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“When there is a personal aspect to the story, it has the capacity to become universal”

Industry Report: Produce - Co-Produce...

Elisa Heene • Producer, Mirage


The Belgian producer explains how she likes to bet on passion projects

Elisa Heene • Producer, Mirage

Already behind Fien Troch’s Holly [+see also:
film review
interview: Fien Troch
film profile
, which premiered in Venice’s main competition, Belgian producer Elisa Heene, the founder of Mirage, is now readying for European Film Promotion’s Producers on the Move initiative at Cannes – and for more auteur-driven films.

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Cineuropa: Do you think Holly is a good example of the kind of films you want to make?
Elisa Heene:
The way I approach my job has less to do with projects and more to do with talent. Sure, it’s a good example. I am really proud of this film, but I am even prouder of the director behind it. I always look for people who have a distinctive voice and who want to tell stories with social relevance, stories about the world we live in. Holly combined all of these things.

Mirage is a company you founded. On its website, it states you are interested in “auteur-driven” films. Many people are afraid of that, worried that so-called “auteurs” won’t listen to them.
I have never felt that the people I have worked with weren’t open to other opinions. It’s very much a shared experience to develop and realise a film together. We talk about everything: the development of the story, the team of writers or consultants needed to get to where we want to be with the script, financing strategies, casting, and the crews we want to hire. Of course, with a more experienced director like Fien, there are already people she likes to work with. But it’s all about collaboration.

You co-produced Summerlight… and Then Comes the Night [+see also:
film review
film profile
, which was director Elfar Adalsteins’ passion project. Do you like to be a part of something that’s so special to a filmmaker?
I think it’s very inspiring to work on projects that are so meaningful to someone, yes, but I also need to feel something for the story or for the person behind it. There is just something exciting about working on projects that are so personal to their makers. They usually come from a very authentic place.

The idea of what a producer does is changing in Europe now. It has to – the industry is changing as well. Which qualities do they really need these days?
Personally, I think it’s important to be flexible. Things change very quickly, and we need to adapt to new circumstances and to every single project, because they have different needs. Also, you need to be creative – even in terms of financing. I really think it’s crucial to keep an open mind and try out new solutions. Following the market’s needs is challenging. It’s changing so much, and people consume content differently, but I am sure we will strike a new balance again. I don’t like to be a pessimist – I believe there is a future for cinema. It will just evolve, and we will have to change alongside it.

We know that international co-productions are the way to go. Is it crucial to pay more attention to these collabs?
Without co-productions, I don’t think I would like my job as much as I do. It’s so important for the projects, but it’s also so enriching, to have a network of Europeans that share the same passion. It can bring so much to the film and to your professional life. Being a part of workshops like this – I also did EAVE before – is very valuable. You realise you share similar problems, and you can share this “burden” a bit. You find like-minded people who are not your direct competitors.

It seems you are not afraid of switching genres and styles, so what kind of projects are you focusing on now?
I am finishing Skiff [see the news]. It’s Cecilia Verheyden’s second film and her first personal project. She developed this story herself and co-wrote it [with Vincent Vanneste]. Then, there is the debut feature by Leni Huyghe called Real Faces – another auteur-driven film. I am also developing her next film, Nightshade. It’s an elevated genre flick and a feminist view on witchcraft. I am also working on Fien’s next film.

Elevated genre is definitely having a moment. Have you noticed that, too?
Yes, I believe it has changed quite a lot. For example, when we were talking about our projects while preparing for Producers on the Move, there was already quite some interest in Nightshade. People don’t look down on genre any more. In any case, when there is a personal aspect to the story, when it comes from an authentic place, it has the capacity to become universal. We are all human beings, and we all deal with similar emotions. When someone is able to express all of this in an intelligent way, it turns into something that others can relate to as well.

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