"Plot is important, but definitely not the only thing that drives the film"
by Boyd van Hoeij
- Director David Lammers talks about the language of his feature film debut and its relative importance
Cineuropa: Would you say Northern Light [+see also:
interview: David Lammers
interview: Jeroen Beker
film profile] is a particularly Dutch or European film?
David Lammers: In the end, what is important is that one tells a story that could appeal to people all over the world; that is my ambition. The films that I like most are the films that are about people and what makes them tick, how they deal with life wherever they are in the world. I don’t think that a film becomes more international if all of sudden you go abroad; the locality has little to do with the universality of the film, though I make films in Dutch set in the Netherlands. The details that you need in the setting of the story come from one specific place and you can only include those that are within your reach. For me it is important to be able to talk to the people living in the environment portrayed, to get an understanding of how it really operates. I could never make or write a film about opium trading in Shanghai, for example, because I would always only scratch the surface; I would get stuck in clichés.
How did you reunite the general portrait of a summer in an Amsterdam neighbourhood with the more specific story of the difficult father-son relationship in the film?
Actually, when writing, these two ideas keep going back and forth. I like to show something of the surroundings but only as long as it is interesting on its own. Then I move back to the story, until I get bored with that and move back to the surroundings. I cannot just focus on the story; it would be too one-dimensional. My aim is to tell stories on several levels in each scene. For example in the scene in which one of the guys in the neighbourhood passes to tell that Mitchel can work at his father’s place, he brings along a bunch of grapes, which makes him look like a Greek God. But the idea is of course that there is probably a mother behind this young lad who told him to take some grapes along since Mitchel is all alone. This tells something about neighbourhood relationships and at the same time I get the information across that is important in the scene, namely that he has found a job.
How did you work on the dialogues, since they are so natural? Was everything fixed before shooting or did they come about as a result of working with the actors and locals who worked as extras?
I wrote most of the dialogue, though the actors did make their own contributions in some more improvised scenes. I am very often in the neighbourhood portrayed in the film and of course I watch the inhabitants and I listen to their conversations, which I then channel in my writing. I have been listening to people and trying to write down what they are saying even before I started making films. It is really interesting to analyse the spoken language of people. These reflections on words are also important because I do not want them to gain too much prominence in the film; they should not be the pillars on which the story rests. At first the father talks incessantly, though he does not actually say that much, and gradually he starts talking less, and when he finally shuts up, he can start considering what has happened. The father mostly does the opposite of what he says. For his character, what he says is not the most important thing, but speaking a lot is a definite character trait of his. That said, I do enjoy some of the words and turns-of-phrase that his character uses.
Despite its heavy subject, Northern Lights is frequently very funny. How important is humour for this film?
Humour is very important, almost essential. It is perfect to contrast the heavier and more dramatic parts. It is also the way I like to look at life myself; I love to have a good laugh about something really stupid that I did. In films it is always a balancing act –you have to find the right place to put in the humour. Putting it where it does not belong will gnaw at the seriousness of your drama, which is very dangerous.
Did you have a specific audience in mind when working on this film?
No, not really. I do not think about a target audience and I do not want to make "target audience films". I hope that, when people see it, they will be moved and the film will mean something for them. I imagine that the audience for this film consists of people who would like to see something different. Let me put it this way: I try to make films that are insanely watchable; films that have not exhausted their possibilities after one viewing. I myself prefer that kind of films – or books for that matter – and I try to analyse why they keep me returning to those works and it is at least partially because there are also many things going on in the background that are worthy of mention. In my films, plot is important, but definitely not the only thing that drives the film.
Langer Licht (Northern Light) (2006)
Official Selection of the Tiger Competition, International Film Festival Rotterdam
Allerzielen (All Souls) (segment Stofwolk) (2005)
Veere (short) (2005)
Tiger Cub Award for the Best Short Film at the International Film Festival Rotterdam
Snacken (TV) (2004)
Langs de grote weg (TV) (2003)
Oud en nieuw (short) (2002)
De laatste dag van Alfred Maassen (Alfred Maassen's last day) (short) (2001)
Golden Calf for Best Short Film at the Dutch Film Festival Official Selection Cinéfondation, Cannes Film Festival