The European Independent Film Festival 2022
8th - 10th April 2022
Sam Geyskens, Vincent Everaerts
& Lander Haverals
Section: European Documentary
When Valerie calls her son Charly to inform him of her recent relapse and last suicide attempt, their relationship is put on tenterhooks. Charly still can’t seem to cut ties with Valerie, and Valerie realises that she must fight an uphill battle with addiction to save what’s left of her family ties.
Hey Sam, Vincent & Lander, thank you for talking to The New Current, how have you been holding up during these very strange times?
Lander: Let’s say just like the virus itself: With a lot of ups and downs.
Luckily none of our close friends or family became gravely ill and the new challenges that came with filmmaking during a pandemic, have, in retrospect, in some ways also forced us as filmmakers to reinvent ourselves and think outside the box from time to time.
Sam: But let’s say also we are all very happy that in Belgium most of the Covid measurements have been cancelled.
Vincent: Difficult winters but lovely summers!
Has this time offered you any new creative inspiration or opportunities?
Lander: During the first wave of the pandemic there wasn’t actually much time to overthink or delve into new creative grounds as we mainly had to focus on getting the ongoing tv-show and series made within the new boundaries of shooting. Nevertheless, once everything found a new balance and we went through several lockdowns, and the extra time and space that came it with, this created the ideal environment to chase a longtime dream and start writing my first screenplay.
Sam: Yes, because there wasn’t much to do, you couldn’t see people or you couldn’t go out so that created a lot of time and space. I used that time to start making music, that’s how I came about to make the music for the short film.
Vincent: Due to being kept inside and the time to overthink a lot of stuff the urge to go out and actually shoot inspiring people/situations as we did for “Meander” made us extremely driven to do whatever it took and make this film to the best of our capabilities.
Congratulations on having Meander part of the 17th ÉCU Film Festival, what does it mean to you to be screening your film in Paris?
Lander: It’s obviously a great honour and privilege to have our film screened at such an amazing festival. Last year my documentary “Quatre-mains” was part of the 16th ÉCU Film Festival, but couldn’t be screened live due to the pandemic. Therefore, being able to attend a live screening of ‘Meander’ will be all the more special this year. Nothing beats the experience of sitting in a room full of people watching something you created. This connection with an audience is a rare but precious thing in our line of work.
Sam: We are very happy to have our screening in Paris. While making the film we were hoping to reach an audience that would go further than our own country, Belgium.
Addiction in a context of family is a worldwide topic and happens in families all around us. We want to show that it is important to be able to talk about it so we are very happy that the film will be screened in France.
Vincent: We are honoured to have our film screened at your festival. I also always hoped to show the film outside Belgium one day, so this is a very nice opportunity.
"But by daring to at least show in an honest way the vulnerability of people, and through this evoke emotions with an audience, I hope to at least make people think for a couple of moments about topics most people rather avoid in daily conversation."
Can you tell me how Meander came about, what was the inspiration behind your documentary?
Lander/Sam/Vincent: The film started as a collaboration with “Te Gek!?.” “Te Gek!?” Is a Belgian organisation that tries to break taboos and make difficult topics concerning mental health issues (such as addiction and suicide) more approachable for a bigger audience.
Last year they launched a campaign to try and open the discussion about this topic.
In light of this campaign we were asked to provide some audiovisual content for an exposition. After meeting so many beautiful people who dared to share their stories concerning addiction, we felt there was so much more to this than just the planned interviews and we decided to dive deeper and also make a feature documentary about parent-children relationships scarred by addiction.
"Meander" is a short film that is extracted from this feature documentary called ‘Between Us’. The storyline of Valerie and Charlie was one of the three storylines of the longer film. Just when we started filming Valerie told us that after several years of being clean, she has overdosed. Due to the long-term relationship we already built with her for the exposition and the feature documentary project, she agreed to let us incorporate this dramatic moment in the film. Because this felt so special, we decided to make a different short film only about this crucial moment in the relationship between a mother and her son. We wanted to challenge ourselves and explore how we could convey a great, more universal story with just this specific moment.
Whilst working on a short film documentary like Meander how close where you able to keep to your production plan when you started filming?
Lander/Sam/Vincent: As mentioned previously, the end result of Meander is completely different from the plan we initiated. The starting idea was to provide testimonials for an exposition and a feature documentary.
Since most of the testimonials we shot for the exposition were stories that happened in the past, we wanted to make it as visual as possible, with a strong leading voice-over that would support these images.
Before filming we went on a weekend together to make a scenario for the long documentary.
When we came back from this writing weekend we had a call from Valerie that she had a relapse. For us as filmmakers it was a very special situation because we were very close to Valerie and her son. We therefore felt like we had a unique chance to show in an intimate way the true damage addiction can cause between a mother and her son.
