Last year’s Oscar nomination for Bullhead launched the international careers of director Michaël R. Roskam and leading man Matthias Schoenaerts. The film’s producer, Bart Van Langendock, has yet to follow them across the atlantic, but the nomination has changed his life in other ways.

Text Ian Mundell | Portrait Bart Dewaele

Bartdewaelebartvanlangendonck‘Industry people like international sales agents and distributors are more eager to listen to what I have to offer now,’ he says. ‘Now that they know my name, and it’s linked to Bullhead, they are at least willing to look at new projects.’ The international press also takes notice. ‘When we announced my new slate in Cannes, all the dailies picked it up. This would never have happened before Bullhead.’

And more people come to him with their projects, from student filmmakers to more established directors.‘The downside is that you have to make choices,’ he says. ‘You can’t work with everybody.’ Even so, his production company Savage Film has an extensive portfolio that combines fiction, documentary and films in the rich area where dance and cinema overlap. Van Langendonck’s interest in dance comes from his time managing Ultima Vez, the company of choreographer and filmmaker Wim Vandekeybus. When he moved into film production in 2002, with the company CCCP, it was to produce Vandekeybus’ first film projects. The success of titles such as In Spite of Wishing and Wanting and Blush made Van Langendonck the go-to person for dance films in Belgium. Sometimes this involves adapting performances for the screen, as in The Co(te)lette Film.

For this production Oscar-winning director Mike Figgis was brought in to stage and shoot a provocative and highly physical performance devised by Ann Van den Broek. At other times Van Langendonck’s dance films document the creative process. The IDFA-selected film Rain, for example, follows choreographer Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker as she teaches the classically trained ballet dancers of the Opéra de Paris how to perform one of her free-flowing contemporary pieces.

Motivate and guide

Documentary is another interest that Van Langendonck has been able to pursue with the growth of Savage Film. ‘When I’m zapping on TV I usually get stuck on a documentary rather than a fiction film,’ he says. ‘Documentary talks about issues in a more concrete fashion, and that’s one of the things I like.’ Subjects of on-going projects range from the precarious lives of children in war-torn Afghanistan to the way scientists seek new knowledge in the world’s most sophisticated laboratories. Despite doing a lot to develop new talent, in both fiction and documentary, Van Langendonck doesn’t see this as a particular strength. ‘I don’t see myself as a producer-coach,’ he says. ‘As a director you need to have the talent. That’s where everything starts. Then you need to be able to develop a vision in respect to a particular project. Plus you need to be a people manager.’

‘If I can’t read a script through in one go, I don’t do it. even if the story is not well-constructed yet, all the elements need to be there to make it a page turner.’

The main thing he looks for in fiction is a great story. ‘If I can’t read it through in one go, I don’t go for it. Even if the story is not well-constructed yet, all the elements need to be there to make it a page turner.’ That was the case with The Ardennes, a tale of crime and family ties which Bullhead actor Jeroen Perceval is developing from his own stage play. When Van Langendonck read a first draft of the treatment, the impact was immediate. ‘It was 20 pages too short, but it hit me in the face.’ Once that happens, a project takes on a momentum of its own. ‘I become enthusiastic, and that enthusiasm then reflects back on the writer and the director. I think that in this way, as producer, I can motivate and guide directors. It’s a nice feeling to be able to feed each other in such a way.’

Perfect team

When it comes to the actual shoot of a film, he tends to take a back seat. ‘Personally I don’t have so much experience of sets,’ he admits. ‘Sometimes I feel a bit frustrated because of that, but at the same time it’s good to have distance. And as long as things are decided and are well organised by having put together the perfect team, the set should be running almost on its own.’ Once the lights and cameras are put away, he gets more closely involved again. ‘The part I like most is the editing process and how everything comes together in post-production. Then there’s the promotion and the life you can create for a film.’Seeing a film take off, particularly for a new director, is the ultimate reward. ‘It’s good to give someone with creative talent a platform to do their thing. And it’s always great to be involved in the launch of an emerging talent.

Paging Mr Roskam

matmichIn the wake of Bullhead, Michaël R. Roskam has been inundated with offers. At the time of writing, he is attached to a Fox Searchlight project called Animal Rescue, scripted by Dennis Lehane (Mystic River, Shutter Island) and The Tiger, an adaptation of John Vaillant’s non-fiction book of the same name for Focus Features. Then there is Buda Bridge Bitch, a TV series for HBO that will be produced in Brussels by Savage Film. Meanwhile, Roskam and Van Langendonck are working on a new feature film, The Faithful, which is set against the background of brutal crime gangs operating in Brussels in the early 1990s. ’We will probably be shooting in 2014, with French producer/distributor Stone Angels attached as co-producer,’ says Van Langendonck. ‘It’s a great project that’s a logical continuation of what he did with Bullhead.’ The aim is to work with the same team, from composer Raf Keunen to DoP Nicolas Karakatsanis, and with Matthias Schoenaerts in front of the camera. ‘It’s a great collaboration and, as Michaël says: never change a winning team.

Bart’s Talent Barn

Group portrait Danny Willems

talentbarnVincent Coen and Guillaume Vandenberghe
After film school and various shorts, long-time collaborators Vincent Coen and Guillaume Vandenberghe made their debut for Savage Film with the feature documentary Cinema Inch’Allah! This follows four Belgian-Moroccan filmmakers as they doggedly pursue their dream of producing high-energy, low-budget action movies with a multi-cultural twist. But after years sacrificing their free time, some of the group start to have doubts.

