At the Sint-Lukas film school David Williamson was flagged up as a young director to watch, winning a prestigious VAF Wildcard award for his short NOW/HERE. But since graduating he has also gained a reputation as a creative cinematographer, making his feature debut behind the camera on Caroline Strubbe's I'm the same I'm an other.

Text Ian Mundell | Portrait Gert Verboven

Portrait of David Williamson (c) Gert VerbovenWilliamson traces his interest in film to a day in his late teens when he had a few hours to kill in Antwerp. On a whim he decided to see Mulholland Drive. 'I had no clue who David Lynch was, and it was a revelation,' he recalls. 'He really got in contact with the line between fiction and reality, or different realities, and the complexity of it all. The fact that you could really think about it afterwards, that really excited me.'

He went on to study film theory at Utrecht University in the Netherlands, but found the programme too abstract and so moved to Sint-Lukas in Brussels. His idea was to explore the practice of filmmaking rather starting a career, but that changed thanks to a partnership with fellow student Gilles Coulier. When one directed, the other took charge of the cinematography, and together they made a series of highly successful shorts.

Coulier's Iceland won a VAF Wildcard in 2009 and subsequently screened at the Cannes Film Festival, while Williamson's NOW/HERE won a Wildcard in 2010. They also collaborated on Coulier's graduation film, Paroles, and his first professional short, Mont Blanc, which was selected for the Cannes short film competition this year.

'For us, the important thing is that the camera really tries to clutch on to an actor and enter into their dynamic,' Williamson says of their approach. His influences are films such as Harmony Korine's Gummo and Larry Clark's Kids. 'They have a very dynamic camera that changes mood from one character to another, and somehow feels really organic.'

Yet their style has also been shaped by films that appear quite different but which made them think about how shots can be combined or constructed. The opening scene of Bela Tarr's Werkmeister Harmonies is an example. 'It's one shot and it's amazing. It feels supernatural, it feels as if it is happening at that moment and you are there.'


From the setting

Williamson's assignment as director of photography on I'm the same I'm an other meant sharing another director's influences. 'Caroline doesn't show you specific things for the film, she shows you things she likes to see if you are going to get on and to stimulate discussion,' he says.

They watched films such as Lynne Ramsay's We Need To Talk About Kevin, The Banishment by Andrey Zvyagintsev, and Alain Resnais' Hiroshima Mon Amour. 'By watching these things you also create a common vocabulary that you can use to communicate about what you are going to do,' he adds.

While external influences play some role in determining how he works as a DoP, much more comes from the setting. 'One of the things I think is most important as a cinematographer is the location in which you shoot. Ninety percent of what happens is inspired by the location.'

A further feature with Williamson as DoP is currently being edited, a 'no-budget' version of Liebling, originally a play by actor Jeroen Perceval. After that his next assignment is Melody, by Bernard Bellefroid, a young director from French-speaking Belgium. 'He has completely different influences,' Williamson says. 'He is introducing me to French cinema from the 80s, like Maurice Pialat, and he's also showing me Bergman, which I slept through at school.'

Alongside his work as a DoP, Williamson has also been developing his next film as a director, funded by his Wildcard award. He spent some time on a script that turned out to be too ambitious for the budget, and now has a more compact idea centred on a woman driven to extremes by her lack of faith in society.

Books are the influence here rather than films, in particular Borderline Times by psychiatrist Dirk De Wachter, which suggests that behaviour once considered on the fringes of normality can now be found among most people. 'There are a lot of very interesting thoughts in there about how we interact with society.'

He is also drawn to the novels of Bret Easton Ellis. Imperial Bedrooms was an influence on NOW/HERE, while Lunar Park has helped shape the new project. 'It has a feeling that reality goes from one point to a completely different point, and somehow you get lost along the way.'

But he is also taking on board lessons from Wendy and Lucy by Kelly Reichardt, a film shown to him by his Wild Card mentor, film editor Nico Leunen. 'It shows what you can do in a minimalistic film. It's very powerful.' (i)

Published on Friday 30 August 2013

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