Blooming market boosts pic production

The Ghent Intl. Film Festival will screen three new Belgian films this year. Two are from the French-speaking side of the country, and one from the Dutch-speaking side. None of them are world premieres, and the festival is glad of that — because it means they all enjoyed premieres at other, higher-profile festivals.

Fabrice du Welz, whose unsettling 2004 debut “Calvaire” pulled down several awards in the fantastic festival circuit, enjoyed a premiere of his new movie “Vinyan” at Venice this year. Joachim Lafosse, the country’s brightest young directing star, took his fourth feature, “Private Lessons,” to Cannes, while Fien Troch traveled to Toronto for the premiere of her second feature, “Unspoken.”

Two other Belgian films were welcomed at Cannes this year, both winning prizes, including the latest from the Dardenne brothers, “Lorna’s Silence,” and Christophe Van Rompaey’s “Moscow, Belgium,” which screened as part of Critics’ Week.

Not a bad 2008 for a country that only makes about 25 films a year, outside of co-productions.

In fact, the number of Belgian films has shot up over the last decade, from below 20 some 10 years ago to 46 in 2007, including children’s films and co-productions. The reason is money: since 2000, funds have been created by both the French-speaking and Dutch-speaking governments for the production and promotion of local movies. In the same period, a tax shelter was creating to encourage investing in the film industry.

All schemes have paid off: Belgium is making more films than ever before, enjoying an increase in distribution outside of the Benelux territories and France and seeing record numbers at the local box office for its own cinema. Quality appears to have followed quantity, and Belgian cinema, with its leanings towards a somewhat sinister surrealism, is finally showing up with some regularity at the major festivals.

“A few years ago, going to a local film was kind of an obligation to support our culture,” says Pierre Drouot, head of the Flanders Audio-Visual Fund. “Now it’s more of a pleasure.”

Lisa Bradshaw

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