Ghent is lead actor, setting and subject in new film


A communications agency is asking all residents to take part in a short film showcasing the beauty and wonder of life in Ghent

Entire city is being asked to participate

“Hello, this is Michael Tiger,” a weathered, soothing voice with a slightly Scottish accent begins. In a five-minute trailer with stunning aerial views of Ghent’s historic centre, Mr Tiger – who purports to be a city dweller himself – asks his fellow “Ghentians” to help him make what he claims will be the most-viewed film about Ghent ever, Ghent in Motion. He is giving the people of Ghent one year to complete the challenge.

It doesn’t take a lot of research to discover that Michael Tiger is a fictional character. His sandpaper voice actually belongs to John Boyle, a Scottish voice-over artist who lives in Brussels.

But there is one real person who comes fairly close to the narrator. His name is Michel Blanckaert, and there is nothing fictional about the challenge he has set for himself – to create a movie with the entire city’s help and, while he’s at it, set new quality standards for any future audio-visual production, anywhere.

I meet Blanckaert, 45, at Mokkabon, a cosy coffee bar in the city’s centre. In the middle of wrapping up a movie for the municipality of Ghent – one he says is “a real challenge to Hollywood” – he is high on adrenaline. This city movie is not to be confused, however, with the year-long project Ghent in Motion, which is a private initiative of the marketing and communication agency Michael Tiger.

“Careful,” he stresses, “we only want people’s ideas – not their videos. We’ll do the filming ourselves. We want people to let us know if they’re going to mow their lawn and form the word ‘Ghent’. We’ll shoot it from above. Guys who let us know they want to kiss their girlfriend at the top of Sint-Baaf’s Cathedral. Why not? We’ll make sure a drone buzzes over. Street artists who want to paint Ghent’s graffiti alley white; a hobby club that goes dancing in the Blaarmeersen [a recreation park), or all of Ghent’s dance clubs that together do a dance on the Blaarmeersen beach. Those are the kinds of things we’re looking for.”

Twelve labours

Unbridled enthusiasm aside, Blanckaert knows he’s asking a lot. “Why are we doing this? Because everyone has ideas nowadays.” But for Blanckaert, the gap between having good ideas and actually realising them is long and wide. “We hope we will bump into those who are courageous enough to make it happen with their friends, their team or their street.”

Ghent is as epic as a city can be

- Michel Blanckaert

To get residents going, the marketing agency will give them 12 “assignments”. “We know it will be hard at first, but on Valentine’s Day, for instance, we’ve asked couples to come to the Minnemeers’ bridge with a candle.” Blanckaert says another assignment might be to have thousands of yellow-bikini clad girls run across the city. “Interaction is what we need,” he says. 

As the narrator says in the trailer, nobody has ever thought of giving Ghent itself the leading role in a movie. But Blanckaert has toyed with the idea for years. “Ghent is enormously cinematographic. It’s as epic as a city can be.”

According to the filmmaker, right now was the only right time to make it happen. “We couldn’t have pulled this off five years ago,” he says. “The technical possibilities today are endless.” Blanckaert and his team will shoot from the sky, for instance, without any helicopters having to be used. “We use drones with cameras that take long-haul aerial shots but that can also float two metres above people’s heads. It’s all become affordable. Thanks to new technology, we can create what we want now, with a realistic budget and without the need for subsidies.”

Chasing dreams

Above all else, Ghent in Motion is meant to be the creative product of a city. “If we all work together, our story can only get better. We’ll get more fans, more attention, and the movie will become more meaningful,” Blanckaert says, adding that they have already received support from young and old residents alike. “That’s been our idea from the start: How can we get the whole city to gather round, to think creatively about the same thing? If that works, I’ll be more than happy.”

With this movie, we want to show what is possible

- Michel Blanckaert

The fruit of the efforts should be a 15-minute short by next year: “A film without a main actor but with a story. Like Philip Glass – contemplative but visually spectacular,” Blanckaert says. “All of life’s facets, put together in one day, in this city.”

Aside from a visual tour de force, the movie is also meant to be a message. “There are more challenges today than five years ago; but there are more possibilities as well,” Blanckaert says. “But lots of young people cannot see their way through the challenges. With this movie, we want to raise the level of awareness of what is possible. It’s just about realising dreams.”