Belgium event attracts popular film composers

GHENT, Belgium — While it cannot tout celebrities with Brangelina’s wattage, velvet-rope parties and 24-hour wheeling and dealing, Belgium’s Ghent Film Festival offers a storybook setting, an infrastructure run with the precision of a Swiss watch and once-in-a-lifetime concert experiences.

Not that its most recent incarnation was without stars. Woody Harrelson (“Transsiberian”), Richard Jenkins (“The Visitor”) and Emmanuel Beart (“Vinyan”) attended in support of their films. But at Ghent, the focus on film music sets it apart.

The 35th edition (Oct. 7-18) culminated with the eighth annual World Soundtrack Awards, held at the Music Centre de Bijloke, a converted medieval hospital with vaulted ceiling that looks more like an ancient cathedral. James Newton Howard (composer of the year), Dario Marianelli (score) and Peter Gabriel and Thomas Newman (original song) took top competitive honors, but it was the live concerts staged by the likes of lifetime achievement honoree Angelo Badalamenti, Clint Mansell, Marianelli and Gabriel Yared that makes Ghent unique.

“There’s something about Ghent in how gracious they are, how they put composers on a pedestal, and the feeling of camaraderie among the composers and other people in the business that makes it unique,” says Rob Messinger, a partner at First Management, which handles composers Gustavo Santaolalla, Alberto Iglesias and Philip Glass.

First Management client Mansell staged a concert of music he’s composed for filmmaker Darren Aronofsky, while client Marc Streitenfeld won this year’s Discovery Award, which in the past helped boost the careers of Santaolalla (2004) and Craig Armstrong (2001).

“(Santaolalla) won the Discovery for ’21 Grams’ then came back and performed the world premiere for ‘Brokeback Mountain’ before it was nominated and won an Oscar,” Messinger says. “He certainly attributes some of that momentum that was created in his career (to Ghent).”

The fest’s managing director Jacques Dubrulle — whose idea it was to shift its focus to film music 15 years ago — attributes the event’s growing popularity among the film music world to the event’s top flight orchestra (the Brussels Philharmonic) and its clockwork organization.

“A lot of people return to the festival because we treat them very well and they like the city,” Dubrulle says. “Everything is within walking distance.”

Attendance has risen from the approximately 3,500 at the event’s debut to this year’s 115,000, up 10,000 from last year.

While the film program was distinguished by recent fest favorites like Aronofsky’s “The Wrestler” and Charlie Kaufman’s “Synecdoche, New York,” and directors like Atom Egoyan (“Adoration”) in the main competition, the event’s main draw might be as a showcase for Belgian cinema.

Ben Hopkins’ competition winner “The Market” (Turkey/Germany) benefited by the e20,000 ($25,000) prize, which is used as a distribution premium to promote a Belgian release. According to the fest, past entries like “Half Nelson” lured a distributor due to the fest’s prize money.

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