Roskam: Weaves thriller from ‘hormone mafia’ controversy

10 Directors to Watch 2012: Michael R. Roskam

Age: 38
Homebase: Brussels, Belgium
Inspired by: Martin Scorsese, the Coen Brothers, Akira Kurosawa, Orson Welles, Steven Spielberg, Michael Mann, Ridley Scott, Francois Truffaut, Andrei Tarkovsky, Sam Peckinpah.
Reps: Agents: Ramses IsHak, Michael Sheresky (UTA); Managers: Keith Redmon, Luke Rivett (Anonymous Content)

At first glance, the plot of writer-director Michael R. Roskam’s debut film “Bullhead” seems too Belgium-specific to have widespread international appeal: A Limburg cattle farmer (Matthias Schoenaerts) gets mixed up with West Flemish beef traders in a criminal underground dealing in illegal growth hormones.

“In our country, this whole hormone mafia thing was a huge issue,” Roskam explains. “People abroad are like, ‘Is this real?’?”

But by taking the hormone controversy, infusing it with American crime film conventions and using it as a vehicle to explore the lingering adult aftermath of childhood sexual abuse, Roskam has created a work with global appeal, earning more than a dozen international awards since its world premiere at the Berlin Film Festival last February. In September, “Bullhead” was chosen as the Belgian submission for the foreign-language film Oscar.

“Sometimes you find yourself smiling and daydreaming out the window about what it could be, and then it becomes this, and it’s marvelous,” gushes Roskam, who holds master’s degrees in painting (St. Lukas Academy of Fine Arts, 1997) and screenwriting (Binger Film Lab, 2005). The director initially came up with the idea for “Bullhead” in 2004, and he kept rewriting the script right up until he secured the financing to go into production in autumn 2009.

Many of his key collaborators on the movie — including star Schoenaerts, cinematographer Nicolas Karakatsanis, composer Raf Keunen, editor Alain Dessauvage and producer Bart Van Langendonck — worked with him previously on his short films.

“You can tell I like to see us as a band making movies,” he says. “If one day I can make a movie in the U.S., I hope I can bring them along, too.”

Roskam says he’s already had meetings with more than three dozen people in Hollywood, and he’s coming back for more this month.

“I’m working on two scripts,” Roskam says. “One, I’m writing myself, which is set in Brussels, so if development hell sets in America, I’ll just make a movie in Belgium. In the meantime, I have this great idea for an American movie, and I would like to develop it and co-write it with an American screenwriter.”

10 Directors to Watch
Zal Batmanglij |

Valerie Donzelli | Gareth Evans | Philippe Falardeau | Mike ‘Mouse’ McCoy & Scott Waugh | Gerardo Naranjo | Matt Piedmont | Michael R. Roskam | Lynn Shelton | Benh Zeitlin

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