Hans Van Nuffel

After working with A Private View on his acclaimed debut feature Oxygen, Hans Van Nuffel has moved over to Savage Film for the follow-up, Equator. The idea is to tap into Van Langendonck's international experience in order to shoot a story that unfolds largely in Africa. It concerns a young Belgian woman who forces a former Congolese child soldier to help solve the mystery of her father's death. 'It's the encounter of a rich, bourgeois family in Brussels with Africa and its violence,' says Van Langendonck. 'What attracted me is the tension between these two worlds, as well as the confrontation with the remains and outcome of our own colonial past. At the same time it's a love story that contains thriller elements.'

Robin Pront en Jeroen Perceval

The Ardennes
started life as a stage play by actor Jeroen Perceval, before being slated as a film project for Michaël R. Roskam. When Bullhead went global, the project passed (with Roskam's blessing) to newcomer Robin Pront. While fresh to feature films, Pront has already directed Perceval and Bullhead star Matthias Schoenaerts in his short film Injury Time. ‘This short and the earlier Plan B indicate that the project is in safe hands,' says Van Langendonck. 'You can see that these shorts match the feature film he is going to make. You know it's there.'

Bram Van Paesschen

Welcome to Chocolate City will complete a trilogy of films about the Congo that Bram Van Paesschen began with Pale Peko Bantu (for broadcaster VRT) and Empire of Dust (for Savage Film). This time, however, he will be leaving Africa in order to follow a young Congolese man travelling to work in China, joining around 100,000 other African migrants already living in the Guangzhou neighbourhood known as Chocolate City.

Pascal Poissonnier

Documentary filmmaker Pascal Poissonnier has moved from the personal to the political, in each case looking for the story concealed by appearances. In Walking Back to Happiness he investigated into his own name, only to face evasion and hostility from the closest members of his family. Then in No comment he followed two television journalists as they try to make sense of the longest, most complicated political crisis in Belgian history.

Douglas Boswell

With a background in TV and the internationally successful short Romanceto his name, Douglas Boswell is making his feature debut with The Labyrinth, a fantasy adventure for kids. Written by Pierre De Clercq (Come As You Are), it concerns a 14-year-old boy who finds his computer can access a parallel world mirroring his home town. It seems like a game, until he realises what happens in the labyrinth also affects reality. 'The script is really great, a very touching story,' Van Langendonck says. 'It sparkles.' The Labyrinth is set to shoot in summer 2013.

Nathalie Teirlinck

International film festivals have been quick to adopt Nathalie Teirlinck. Her student film Anemone screened at Locarno in 2007, then her first independent short, Venus vs Me, picked up a European Film Award at Berlin in 2010. Now she has a home at Savage Film, where she is preparing her first feature film, tentatively called Tonic Immobility.

Wim Vandekeybus

Van Langendonck’s association with Wim Vandekeybus remains as strong as ever. In 2011 he co-produced Monkey Sandwich, the choreographer's first dialogue-driven film, and he is the main producer for the highly anticipated feature Galloping Mind. This is the story of twins, separated at birth, who meet aged nine during a street robbery and so discover the common fate inflicted upon them by adults. After a long search for the right locations ('One of the key scenes in this film is a bridge, where a lot of things happen,' Van Langendonck says.) the film will be shot in Hungary and Romania this summer.

Pieter-Jan de Pue

Young photographer Pieter-Jan De Pue has travelled from the Amazon basin to the Middle East in search of images, but it is Afghanistan that has captured his imagination. Returning repeatedly to document the work of charities and foundations, he is also preparing a feature documentary about the country's children. Their stories are connected by a thread: the explosives recovered by children from around Bagram air base are passed to children mining lapis lazuli, which in turn leaves the country under the protection of child soldiers. The Land of the Enlightened is tentatively scheduled for 2014.

Olivia Rochette and Gerard-Jan Claes (not pictured)

Olivia Rochette and Gerard-Jan Claes had only just graduated when choreographer Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker suggested they should document her production of Rain in Paris. Van Langendonck already knew their work, having seen the graduation film Because We Are Visual while part of their film school jury. 'It was clear that they had talent and a clear vision of what the film should become,' he says. Rain premiered internationally at IDFA.

Matthias Schoenaerts (not pictured)

Actor Matthias Schoenaerts will make his debut behind the camera with Franky, a documentary about a school friend he rediscovered when making Bullhead. While Schoenaerts had become a success, Franky had experienced years of personal hardship. 'Matthias became intrigued by the courage of this guy and the fact that their lives were so completely different,' Van Langendonck explains. 'When Matthias was at the Oscars, Franky was in jail.' Schoenaerts' hectic schedule after the success of Bullhead and Rust and Bone makes progress difficult but he remains committed to the project. 'It's really personal, so it's going to happen. He's already filmed quite a bit with DOP Nicolas Karakatsanis (Bullhead, The Loft). I've seen the rushes and they are just mind-blowing.'

Frank Theys (not pictured)

Visual artist, theatre director and filmmaker Frank Theys has a long-standing interest in how science and technology changes our view of life. In the documentary series Technocalyps (2006) he explored ideas about transhumanism, the way technology changes the limits of what it means to be human. Now in Lab-Life he is examining daily life inside some of the world's leading laboratories and the challenges science presents to society.

Published on Thursday 16 May 2013

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