Los Flamencos, among others.

The Look! competition, meanwhile, collects international features that beg to be seen on the big screen amid all the obsessive internet streaming and iPad viewing. Visuals are key to the selection, which includes Argentinian director Damián Szifrón’s Wild Tales, a gleefully dark series of sketches on the satisfaction of revenge, and French director Bertrand Bonello’s Saint Laurent, starring Belgium’s Jérémie Renier as the legendary fashion designer (not to be confused with Yves Saint Laurent, an also new but entirely different film).

As for the Ensors, they are handed out for shorts, documentaries and features. Of the 12 films in competition for best feature, there is no obvious break-away hit this year, like The Broken Circle Breakdown, which makes the competition a bit more interesting. The jury will probably be looking closely at Bart Van den Bempt’s drama 82 Days in April, as well as Caroline Strubbe’s I’m the Same, I’m an Other.

12-20 September, Across Ostend

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.

in 5 movie tickets sold in Flanders is to see a Flemish movie


international festival nominations or prizes in 2012

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