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Daan Bakker • Director

“I wanted the film to convey a condition, rather than a development”


- Dutch director Daan Bakker talks to us about his feature debut, Quality Time, Samuel Beckett, dark humour and the influence of theatre on his work

Daan Bakker  • Director

Dutch director Daan Bakker introduced his first feature-length outing, Quality Time [+see also:
film review
interview: Daan Bakker
film profile
, earlier this year at the International Film Festival Rotterdam, where he bagged the MovieZone Award. Quality Time is an idiosyncratic portmanteau film revolving around the central topic of the contemporary man in crisis, captured in varying styles but always tinged with black humour and absurdity. Cineuropa got the chance to talk to the director on the occasion of the movie’s domestic release on 27 April, courtesy of September FilmM-Appeal handles the international sales.

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Cineuropa: Your first feature, Quality Time, despite comprising five separate units, deals with the overall theme of males in crisis. Does this topic reflect the current universal social climate?
Daan Bakker: I started out with a story about one man, but as I progressed, I felt like his story was pushing me in a direction I wasn’t comfortable with. Every time he made some sort of progress, I lost interest. I found out I wanted the film to convey a condition, rather than a development. As a result, my main character split into five men, and each one got their own chapter. Together, they form one portrait of a state of mind painted from different angles.

Why did you choose dark humour, or even absurdism, to explore the topic?
I use humour to put things into perspective for myself and, consequently, for the audience. I have an urge to ridicule things that bother me, like insecurity, depression or anxiety, because I want to make them less powerful. Using humour or absurdism wasn’t really a choice, but I can’t imagine this film without them. Most ideas in the film started out like small fragments or images that somehow seemed funny or intriguing to me. A seemingly silly idea can be important because it’s often connected to something more substantial – a bit like a dowsing rod showing you where to dig.

To what extent did you benefit from your background and experience in theatre for this movie?
I’ve been drawing inspiration from the theatre in many ways. Samuel Beckett, for one, was a big influence when I was in my early twenties. I found most of his writing incomprehensible at first. But when performed, it came alive, transcending story and psychology, revealing the human condition. Like Beckett, I strongly feel the world is characterised by absurdity. He linked his bleak outlook on human existence to minimalist staging, which appealed to me. Theatre, more than film, introduced me to the power of abstraction. Another important discovery was mask work, and puppet and object theatre, which invites the audience to project its own humanity onto the characters, bringing them alive. I try to implement these principles in film. The aim is to create an experience by actively collaborating with the viewer’s imagination rather than making a visual illustration of a story. 

The five stories differ in form, style and genre. What research did you undertake into these stylistic, formal and genre varieties?
I believe form and substance are inseparable, and these stories presented themselves accompanied by specific ideas about their form. There wasn’t much research to do, because the ideas came intuitively, but of course I did discuss the specifics of the execution in great detail with my team. The variation in styles becomes the form of the overall film, so we talked about how to create balance, ensure a distinct feel to each chapter and minimise stylistic overlap.

What is the inspiration behind the segment reminiscent of video games, with the dialogue appearing on screen instead of being spoken?
When you enter this world, you’re faced with a multitude of rules, codes and expectations; there’s a functioning infrastructure and a basic idea of what your trajectory should be. So it’s not unlike entering a video game. My film shows people who are having trouble mastering this game. Concerning the use of texts, that idea came mostly from looking at gif images. I found it interesting that many gif versions of scenes were much more effective than the original videos that had sound: replacing sound with written dialogue struck me as a principle I could use for the film. It activates your imagination, as you hear the voices in your mind.

Which of the five segments was the hardest to make?
The second one – Stefaan. I had made some big changes to the script shortly before the shoot, causing some unrest among the crew. During the edit, we had to work for a long time on this chapter to get the balance right. 

How did the Oversteek project help you with your debut feature?
My film was not easy to pitch, because of its unusual nature. The Oversteek project aims to give directors who it feels have an authentic vision a chance to make their first feature film. I was very fortunate that they decided to put their trust in me. I think this film would have been very difficult to make otherwise.

What projects are you planning to work on in the near future?
I’m working on several plans at the moment. My main focus now is on two feature-film projects. One is similar to Quality Time in the sense that it has a fragmented structure and examines the human condition. It’s an idea that I’ve been working on on and off for a long time, and it’s part fiction and part documentary. The other is a tragic comedy about grief and friendship. That one is much more conventional, with an actual narrative that makes sense.

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