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IFFR 2018

David Verbeek • Director

“It took me a few days to get to know myself”


- We chatted to Dutch director David Verbeek about his seventh feature, An Impossibly Small Object, which screened at Rotterdam and has spawned an exhibition in Amsterdam

David Verbeek  • Director

Dutch director David Verbeek’s seventh feature film, An Impossibly Small Object [+see also:
interview: David Verbeek
film profile
 (which premiered at the International Film Festival Rotterdam), oozes his distinctive cinematic style. It tells a story but is also a reflection on making art, and is part of a larger work of art. The picture that the first part of the film revolves around shows a little girl and her kite, looking somewhat lost in a dark part of the city. Verbeek then moves on to telling the story of the little girl, whose parents own a restaurant and whose best friend is on the brink of emigrating to another country. The second part of the movie is set in Amsterdam, at Verbeek’s own apartment, starring his own girlfriend and well-known Dutch actors Gijs Scholten van Aschat and Lineke Rijxman as his parents.

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An exhibition, showcasing photographs, extracts and objects from the film, will open on 17 February in Amsterdam’s Flatland Gallery. Verbeek sat down to talk to us about the process of making art. 

Cineuropa: Where did the idea for the film come from?
David Verbeek: The whole idea of a semi-autobiographical film was born of practical reasons. The original idea for the movie stemmed from my fascination for parts of Taipei. I wanted to investigate the reasons for my attraction to these underground worlds, and I wanted to convey the feeling of walking these streets for hours, looking for images, coming across parts of the stories behind them. Gradually, I understood that the film had to be about the relationship between the artist and his subject.

The first part is the dramatic story about the little girl and her life, and how the photographer catches glimpses of this story. The second part can be seen as a re-interpretation of this story, where the artist discovers the connection with his own experiences and memories of his lost youth. People are always attracted to what reflects themselves. That is the core idea.

Where did the funding come from?
The money for the film came from a Taiwanese aromatherapy company. They noticed my work five years ago at an exhibition at MOCA in Taipei. They asked me to shoot a corporate film, which was the dance movie Immortelle, and which was screened at the IFFR in 2013. They gave me €300,000 spread over three years to make this movie. So we had to make it in three phases: scenes in Taipei, in Amsterdam, and the shots on the plane and at my parents’ table. Shooting over this long period of time, the only character who was always present was me. So from a practical point of view, it made sense that I would play the artist. I decided to stay really close to myself and my life, to make sure that all the details would make sense. 

Directing myself was hard, especially the shots without an antagonist. I would do a take to see what I looked like in different poses. When I thought I had a neutral look, I’d actually look grumpy. It took me a few days to get to know myself. Fortunately, I had the support of some really experienced actors and the presence of my cameraman, Morgan Knibbe, who is also an exceptional director.

Could you tell us more about Knibbe’s involvement?
Morgan filmed practically everything, save for the shots on the plane and in the parents’ house. I asked him to work with me after watching his documentary Those Who Feel the Fire Burning. He has this amazing visual way of thinking, so I wanted to see if we could shoot this film in an investigative manner and whether our cooperation would lead to something completely new. During shooting, we often just tried new things, without knowing how they would turn out. It’s great that he’s not afraid to experiment – some cinematographers fear for their reputation when a shot is not technically perfect, which can make filming with them really hard.

Who was your sound artist?
It was Taco Drijfhout, who collaborated on Those Who Feel the Fire Burning, and who created the mysterious and expansive soundscape for my movie. He was not there when I shot the scenes in Taipei, so we returned together six months later. We rented city bikes and rode around with his recording system. It must have been a strange sight: two tall men on tiny bikes carrying around these long sticks. We also spent a few days in the sound studio, taping all kinds of instruments for the parade scene. We basically created our own classical Chinese sound library.

What can you tell us about the art exhibition based on the film?
The movie has not yet found Dutch distribution, but the artwork surrounding the film will be shown at the Flatland Gallery in Amsterdam. This is a road I want to travel. Since it is getting harder to find distribution for cinemas, I want the movie to be part of a larger work of art: photographs, installations, a website and so on. I did the same with Full Contact [+see also:
film review
film profile
 and found it had a similar impact to the movie.

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