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Interview with director Charlot Van Heeswijk

  • Was there a particular event or time that you recognized that filmmaking is your way of telling stories?

Creating things and making art always felt very natural to me and it’s just something I’ve always done, in some way or another. I never stopped finding new ways to express myself growing up – filmmaking was one of them. For me, it’s a way to cope with reality and make sense of it, actually.

  • Do you think it is essential to go to a film institute in order to become a successful filmmaker?

No, I definitely don’t think it’s necessary. Although I am saying this despite hoping to get accepted to a state-funded film school one day… I have applied to film school twice and to art school once. FREI_RAUM was my application film, actually. It’s tough competition, and they only accept 6-8 new students each year. It’ll make funding your projects a lot easier and you’ll be in the same boat with a bunch of very talented people. There’s an intellectual exchange going on, which can be a good fuel for your own work. At the same time, I’m beginning to think that it might just not be the right path for me. There’s other options out there and you might have to work a little harder, but I’ve come this far already and I know I can keep going.

  • Is it harder to get started or to keep going? What was the particular thing that you had to conquer to do either?

I find myself having to convince me that I’m on the right path at the end of every month. Earning enough money to pay my bills and live off has been a is a big issue. I work on a lot of low-budget gigs and agree to working for free still more than I should – sure, there are commercial gigs on the side and I could focus on those but then again when would I find the time to develop my own projects? Finding a balance between passion projects and paid gigs has been tough but it’s doable.

  • What was the most important lesson you had to learn that has had a positive effect on your film? How did that lesson happen?

Less is more.

  • What were the production realities from casting through editing that you had to accommodate? How did you navigate those compromises or surprises and still end up with a cohesive film?

To be honest, I really did make it easy for me this time around. Because I had about a week to prepare and shoot, I wanted it to be as little of a hassle as possible. Everyone you see in the film is either a friend of mine or an actual person sitting on the Underground, since parts are documentary footage. I asked Patrizia, the woman who inspired me to make this film, to play the main role. She is a professional dancer and the way she carries herself was exactly what I needed – I had also collaborated with her before on a music video. Because I had no money we were shooting inside the underground without a permit which meant it had to be quick and dirty. I was shooting on my own shaky little shoulder set-up, and had another friend help me out with the sound. In the end I did foley most of it anyway since public space are just a pain to record clean sound in.

  • What was the hardest artistic choice you made in the making of a film, at any stage in production?

One of the hardest decisions for me is deciding which parts I choose NOT no show. When am I showing information, when am I holding it back and which parts of the story do I leave for the viewer to fill in? I’m first dealing with these questions when writing the script and then later on in the editing room again – When to cut away, when to let a shot breathe…. It’s what gives a film it’s rhythm so it’s helpful to have a second pair of eyes when making these important decisions.

  • You are a collaborator. How have you discovered members of your team and how do you keep the relationship with them strong?

Even if you might not think it, Berlin is very small and close-knit. Everyone knows everyone through someone. Naturally, you tend to hang around with people who share your interests, so a lot of my friends also work in film. For „FREI_RAUM“ I decided to keep my team as small and close as possible. I didn’t want it to be a hassle and I knew I could do most things on my own so I only asked a couple close friends who work in film to help me out with the sound and slate during the shoot. All of the actors and extras were also close friends. I’ve been asking around for people to work on low- and no-budget projects one too many times; so this time I decided not to make a big fuss and keep it simple.

  • What do audiences want? And is it the filmmaker’s role to worry about that?

Some want a distraction, something that lets them forget about how their wife is leaving them and their life is turning to shit. Some crave a complex, rich and gripping experience, which they can ponder about for days. But it is not the filmmaker’s role to deliver to those expectations. What is more important is a filmmaker’s intention. What are you trying to say, actually? You can’t control how this message is going to be perceived but in my opinion, if you do your job right, the film should give the viewer an opportunity to understand that intention.

  • What role have film festivals played in your life so far? Why are they necessary? How do you get the most out of them?

I’m happy if a film makes it out of my circle of friends and family and is seen by people who don’t know me. Getting feedback from strangers is incredibly valuable! Unfortunately, I can’t attend every screening, but if it’s a local one, festivals are a great opportunity to meet and connect with other filmmakers.

  • Do you believe that a filmmaker should be original and fresh or he/she should stick to classic but safe cinema style?

I believe that it’s always good to adopt a childlike curiosity when making a film and see where it takes you. It helps to have an understanding of classic cinema styles and a solid base to fall back on in case something doesn’t work out but one shouldn’t be afraid to stay from the beaten path and take the road less travelled.