Im Rahmen des Hamburger Filmfestivals habe ich mich mit Bart Van Den Bempt unterhalten, der dort seinen berührenden Film "82 Days in April" zeigte. Das Interview wurde in einer kürzeren Version auf Nisimazine veröffentlicht und ist daher komplett auf Englisch.
Bart Van Den Bempt is an unlikely first time director. After his graduation he waited for 20 years until he presented his debut feature. I sat down with the very calm and thoughtful Belgian during the Filmfest Hamburg to discuss his film “82 Days in April” and was curious why he waited for such a long time to crawl out of his shell.
Hello Bart, I was at the audience screening of your film and you were also there. I wondered if you just arrived in the end or if you have watched your whole movie?
I was there in the beginning and at the end.
Well, do you like the screening situation?
I am happy that the film is now shown to public. We had our world premiere just four weeks ago at the Montréal Filmfestival and that was the first time it was shown with an audience and for me that was very nice. It is just a different vibe. You tend to be fed up with your own film during the editing process. It is a different experience when you are watching it with people who are looking at it for the first time. So, I enjoyed that a lot. In Montréal I attended three of the four screenings of our film. Here, in Hamburg I stayed for the first twenty minutes. It is interesting to check in a way if the audience responds like I have imagined. My film is a very serious film but still there are some lighter moments and it’s always nice to hear when they pick that up. When I hear that the audience laughs with the tiny little jokes, then I am happy and then I can leave afterwards and come back for the last twenty minutes.
The story of your films takes place in Turkey. Why?
Originally I had the idea on a flight back from Kirgizstan to Brussels. I just spent four nice weeks in Kirgizstan and it was a rather horrible flight back. So during that flight I was imagining that we were going to crash and I tried to imagine how my parents would cope with that. I came up with the idea that they would go to Kirgizstan and retrace my footsteps there and make this a ritual journey. That was the beginning of “82 Days in April”. But Kirgizstan although in my opinion it is the most beautiful country on earth, it is not the most practicable country. At that time there was no film infrastructure whatsoever, there were hardly any decent roads. So, my producer didn’t think it was a good idea to shoot it there. Turkey was a very obvious alternative because I have been travelling this country a lot after graduating as a film student. Actually one of the first countries I visited as a backpack student was Turkey. That was back in 1988 and it was a very different country than it is now. Anyway, I travelled a lot in the Middle East, Caucasus and Middle Asia and I always had the romantic idea that you should not take an airplane and this is why I always came back across Turkey and I know that country quite well. Moreover it has a film industry, it has a film history, and it has got production companies, crews and stuff. Besides it has diverse landscapes as well. Maybe they are not as wild as in Kirgizstan but still they are very interesting and it was manageable to shoot there. Another good thing for me was that I knew all the places in my head. So, when I was writing the script I didn’t have to do much research, I just knew the places I was writing about. I could place all the scenes in particular areas of Turkey. That is important because for me the places and also the climate can be seen as a metaphor for the characters in the film. It begins all in winter and it warms up until the end when the parents get closer to each other.
Turkish landscapes serving as a metaphor for the people and their story reminds me a lot about the films of Nuri Bilge Ceylan, especially “Climates”. Are you familiar with his films and Turkish cinema in general?
Yes, I am familiar with Turkish cinema but I haven’t seen that one…well, I might have seen it.
Maybe those similarities come naturally when you are shooting in Turkey?
Yes, I think the imagery in Turkey sort of comes to you. When I talked with my DoP Rick Zang about the film in preparation we were looking for this visual language we wanted to use and we never referred to films. Our starting point was photography. We had a huge collection of ideas and plans but then at the same time we decided not to use this plans to actively. We just kept it as sort of a backup. We just wanted to go to all these locations and see what was going to happen there. Nevertheless we had to go through this preparation in order to find a common language. This way we could communicate on the set in just three words which was very important because we shot low-budget, of course, and didn’t have much time. So, the visual language we created had to tell something about the psyche of the characters. What we tried to do is to catch their confusion in our images. Maybe you have notices that there are hardly any wide shots of landscapes in-focus in the beginning of the movie because they are not there as tourists, they are imprisoned in their own little world. The more they travel, the more the images open up, the wider the lenses we used. And it all ends in this wide end shot where you can finally see the world as if they were waking up again or something like that. That was more or less the visual idea.
Yeah, in terms of cinematography I really enjoyed the movie. Your use of the cinemascope-format is outstanding. One can almost feel the absence of something. Was cinemascope the format you wanted to use from the very beginning?
Yes, I always wanted it in cinemascope even when I was writing the script. The film was shot on Alexa and we wanted to compensate the digital look. So, we used these Russian anamorphic lenses from the 1970s. Our DoP just found them somewhere. And they are great. They have this softness and a small distortion. Before the film I didn’t know about those lenses. I was very happy that Rick Zang came up with them. Cinemascope became part of our visual language. For me that is what cinema is all about, it is not just registering things but adding something to reality.
I particularly enjoyed those POV-mood shots, out of focus, not really telling something, just giving a feeling like glimpses of feet on the floor and so on. How did you come up with them?