"Meander" therefore, is in itself also a "meander" for us; a consequential, organic sidestep. The visual style and characters remained very close to the production plan, but for the short film we opted for a more abstract, pure and simple narration in the edit.
Suicide and addiction are global issues that are really causing real serious social issues, did you have any apprehension about making a documentary on such an important issue?
Lander: As a result of growing up with a brother struggling with psychosis who later in life decided to take his own life, I have been compelled to tell stories about mental suffering right from the beginning of my career. "Meander" therefore wasn’t my first (nor will it probably be my last) film about mental health issues. As a filmmaker I think I have an enormous responsibility to at least try and tell stories that go beyond just entertainment. Who else can get the utmost attention of an audience that is willing to sit down in a dark room and listen to what you have to say without any interruptions. As daunting is this might be sometimes I still love to try and start a conversation with the films I make. I’m no specialist and never want to pretend I know more about these topics than anyone else. But by daring to at least show in an honest way the vulnerability of people, and through this evoke emotions with an audience, I hope to at least make people think for a couple of moments about topics most people rather avoid in daily conversation.
Sam: Before "Meander" Lander and I made a documentary series on internment in Belgian. Several of the persons we were filming back then also had been struggling with an addiction or have gone through suicidal attempts in their life.
Making that series already gave me a strong insight of the minds of people who struggle with problems like that and made me see the damage that it can cause.
Vincent: In a way, yes. I don't have any stories in my personal life that are directly linked to such themes. But you want to be able to tell such sensitive topics as accurately and sensitively as possible, so that required many clear preliminary conversations with the people we were portraying as well as the many specialists concerning this topic. By thoroughly surrounding ourselves with people who had years of first hand experience with addiction and mental health, I was confident that we could tell this sensitive story the right way.
What has been the biggest challenge you've faced bringing Meander to life and looking back is there anything you would have done differently on this film?
Sam/Lander/Vincent: Normally, what is very difficult with fragile topics such as addiction is gaining trust from the people you want to film. Charly and Valerie were very open about their story and were very willing to share what has happened between them. Just as we do, they truly hope that it can warn and prevent others from having to live through situations they encountered in the past (and encountered on the moment we started filming them), or at least know that they are not the only ones fighting this uphill battle.
Sam: In my opinion the biggest challenge was to make the film about a ‘one day event’. We filmed several days with Charly and Valerie so we had enough footage to make a much longer film and have several scenes, but we didn’t find the perfect way of telling their story. Only when we decided to focus on the night they met after Valerie had a relapse, all pieces fell into place.
Vincent: For me, the hardest part was applying our outspoken fictional visual style to an uncontrollable situation. You don't work with actors who can just let you do everything over and over again, but you do work towards a certain style that is almost at odds with reality television where you would just follow these characters over the core of several days or weeks. Thanks to our strong DOP and lots of preparation, I hope we succeeded.
What was the experience like co-directing this film together and will this be something you would do again?
Lander: I studied at Brussels Film School, and still follow the same philosophies taught to me, as they tried to create all-rounders in filmmaking. One does not go there to become only a director, sound engineer or a DP. While attending, you learn all these aspects, and ultimately find the path that interests you the most. I do not wish to be just the writer or director, but rather a team player. I want my team to be the best version of themselves; the most creative and blessed to be in this line of work. We are like children in the playground. We entertain and move people, but we do so in such a way that we can still experiment every day. I just love to tell stories. If you have a good story, you will get an audience. I am constantly looking for the stories, and when I find an idea, I do as much as I can to make it into something that people can watch or share. Sam, Vincent and myself knew each other from other projects and were in many ways already trained by years of television work to be team players, which (in my opinion) resulted in a great collaboration of like-minded people.
Sam: It was very nice to work together on the film. I’ve been working together with Lander Haverals for some years now on several different documentary- and TV series and collaborating with him is always inspirational and a pleasure.
Although we’ve been to the same film school together, I had never worked with Vincent Everaerts before. It was a real pleasure which resulted in working with him for the first time. The next couple of months we will be working together on a new Belgian documentary series on music for the company we both work for.
I think I speak for the three of us when I say that we are 3 like-minded people with more or less the same vision on filmmaking but also different strengths in many ways. That makes it a very good combination!
Have you always had a passion for filmmaking and how much has your approach to your films changed since you started making films?
Lander: Yes! I’ve dreamed of being a filmmaker from a very young age. When I went to film school, I dreamed of making feature fiction films. Little did I know it would take me 15 years to finally start on my first feature fiction film. But this is without any regrets. On the contrary, my love for human interest and documentary has only grown. It’s in my experience the best way to really develop your story-telling skills and the purest way to tell a story.
