Belgium, Netherlands remake each other’s pics

Films crossing border are targeted to local auds

Flemish-speaking Belgium and the Netherlands, to bastardize an observation by Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw, “are two countries separated by a common language.”

Their film industry executives may comprehend each other on the telephone, but the prospect of distributing one another’s pics still proves challenging. Perhaps that explains the two countries’ recent redo fever, as producers on opposite sides of the border remake (rather than simply release) successful domestic hits for their next-door neighbors.

Take “Loft” (2008), the Erik Van Looy-directed thriller about five pals whose secret bachelor pad is the scene of a bloody murder; the pic sold more than a million tickets in Flemish-speaking Belgium. Now the film is being readied for a Dutch remake, which is an 50-50 co-production between Belgium’s Woestijnvis and two Dutch production companies: Millstreet Films and Pupkin Film.

“It’s very difficult for commercial films from small territories to find an international audience because there are no real European stars anymore,” explains producer Hilde De Laere, who also managed Van Looy’s previous film “Memory of a Killer” (2003), another domestic pic that flopped on release in the Netherlands in 2004. “When we tried to sell ‘Loft’ internationally, we received a lot of remake interest, instead of interest in the original version.”

Van Looy was originally slated to direct “Loft’s” Amsterdam-set remake (financed at the same E3.5 million level), but pulled out, as he is now waiting to see whether a U.S. remake can be set up for him to direct. Instead, the Dutch version is being directed by Antoinette Beumer, who recently scored a domestic hit with her first film “De gelukkige huisvrouw.” Principal photography begins in June, with the pic scheduled for a Dec. 16 release in the Netherlands by Independent Films.

While “Loft” may have set a precedent as the first Flemish film remade for Dutch auds, Netherlands-to-Belgium redos aren’t so uncommon. Shooting for an Oct. 20 release date in Flemish-speaking Belgium, director Jan Verheyen recently wrapped shooting on “Zot van A,” a remake of the Dutch hit romantic comedy “Alles is Liefde” (2007). The project, produced by the Belgian company Eyeworks, marks the third time the helmer has adapted a popular Dutch film for Flemish audiences.

“I also remade Jean Van de Velde’s ‘All Stars’ as “Team Spirit” (2000) and Joram Lursen’s “In oranje” as “Buitenspel” (2001),” Verheyen says. “They were both very successful in Flanders, which for me proves that a good story is a good story.”

When “Team Spirit” came out, Verheyen took criticism for daring to remake a Dutch film in Flemish, but no such animosity awaited “Zot van A.”

“People understand that locally made films don’t travel very well anymore,” he says. “The script for ‘Zot van A’ was the best I’ve read in the romantic comedy genre in a very long time, so why hesitate?”