The city of Brussels has seen a lot of excitement lately. Gangsters have been running wild with racing-car drivers, the Hitler Youth have taken to marching in the street, and a submarine has sunk, costing hundreds of lives. It’s fair to say that, even as far as movie shoots go, Brussels is nothing if not diverse, playing itself in the 1980s for Michael R. Roskam’s crime drama “Racer and the Jailbird,” doubling as wartime Berlin in Amma Asante’s powerful love story “Where Hands Touch,” and even dressing up as Russia in Thomas Vinterberg’s “Kursk,” the story of the Russian submarine that exploded underwater during a naval exercise in 2000. No wonder they’re calling it “the queen of filming locations.”
There are many reasons for the rise of Brussels as an international shooting hub, starting with its location in the heart of Europe, just 80 minutes from Paris and two hours by Eurostar from London. Then there’s the massive diversity in its streets, from its medieval fronting to Art Nouveau interiors and ultra-modern cityscapes. Brussels is home to the European Union as well as NATO.
“Brussels is an age-old city influenced by great cultures, but, nevertheless, it’s an incredible cultural crossroads where more than 150 nationalities mix,” says Says Pierrette Baillot, Screen.Brussels’ Film Commission manager.
Principally, though, as well as experienced international-scale production companies, Brussels has regional funds and a federal tax-shelter incentive.
“A smart team can finance up to 66% of the Belgian-eligible expenses [that] the co-producers may [need to] incur in Brussels,” says Baillot.
Indeed, the complex nature of Belgian financing lends itself to co-production almost by default. Explains Christian De Schutter, head of promotion & communication at Flanders Image: “Shooting in Belgium is divided between the regions and their respective economic funds. You’ve got Screen Flanders for the Flanders region, Screen.Brussels for the Brussels capital region and Wallimage for the French-speaking provinces. These are economic funds that support productions that shoot in the region, usually with some film commission activities.”
He adds: “In terms of cultural funding, the country is divided into two communities: the Flanders community — which also covers the Flemish filmmakers based in Brussels — and the French-speaking community, which also covers the French-speaking filmmakers in Brussels.”
Key among the hubs funding and supporting this burgeoning film industry is the Screen.Brussels Film Commission. Launched in 2006 and previously known as the Brussels Film Office, this comes under the umbrella company Screen.Brussels, which was created in 2016 by the regional government to give a solid structure to the fast-growing audiovisual sector in Brussels.
As Baillot explains, Screen.Brussels is made up of four separate but intertwining entities: film funding, film commission, cluster and business. The film commission is the most pragmatic; “It aims to facilitate film shoots,” she says, “particularly by obtaining filming permits, finding sets and locations, reserving space for technical vehicles, helping for cast and crew hosting and so on.”
Besides geographical and physical diversity, Brussels is also extremely fluid when it comes to the nature of the project being proposed. As with the country’s tax shelter — which can provide additional funding up to 25%-30% of the total qualifying expenses in the EEA and allows the finance of up to 40%-45% of the Belgian-eligible expenses — Screen.Brussels offers support for all kinds of content, from fiction cinema, to VR, documentary, TV and web series.
“Compared to other European regions, we are very much open to helping any foreign audiovisual professionals develop their project in co-production with Belgium,” says Screen.Brussels’ audiovisual adviser Baptiste Charles. “As our market is very small and limited, and our tools very powerful — our tax shelter system, combined with regional and European funding, is one of the most interesting in Europe — we have to find abroad interesting projects to finance, and which could benefit from our expertise in many sectors, specifically in post-production and location shooting. We have some of the best technicians in Europe.
“For the first time last year,” he adds, “thanks to our fiscal incentives and funds, we had too much money to invest in cinema and couldn’t identify enough interesting projects to finance — in Belgium or abroad. So, we are very keen to develop co-production with foreign partners, and to offer our expertise.”
This may seem too good to be true, but when Screen.Brussels announced its recent slate of projects, dividing up a €1 million ($1.19 million) investment — seven feature films, three documentaries and one television series — the body predicted returns of 725% in expenditures for the region’s audiovisual economy.
With incentives like that, it’s not hard to see why Brussels is fast creating a case for bringing Hollywood to Europe.
Brussels-shot films and co-prods in Venice:
Racer and the Jailbird (Le Fidèle)
Director: Michael Roskam
Stars: Matthias Schoenaerts, Adèle Exarchopoulos
logline: Reuniting director Michael Roskam with his “Bullhead” star Matthias Schoenaerts, out of competition title “Racer and the Jailbird” — Belgium’s 2017 Oscar entry — is a story of crime and hedonism loosely based on the true story of Patrick Haemers, the Brussels mastermind behind a string of armored car robberies in the 1980s and a key player in the kidnapping of former Belgian prime minister Paul Vanden Boeynants in 1989. Adèle Exarchopoulos plays the film’s rich, racing-driver love interest.
Director: Andrea Pallaoro
Stars: Charlotte Rampling, André Wilms, Jean-Michel Balthazar
logline: Andrea Pallaoro’s second feature is also his second to debut on the Lido — 2013’s acclaimed “Medeas,” which premiered in Horizons, starred Catalina Sandino Moreno as a deaf-mute wife and mother in Southern California. His follow-up, the competition entry “Hannah,” toplines Charlotte Rampling as a woman whose life begins to fall apart when her husband is arrested. The film, says its director, “explores the inner torment of a woman trapped by her own life choices, paralyzed by her insecurities and dependencies, by her own sense of loyalty and devotion.”
Directors: François Troukens, Jean-François Hensgens
Stars: Olivier Gourmet, Lubna Azabal, Bouli Lanners
logline: Filmed with the working title “Above the Law,” “Tueurs” is the first feature from reformed armed robber-turned-TV-personality François Troukens. Drawing on the true story of the mysterious “Brabant killers,” who terrorized Belgium during the 1980s, it stars Olivier Gourmet as a petty criminal named Frank who is arrested during a non-violent robbery, framed for the murder of a judge investigating an underworld cartel, and given no choice but to escape and attempt to prove his innocence.