My approach has changed a lot and is changing still with every project I make. Each story demands a different story-telling mechanic that suits the subject, but mainly I just love to experiment with different styles and techniques, from experimental shorts to fiction, reality tv to documentary. I just love the variation and each new challenge that comes with this profession!
Sam: Since I was a teenager I’ve had a great interest in all different kind of topics. Filmmaking is a perfect way to dive deep into a subject for a (relative) short amount of time and then move on to a different one.
I think my approach has more or less stayed the same since I started making films. I’ve always approached my subjects with openness and honesty. My way of working is being very clear from the beginning what the idea is of the film I’m making, I try to give them as much insight as I can to give them the feeling that it’s not only a film about them, but that we are making the film together.
Vincent: Definitely. From an early age I have been fascinated by cinema in all its forms. Where I once started with small fiction projects, I then happily rolled into the documentary. Discovering that documentary can really be cinema with a strong visual narration opened a lot of doors for me.
Should filmmakers continue to push the boundaries of the stories they want to tell?
Lander: Most defiantly!
Vincent: I think so. I have the feeling that the world view in general has been changing enormously in recent years. People are opening their minds more to topics where no one used to dare to say a word. I hope and believe that cinema will follow this trend. Maybe even be one step ahead. Make things negotiable.
For anyone out there thinking about getting into filmmaking or going to film school do you have any tips or advice you would offer them?
Lander: Becoming a filmmaker, is in essence easy. All you have to do is grab a camera or a phone and shoot something. It’s the next step that makes it a difficult profession in my opinion. Everyone has access to some kind of equipment that, with the right mindset and motivation, shouldn’t withhold you from doing something creative with it. It’s less easy to find the bravery to then also get it out and show it to the world what you have made. The important thing is too simply, just do it. Digest the criticism and start over again. Even when you’re willing to do all this, there’s obviously always a money question, how to make a living… find a producer or funds etc… I have been lucky enough to get the trust of two great production companies over the years, whom helped me with the right connections, finding funds, broadcasters etc… Both companies were willing to concentrate to get things made rather then to be overly concerned about profitability.
Nevertheless! The only way I was able to do this, is by not shying away from other jobs that are more commercial but provided financial stability. I just see these as great playgrounds to sharpen my skills.
Keep in mind that support is not going to come and knock on your door. You will have to get out there, make films and show the world what you’ve made. Take some risks and don’t linger too much on a rejection!
In short, grab a camera or a phone and shoot something. There’s no excuse anymore not to. Be flexible; when there’s less budget, be more creative.
But most importantly, finish what you start, even if it’s no good. I know lots of great filmmakers who have lots of good ideas, but for some reason (self criticism maybe), never seem able to finish or show a project, as they think it is not good enough. But to be able to make something good, you will have to be willing to make several bad things, how else will you be able to learn from your mistakes?!
Sam: I think that if the process of making this film has taught me anything, is that you should go out and meet people who seem interesting to you. Keep an open mind, be honest and forthcoming about your plans and ideas. That way you’ll be able to gain trust of people even in the most precarious situations.
As a student you have the gift of time that gives you the opportunity to get to know your subjects and follow them for a longer period of time. This may give you a greater insight into a subject’s life, and the subject will let you in to film things where other filmmakers aren’t able to.
Vincent: Maybe just one thing to add. Focus on small stories. A feeling between people or a small change in someone's life can often make for a very nice movie.
And finally, what do you hope people will take away from Meander?
Lander: I know from experience that mental health isn't necessarily tiresome or a subject to be swept under the carpet, but a universal problem that can affect us all. The fact that Valerie tried to end her life just at the start of our recordings nevertheless had an enormous effect on our creative process.
The harsh reality we were confronted with, which is so inherently linked to this problem for us, confirmed our duty as documentary makers. Bringing stories like this, and thus contributing to a more tolerant and inclusive society.
However, we do not take that inclusion for granted.
It is our hope that by approaching the subject with a sense of empathy, it can create more recognition. By moving and confronting the audiences we can make people think and understand things better. Which in turn,
elicits taboo-breaking and can reduce the fear of the “strange” and unknown.
Sam: Our goal is that people will get a deeper understanding about the harm an addiction can cause between relatives and between people who love each other deeply. Instead of judging addiction we hope that people will see addiction more as a disease that happens to someone instead of looking at it as if it’s a ‘choice’ of a person who suffers from an addiction.
Vincent: I hope people can put themselves for a moment in the difficult twist that the characters find themselves in. And understand them from both sides. That in a story of addiction no one is to blame but the product itself.