Although the Dardenne brothers cast a long shadow over French-language Belgian cinema, a new saviour emerged just last year. Premiering in Directors’ Fortnight, Jaco Van Dormael’s religious comedy “The Brand New Testament” – in which God lives with his feisty daughter in modern-day Brussels – not only became a cult hit internationally, it also brought in the elusive domestic attendances that will enable the indigenous film industry to grow.
“The main concern we have is to find a local audience for our films,” says Jeanette Brunfaut of promotion agency Centre du cinéma et de l’audiovisuel de la Fédération Wallonie Bruxelles (CCA). “So far we have been more successful outside the country than inside, unlike Flemish films, for instance. And the big change was ‘The Brand New Testament,’ which was the biggest hit for us since the late ’90s. It’s not something that happens very often, and it’s really something that we are looking to repeat with other films.”
She adds: “Part of the main problem is that the French-speaking public is very much overloaded with information about French cinema, so when they go to the cinema to see a French-speaking film, naturally they go to a French film, because they they know more about French cinema than they might know about Belgian cinema. So we figure that what we need to do is give them all the information about our cinema. The big change is that we have decided not to give all our money to producers and distributors, but to keep a part of it and do some of the promotion ourselves.”
Launching in October, the CCA devised a promotional strategy, inspired by a similar project carried out by the Israel Film Fund, that includes both high-end tastemaker screenings and advance previews in remote areas, to create strong word of mouth. This campaign received an unexpected boost earlier this year with the small-screen success of two TV shows, “The Break” and “Ennemi Public,” the latter getting a huge 27% of market share when it debuted on a prime Sunday night TV slot in May. Says screen.brussels’ Noël Magis, “It seems that our new TV series contributed to a new genre ‘Belgian noir,’ which seems to be getting the attention of other markets/other countries.”
“Series are very new for us,” says Eric Franssen of trade and promotion group Wallonie-Bruxelles Intl. “It’s the first time we’ve had strong series that can be a hit here in Belgium and also abroad. It comes from a new fund that the Centre du Cinéma created with RTBF, the public broadcaster, two years ago, and these are the first two projects to be made with this money.”
This breakthrough, it is hoped, will create enough public interest to launch and sustain a whole new wave of filmmakers.
“We owe the Dardenne brothers, and Jaco van Dormael, a lot,” says Wallimage’s Philippe Reynaert. “But the miracle in Wallonia is that these filmmakers are only the tip of the iceberg. Of course there’s Joachim Lafosse, Bouli Lanners, Benoît Mariage and David Lambert, who are regulars at Cannes and Berlin. But a third generation of new talents is already emerging, while the recent development in TV series have revealed huge new filmmakers like Matthieu Donck (“The Break”), Matthieu Frances (“Public Enemy”) and Vincent Lannoo (Arte’s (“Trepalium.”)
A straw poll of upcoming talents reveals a strong cache of emerging female directors, whose ranks include Savina Dellicourt (2014’s “All Cats Are Grey”, Delphine Noels (2013’s “Post Partum”) and Vania Leturcq (2014’s “L’Année Prochaine”). Representing the males are Antoine Cuypers (2015’s “Prejudice”) and Guillaume Senez (“Keeper”).
“Young people coming from the schools, they don’t always have a lot to say,” notes Brunfaut. “Sometimes I’m amazed when I look at their short films. I think, ‘OK, you’re 20 and that’s all you want to say? You must have something else!’ It’s something we’re always working on, because sometimes – sometimes – we feel the subjects of our films need to be worked on. We need stronger themes, so that’s something we are very vigilant about, in terms of selection. Is the subject, going to speak to people in a way that shows there is a director behind it, and not just someone who wants to make a movie? But these new directors really have a lot to say, and they’re going to be doing something very interesting in the years to come.”