A Brilliant Dose of Irony
By Cornelis Hähnel. Belgium can convince visitors with a small but fastidious film scene. As early as the 1920s directors like Henri Storck, Antoine Castille or Charles Dekeukeleire have produced seminal masterpieces in the area of avant-garde and documentary filmmaking; the so-called "Belgian School" has left a distinct mark in the European traditions of the social documentary film. Later in that century, André Delvaux (De man die zijn haar kort liet knippen; 1966), Chantal Akerman (Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles; 1975), Marion Hänsel (Im Herzen des Landes; 1985) and Alain Berliner (Ma vie en rose; 1997) confirmed the image of a highly expressionistic Belgian film culture.
Film in Flanders
But still there is a misconception that "Belgian filmmaking" doesn't exist. Especially in the cinema one could see the division between Flanders and Wallonia, as both regions feature distinctively different characteristics, perspectives, partialities and audiences. The Flemish cinema is said to be radical and unwieldy in both style and substance, and indeed genres like thrillers and action movies are highly regarded there. Films like EX-DRUMMER (2007, Koen Mortier) or the dark thriller DE ZAAK ALZHEIMER (2003, Erik van Looy; one of Belgium's most successful feature film) seem to fortify this idea. But with C’EST ARRIVÉ PRÈS DE CHEZ VOUS (Man Bites Dog, 1992, Belvaux/ Bonzel/ Poelvoorde) Wallonia too proves to be able to produce radical movies.
The Walloon film scene is said to have a tendency towards drama and to be close to the French cinema traditions. Representative of that are the brothers Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne with films like L’ENFANT (2005) and LE SILENCE DE LORNA (2008). Then there are films like ELDORADO (2008, Bouli Lanners) or the drama BEN X (2007, Nic Balthazar), where the characteristics of both regions seem to melt together until they're indistinguishable. It seems as if the chasm between the two Belgian film cultures might just as well be a self-fulfilling prophecy, which has its main origins in the social conflicts between Flemings and Walloons.
At last in the respect of financial subsidies there is a clear divide. While the film industry in the francophone part of the country is assisted by the CCAV (Centre du Cinéma et de l'Audiovisuel) with approx. 14 Mio. euros, the VAF (Vlaams Audiovisueel Fonds) with its annual budget of 12.5 Mio. euros is responsible for the Flemish counterpart. Besides that Belgium also provides a special incentive system based on the "tax shelter" principle – an additional article of Belgian income tax law nationally assigns fiscal benefits, which are supposed to encourage the production in the audiovisual industry. Any Belgian production company participating in the financing of an audiovisual production can make 150% of that sum tax deductible – if the production company commits itself to spending at least 90% of those investments within Belgium. So recent commercial success came almost unnoticed to Belgium in form of their co-productions of feature films such as IRINA PALM (Sam Garbarski, 2007), LADY CHATTERLEY (Pascale Ferran, 2006) or GOODBYE BAFANA (Bille August, 2007). The small country seems to follow a course that is as idiosyncratic as it is surprising on all kinds of levels.
Belgian film festivals
Belgian film festivals feature an astonishing diversity, too. Instead of massive international festivals the country is specialized on topic-, genre- or regionally-themed shows. The Brussels International Festival of Fantastic Films is renowned in its field all over the world, the Flanders International Film Festival Ghent, founded 1974, constitutes the country's biggest festival and is specialized in the influence of music in film. The francophone Festival International du Film d’Amour (FIFA) in Mons has a focus on love stories. The tricks of the trade can meanwhile be learned (amongst other institutions) at the Institute des Arts de Diffusion, at the Hogeschool Sint-Lukas Brussel and at the Institute National Suprieur des Arts du Spectacle et Techniques de diffusion.
The Belgian film scene seems unafraid and courageous, always ready to walk the untravelled roads – which makes a definition decidedly difficult. So it's no wonder the official tourist website "Wallonia-Brussels" (www.opt.be) states: "It is of immense importance to take the originality of our cinematic works and its questioning of identities with a brilliant dose of irony." Maybe that's why this film culture seems so vibrant.