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"I want the audience to make their own story"

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Martijn Maria Smits • Director

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- We caught up with Dutchman Martijn Maria Smits, the director of Waldstille, at the Arras Film Festival

Martijn Maria Smits • Director

After rising to prominence in competition at Rotterdam in 2010 with C'est déjà l'été, Dutch director Martijn Maria Smits is back with his second fictional feature: Waldstille [+see also:
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interview: Martijn Maria Smits
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]
. After making its debut in the New Directors section of San Sebastián, the film went on to compete at the 17th Arras Film Festival, where we had the opportunity to meet this promising filmmaker.

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Cineuropa: Although it is broached differently, the subject of family lies at the heart of Waldstille, as it does in C'est déjà l'été. What attracts you to this theme?
Martijn Maria Smits: I find the subject of family very interesting, as it involves relationships that are forced to a certain extent. We don’t choose our families, we’re tied to them and have to make do with them. I come from a very small village, I actually know very little about my parents’ past and I’m not all that close to my brothers. This is without a doubt typical of villages in the Northern Netherlands: we don’t share our emotions, and we keep our frustrations to ourselves.  Each of my films has its own origins, but generally speaking, I come up with an idea for a story, the guiding thread, and then I project myself into it. I put myself in the shoes of the characters. For example, if I’m there, and my parents are sat at the table, what would they say? Probably nothing. It’s as if I was experimenting on my family, but I don’t need to do it in real life. Perhaps there’s some subconscious psychological element to it as well, perhaps I’m expressing a desire to reconnect with my family, which always ends up happening in my films: people are brought a bit closer together. 

The backdrop to the story of Waldstille is dramatic, but you never make things too emotional.
It’s something I’m constantly fighting myself on. I’m a bit tired of purely arthouse films. For example, I love the work of Jacques Audiard, who makes films that are very elaborate, but are completely accessible to the wider public. So sometimes, I try to move in the same direction, but then if you think about cinema as an art, what’s currently holding it back is this rigid way of telling stories. To get funding, you have to write something in which someone goes from point A to point B and ends up at C. If you stray from that, what you’re left with are emotions and truthful personal experiences. That’s why I decided to get rid of all the drama in Waldstille. You don’t see the accident, you don’t see the main character’s stretch in prison, the father-in-law isn’t malicious like he could have been, and so on and so forth. I took all that out because I want the audience to make their own story. So I tried to leave as much room for them to do that as possible, coldly moving from one scene to the next and skipping as many elements of the plot as possible to allow viewers to connect the dots themselves. Of course, the guiding thread of the plot is very much there, and there are narrative elements, but I tried to take all the dramatic bits out. 

How did you go about directing the film?
Before Waldstille, I had always worked with amateur actors and technicians. This time, I had a budget of $1 million, so I could choose the actors and technicians I wanted. Nonetheless, I think everyone tends to romanticise the role of director. You’re actually more like a ballboy for the actors. What’s most important, are the actors, followed by elements of interest in the frame behind them. Directors are, at best, like boxing coaches. The boxer handles things on his own, and when he retreats to his corner after each round, his coach gives him quick-fire tips: "I noticed you were doing this, try doing this or that".

Waldstille comes six years on from your debut feature.
I’d like to quicken the pace. I find it relatively easy to come up with ideas, but you have to sell those ideas as plots, whilst I tend to focus more on the experience and feelings. Sometimes, you pitch your project to a producer, you discuss it and then you realise that the project has deviated from what you wanted to do in the first place. Perhaps I’ll go back to making films on small budgets to allow myself more freedom.

(Translated from French)

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