The generation of students that graduated this year from the Dutch Film Academy and the film courses at the various art academies and colleges have one thing in common: they completed their studies during the pandemic and therefore had to spend a large part of their time behind their desks, a zoom screen or with small, scaled-down productions learn their trade and determine their position in a highly competitive industry. And that while film is a social medium, making is a group process, a sum.
And then the world opened up again and they could start making their movies. About seventy were submitted to the Netherlands Film Festival (NFF) this year, thirty of which were selected and nine nominated for the four student prizes awarded on Monday at the NFF in Utrecht. As usual, they tell many personal stories. But it is also striking that all those nominees look from the small to something bigger. While there was quite a lot of nagging in Dutch graduation films in the past decade, especially in comparison with other countries, this year a more settled impression dominates. Could it be because the creators had more time to think? To watch other films and thus build a larger frame of reference? Are you learning to make movies not only with your hands, on set, but also with your eyes, in front of a screen?
Alienation and Disconnection
The EY Talent Award went to the film poem Void Between Us and the NFF Talent Award was presented to the light magic-realist About a pastor on rain boots. Both films respectively seek a visual and a scenario-technical form to express a sense of alienation and disconnection.
The KNF prize of Dutch film journalism went to the HKU graduation film frantic attempts who found a satirical form for the questions of life that arise from that same feeling of not being able to make contact with the world (anymore). A mudfucker-like eternal adolescent is sent to a sense-making course by his pregnant girlfriend and quickly turns into a fraudulent self-help guru. Until he meets someone who is just really lost.
Rosa Ruth Boesten, who graduated from the Film Academy in 2013, was also awarded on Monday. She won the Film Prize of the City of Utrecht for best debut for Master of Light, a portrait of painter George Morton for whom his art is a way to rehabilitate after his imprisonment. Her film also received the Grand Jury Prize at the Texas South by Southwest festival this spring.
Also read: Well-acted grief drama yields a heavy opening NFF
Growing up is a theme in all these films. Sometimes it doesn’t work, as in frantic attempts and in the short documentary Boy from Wood by Eva Oosterveld (Film Academy, three nominations). Fourteen-year-old Stijn is expelled from school because of aggression and substance use. He has to work in a wood workshop. Calm observational images show the hopelessness of his situation. Finding hope in half an hour of film may also be asking too much.
A portrait of ‘better late than never’ coming of age shows the beautiful melancholic stop-motion animation rotten. Anej Golcar of the Willem de Kooning Academy received two nominations for the story about sixty-year-old Harry, who finds his own voice after the death of his mother in a house where every object is an echo pit for her grumbling – thanks to a mouthpiece.
Also It Will Rain is about a coming-of-age, but on a larger scale. Director Amir Zaza, who came to the Netherlands as a refugee from Syria, processed semi-autobiographical memories about two brothers who are arrested and tortured after peaceful protests in Damascus. The flashback structure of the film constantly links life-threatening situations to a painful present. In this it becomes clear that fleeing is not only about preserving life, but also about shame and regret. The film received awards thanks to the Fentener van Vlissingen Fund Award for best artistic achievement for production designer Muhammed Berber, but as a whole is one of the most thoughtful and mature films.
The student films tell Void Between Us after still a lot of stories from men about worrying men. That says just as much about the juries as it does about the programs and the students. Throughout the weekend, the NFF discussed how the Dutch film industry should be more inclusive. A lot is already happening. But the training courses must also play an active role in this. Especially now that there has been so much time for reflection.
A version of this article also appeared in the newspaper of September 27, 2022