“When I shoot, I look for real things”
by Thomas Humphrey
- Cineuropa caught up with Jan-Willem van Ewijk ahead of the Dutch release of his second feature, Atlantic.
Jan-Willem van Ewijk’s Atlantic. [+see also:
interview: Jan-Willem van Ewijk
film profile] tells the story of a man so spellbound by the lure of greener pastures that he tries to windsurf 300 miles to get there. There are some mesmerising technical feats along the way, and Atlantic. is both beautifully mythical and existential.
Cineuropa: There are some stunning aerial shots in Atlantic.; could you tell us how you achieved them?
Jan-Willem van Ewijk: Well, windsurfing is really fast, so I knew we’d need a helicopter to capture stable wide shots. We didn’t have a big budget, so we crowdfunded $35,000, and that gave us one day with a helicopter. You can imagine how stressful that was. But yeah, the camera was mounted on a “Stab C” camera mount, which keeps everything really fluent and steady. It was expensive, but we wanted the best.
Then you have some jerky, intimate footage right in amongst the waves, too.
Yes, there, Jasper the cameraman was using a “Scubacam”, a sort of rubber bag. So we had the Alexa in this bag. It was pretty epic - I mean, he’s really in the waves. We also had a “Dobber”, which is like a special rubber tire with a little metal frame that holds the camera above the water.
Were you trying to emulate extreme sports films in these scenes?
Yes: windsurfers have a rich culture of film. They’re often filming themselves with GoPros, so I wanted to capture that feeling for sure. But I wanted it to be cinematic. Actually, the shots where they’re flying overhead are done with a huge camera: Jasper would operate the camera, and I’d point him in the right direction. So the two of us would be in these giant waves. We both lost about ten kilos doing it! It really gives a feeling of being in the action, though. Then, with this cinematic quality and the story, I believe we transcended the sports film.
Were you also trying to blend fiction with documentary by acting in your film and using non-professional actors?
Very much so. I love fiction and write scripts; but when I shoot, I look for real things, which are not in the script. Or I look for some sense of reality by casting real people. And Fattah, the lead actor, was amazing. He was essentially the king of the village, because he’d started this little restaurant where surfers would come. But whenever I saw him, he’d be staring out to sea, and there was this absence in his eyes that I loved. He inspired the script a lot, so I was super happy when I saw he could act.
Your film is quite focused on your Moroccan lead and Moroccan culture, but it’s funded by the Dutch Film Fund. Do you think the DFF is now promoting diversity on the big screen?
I think they are more and more. It’s still difficult to make a non-Dutch-language film and get it funded mainly by the Dutch Film Fund. They obviously want to invest primarily in Dutch culture, but I hope the Dutch Film Fund will start focusing more on investing in Dutch talent, and not just on telling Dutch stories.
What made you tell the story of an African émigré?
We always said this was not an immigration or migration narrative. I wanted to make a movie about the boys in this village and their dreams (which are mostly about Europe because they’d heard about it so much). I find people who come to Europe were often doing okay, but they just have this incredible desire for another life or place. I wanted to explore this.
That seems like a very fundamentally human story. Were you influenced by classical mythology in this respect?
That’s a nice question because it makes me realise that I haven’t spoken about this in a long time. But my co-writer, Abdelhadi Samih, who I met in the village we shot in, loved classical stories. He knew all the classics and would often speak about Icarus or The Odyssey. So that definitely must have made its way in.
You also developed the film in conjunction with the Sundance Lab. There does seem to be something of the American Dream in Atlantic.; do you think it has potential to sell to the American market?
[Laughs.] Of course, I should tell you, “Yes.” But yes, there is quite a heroic, American aspect to it, with the guy following his dream until the very end. The film is definitely influenced by the Sundance Lab and my own background of living in America as a kid, too.