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Peter Brosens, Jessica Woodworth • Directors

"It may not be 1939, but we still live in very strange times"


- We met up with the directors Peter Brosens and Jessica Woodworth on the set of their upcoming film, The Barefoot Emperor

Peter Brosens, Jessica Woodworth • Directors

October 2018. A film crew occupies a large number of rooms in Hotel Carmen, the only hotel listed on the island of Brijuni (Croatia), which was once Tito's summer residence, and you can feel his presence haunting the island's every nook and cranny. This is where Peter Brosens and Jessica Woodworth are filming The Barefoot Emperor, the sequel to their zany and poetic documentary, King of the Belgians [+see also:
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. This time they’re back on the scene with the King (Peter Van Den Begin), his inner circle (Lucie Debay, Bruno Georis and Titus de Voogdt), and two fancy new recruits: Geraldine Chaplin and Udo Kier. We met up with the directors, who told us a little more about their somewhat unusual project.

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Cineuropa: How did the idea ​​for a sequel to King of the Belgians come about?
Jessica Woodworth:
Just before we screened King of the Belgians at Venice Film Festival, we were here on holiday in Brijuni. We had absolutely no intention of doing a sequel, but we were overwhelmed by the way everything is a little old-fashioned here, and the strength of Tito's aura. This island is a key place, visited by some of world history's greatest figures. It was very inspiring. We felt that cinema was alive on this island...

Peter Brosens: It was Tito's summer residence for years, as well as a number of major world leaders, including the King of the Belgians, himself, Gandhi and Che Guevara. They knew that Tito loved animals, so they brought him exotic animals as a gift. That's why today you come across as many zebras and llamas as you do donkeys! The whole island looks like an outdoor film set! So, there's that, and there’s the island's historical importance, obviously. 

This new film isn't just about Belgium, but the whole of Europe.
JW: This is the story that needs to be told today, Europe's story. This is what interests us, worries us, and concerns us. In fact, it seems very credible to us, this story about a small country, Belgium, that collapses, causing the whole of Europe to collapse! We’re facing some potentially very dark times. It's vital that we ask these questions in this context. It may not be 1939, but we still live in very strange times. 

How does Nicolas II develop between the two films? We leave him as King, and we find him as Emperor.
Nicolas II is not content with being passive in his life. He faces great challenges. He could turn his back on them... But we wanted him to seize power, with strength and integrity. With the will and the ability to do good. Many leaders throughout history have helped people step away from their dark side. As impotent as he may be as an Emperor, he is still an inspiring figure, and has the potential to become important. And one of the keys to that is being able to step back and observe the human condition with a bit of distance. 

Is there a change in tone between the two films?
PB: We are talking about an increasingly serious subject matter, but the film is still treated with some satire.
JW: The cinematographic language is also very different in this film because it's not a documentary anymore. We have no more visual limits in terms of setting, apart from those imposed by the island itself!

How did the co-production come about?
PB: The first film was really the starting point, a co-production between French-speaking Belgium, Flanders, and Bulgaria, because we were shooting there. This time we are shooting in Croatia, but everything worked so well with the Bulgarian team that we wanted to find the same state of mind, especially since we have the support of the Bulgarian Film Centre! We also received support from the Croatian Film Centre, in addition to the support received in Belgium. It's a collaborative creation, quintessentially European! It is also a way of seeing how beautiful Europe can be, and in the current climate, that’s precious.

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