With its diverse landscapes and tax shelter, Belgium has long been known as a hotspot for European and international shoots, but the country has mostly been making headlines in the last few months for its nest of ISIS-trained jihadis who are behind the Paris and Brussels attacks.
As it labors under the grip of not only terrorism but also counter-terrorist reaction, the current situation of Belgium is already inspiring TV and film coverage. “Waltz With Bashir” director Ari Folman is preparing a TV series set in Brussels immediately after the four-day lockdown that authorities launched in November during a manhunt for the perpetrators of the Paris attacks. Spanish-Belgian director José Luis de la Fuente, meanwhile, is making a documentary about Molenbeek, the Brussels neighborhood that harbored the terrorist cell behind the Paris and Brussels assaults that killed 130 people and 32 people, respectively.
In recent years, Belgium has been welcoming a wide range of high-profile film and TV shoots, from Leslye Headland’s “Bachelorette,” to the TV drama “The Missing” and the Oscar-winning “The Danish Girl.” Just last year 37 feature films shot in the capital. While it is too soon to predict what impact the recent attacks will have on the volume of international productions, it’s safe to say that filmmakers and producers, including those from the U.S., might be inclined to explore other location options in North America.
A week after the attacks in Brussels, the security level is still at 3, meaning that the threat remains serious and real but filming in public places is not forbidden by Belgian authorities. Only the commune of Molenbeek is still not greenlit for filming. The 18 other districts in Brussels are open, said the Brussels film commission’s spokesperson.
So far, little is known of the productions that were directly affected by the attacks in Brussels. Among the films shooting in the capital on March 22 was Dany Boon’s “Raid Dingue,” an action comedy about France’s anti-terrorism squad, which was scheduled to shoot at Brussels airport shortly after the attacks. Meanwhile, another production, an English-language thriller directed by Everardo Gout (“Dias de Gracia”), “Again,” was supposed to shoot during the attacks but got postponed. “Again’s” production shingle, Paris-based Les Enfants Terribles, is now looking to relocate the shoot in Canada for both security and financial reasons.
Indeed, for many years Belgium was the prime destination for Gallic producers seeking Europe’s best tax incentive, but that is no longer the case: France’s government has been fighting the rise of French runaway shoots towards Belgium. To do so, the government has strengthened the country’s tax scheme so that local producers can’t combine the Belgian tax shelter with the French tax rebate.
On the insurance front, companies such as Tokyo Marine, Circle, Axxa and Alliance, which handle film productions, have also been taking into account the risk of terrorist attacks in the wake of recent assaults across Europe.
“Since the Paris attacks last November and more recently what happened in Belgium, we’ve been discussing with insurance companies to get them to adapt their services to these new terrorism risks. In the meantime we continue working on a case-by-case basis,” said Anne-Severine Lucas, an insurance broker for Gras Savoye. “Eventually, insurance companies will be looking to restrict the perimeter of the guarantee to 5 or 10 kilometers around the shoot, or just impose no limitation but increase the insurance rate.”
In spite of the current context, Belgium remains fairly attractive for many producers, even Matthias Weber and Thibault Gast at Paris-based 2425 Films. Their latest pic “The Eavesdropper,” with “The Intouchables” star Francois Cluzet, was shooting in a warehouse in Molenbeek during the manhunt, just two streets away from the massive police raid of Nov. 16.
Weber said the lockdown had little impact on the production since most of the filming was taking place in a private location, but they lost several shooting permits.
But Weber points out that the experience didn’t change his views on Belgium and Brussels. “We chose Brussels for the diversity and richness of decors, the skills and professionalism of local crews and all that remains true today,” added Weber.
“There’s been attacks in London, Madrid and Paris before and obviously we’re still interested in shooting in these beautiful locations. Terrorism is part of our lives now, it’s the plague of the 21th century and we won’t give in to fears,” Weber added.
John Hopewell contributed to this report.