We had the idea before but we just went for them on location without a storyboard or anything like that. We had just an abstract idea of it. And the photographs we looked at in pre-production were our common memory. Usually we first shot the scene with hardly any art direction, with no electrical light sources, just available light. After we had the action and dialogues had been done Rick would stay in the room for 15 minutes and he would do all sorts of inserts and I would join him later and suggest some more. We ended up having this reservoir of imagery. We had so much material that it was difficult to make a choice. The funny thing is that I now have a side project with the composer. He asked me to make a music video and as we have no budget we just use all these left inserts. Last week I sat down with an editor and we had 2 hours and 40 minutes of these inserts. We have plenty of them to make more video clips. I am really happy that they can be recycled
I would love to see Terrence Malick doing that.
Yeah, that would be great.
On a visual level the feelings transported so well for me. Personally, I would not have needed the music; it almost feels like you are doubling the emotions there. But after the screening you said that the music speaks its own language. Maybe you can say something about that?
I am really happy with the soundtrack. The composer is Arve Henriksen, he is a Norwegian trumpet player. He is a jazz player but he has his very own musical language where he operates somewhere between ambient, jazz and electronic music. I came across his music when I was writing the first draft. I started to buy some CDs of him and heard them while I was working. Suddenly I realized that there was some sort of interaction between his music and my words. I began imagining how it would be to use his music in my film. Then someone of production contacted him and he wanted to read the script and he was interested. In the film we use a mixture of songs that were already released by him, new versions of old songs and original new material. His music is very versatile; I had to narrow it down a little to keep it fitting. For me the music is an important aspect in the film. It relates to the emotions. Obviously, you are supposed to feel what the characters are feeling. But it also refers to the absence of the son. In our visual approach we asked ourselves: Where is the son in the image? We had our own answer for that and it doesn’t matter if the audience picks that up or not. For the music it is more or less the same. In the end of the mix I lowered the volume. My sound designer Srdjan Kurpjel he is used to big movies and he loves to play it big and loud. But I wanted it introspective, it is an introspective film. It seemed clear to us from the very beginning that it is not easy for a viewer to get into our story. The music plays an important role here; it seduces you to get into the universe of the parents. You can get lost with them.
Now, we can switch to the screenplay. Is it right you worked as a psychologist?
I never worked. That’s wrong information in the official program. I just studied and graduated and right after graduation I started film school in Brussels. I never went back to psychology after that.
Does that background help you while you are writing a screenplay?
Probably, yes. I’m not really aware of it and I don’t take out my notes of the university. But I wanted to become a psychologist because I think I have sensitivity towards people or whatever. Probably I have that when I am on a set or when I am writing, too. It’s just part of my personality.
I’ve read that after film school you did not make a film for 20 years. “82 Days of April” is your debut after a long, long time. Why?
You mean, what went wrong? (laughs)
Yeah, what went wrong? Maybe it is not really wrong to do that. I’ve read an interview with Andrzej Żuławski where he was asked why he hasn’t made a film for years, and he just said: I was reflecting.
Yeah, that’s more or less it. I absorbed. I remember in the last year f film school one of the teachers asked us: How do you see your near future? And everyone was like: Yeah, two short films in two years and then within three to five years a feature film. And I just thought, well, they are ambitious. I just wanted to travel. I started travelling during my studies but it was restricted because I always had to go back to school. I wanted to travel for a long time and just see what comes across my way. After graduation I worked for a year in discotheques and bars in order to make some money. Then I took off and started travelling around the world on a cargo ship.It was a very important phase in my life. But at the same time, when I came back, I was outside of everything. Life had gone on without me. All my fellow students had shot their short films. Sometimes that can be hard. But I am well aware that I wouldn’t have made “82 Days in April” 15 years ago. I became partner in a production company in Antwerp, they made commercials. I’ve done that for seven years and it was okay because it all was exercises. You had to produce one clip every two weeks. Moreover there was a lot of money involved. So you had all these possibilities financially. It was a very good school but in terms of content it is the lowest of the lowest. So naturally it was a struggle for me. I directed about 100 commercials in seven years. I was fed up with it and quitted. I reoriented myself and started working for television. Reality-TV, with people buying a new house and we were following them and stuff. Nothing really exciting but it gave me time to start thinking about and actually writing on “82 Days in April”. For the last two years I was focusing on this project only. I am happy how it came together, I took me quite some time but I guess my life just goes slow. That’s the pace of my life. I became a father very late, we bought a house very late. I’m slow.
Is there a next project?
Yes, there is. We got writing subsidies to do a script. That script has been finished more than a year ago. Then we applied for development funding but the French officials said we should first finish “82 Days in April” and then we’ll see. So, it’s in the pipeline basically. In the meantime I am writing on a TV-series with a good friend of mine and I love the process of that. I wrote an opening scene and sent it to him, and then he wrote the next scene and sent it to me and so on. It’s like a ping-pong game. Once in a while we sit together and talk about the direction we want to go. It’s a great process that I enjoy very much. It’s full of surprises; you try to impress each other.
Is that how you survive financially as a filmmaker?
Well, television pays okay. You have to spend a lot of time and work hard but in the end you make as much many as if you were in advertisement. I make my money with that. But when you get subsidies you can live from that while making a film. With “82 Days of April” I could stretch that period to almost two years. On the other hand a lot of my income went in the film, almost fifty percent. If I hadn’t done that I could have survived longer from the subsidies. But you have to combine it with other things. That is the sad reality of working in film.
My final question is about the title of the film, which I really like. It is part of a love letter in the film. Where did the title come from?
The title has always existed in my head which is kind of strange. It is a sentence I wrote down twenty years ago. At that time it was “82 days in January” (laughs). I have all this notebooks with ideas at home. Once in a while I browse through them and this little sentence has always been in my mind.