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Interview: Jessica Woodworth, Peter Brosens • Directors

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"To follow a man who takes control of his destiny"


- We caught up with Peter Brosens and Jessica Woodworth, whose fourth feature film, King of the Belgians, is being released this week in Belgium

Interview: Jessica Woodworth, Peter Brosens  • Directors
(© Biennale di Venezia - ASAC)

Peter Brosens and Jessica Woodworth started their careers in documentary film, before moving onto co-directing and fiction. The three films they have made together, Khadak [+see also:
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 e La Cinquième Saison [+see also:
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, were selected for major international film festivals, and their latest opus is no exception. King of the Belgians [+see also:
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 was selected for Venice, and marks a real break with their previous works in terms of form and tone. 

Cineuropa: Where did the idea for King of the Belgians come from?
Peter Brosens: From an article in the New York Times about the eruption of Eyjafjallajökull, which touched on the saga of the Estonian president, who was left stranded in Istanbul following an official visit. He urgently needed to get back to Tallinn, and his entourage improvised a journey by bus across the Balkans and Western Europe to get him home! It was a wonderful story. We replaced the president with a king, the volcano with a solar storm, and King of the Belgians was born! 

Jessica Woodworth: The king and his entourage are invisible, isolated, completely anonymous. When we decided to make the film we had reached the height of the Belgian political crisis, and this mix of elements quickly took form: a king stuck all the way across Europe who embarks on a physical and personal odyssey. 

Starting with this minor news item, what direction did you want to go in: political fiction, uchronia, science fiction?
J.W: We realised the metaphorical scope of the film on the theme of immigration, but we hadn’t anticipated the refugee crisis, which hit when we were right in the middle of the editing, or Brexit or the coup d’état in Turkey for that matter! All these echoes will enrich people’s perception of the film. Our priority wasn’t to make a political film at all, but to follow a man who takes control of his destiny.

P.B: That’s also what made a king more interesting than a president, because he was born a king, he had no choice. He is emancipated and finds his identity in anonymity. 

J.W: And perhaps the potential to become an extraordinary head of state! We loved this tragic dimension to a man whose destiny has been written by others, and who decides to change tack. 

The first scene sets the tone of the film. Was this documentary approach to the subject matter and this comical break your original intention?
P.B: We actually wanted to make a "mockumentary". It’s a return to our roots, as our background is in documentary film. But it was difficult to work with a team specialising in fiction to create something resembling a documentary!

J.W: Comedy is very hard, as you have to strike a balance, and make sure the characters and the scenario remain credible on screen. To do that, we had to get it right, stay anchored in reality, and let some situations drift into the absurd. It was one of the emotional keys to the film 

What has been the film’s trajectory so far?
P.B: The film started off its career at Venice, and has already been chosen for twenty or so festivals. Be For Films has sold it internationally to Japan, Russia, Turkey, Italy, Spain, the Czech Republic, and the Baltic countries. We sold the film in Turkmenistan, but not in Belgium: it must be the Belgian paradox! So we’re releasing the film here ourselves. Exhibitors love the film, and it’s being released in all the biggest cinemas in the country. 

What are you currently working on?
P.B: We’re working on a sort of sequel, Archipelago, in which the king gets stuck in Albania and Croatia. We’re abandoning the "mockumentary" genre, we’re going to change the tone. 

J.W: It will be something completely different, but with the same characters. We want to broach the subject of fascism in Europe. This time, we’re making a real political satire. We have some fascinating characters, which we’re going to be able to look at more closely from the angle of pure fiction, almost like opera. It will be very politically engaging. We’re in a period of crisis, and us filmmakers, armed with the power of cinema, are responsible for our commitment.

(Translated from French)


international title: King of the Belgians
original title: King of the Belgians
country: Belgium, Netherlands, Bulgaria
sales agent: Be for Films
year: 2016
directed by: Peter Brosens, Jessica Woodworth
screenplay: Peter Brosens, Jessica Woodworth
cast: Peter Van Den Begin, Lucie Debay, Goran Radaković, Nathalie Laroche, Titus De Voogdt, Valentin Ganev

main awards/selection

Venice Film Festival 2016
Busan International Film Festival 2016
Les Arcs International Film Festival 2016
Liège International Comedy Film Festival 2016
Be Film Festival 2016

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