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BERLINALE 2024 Generation

Anthony Schatteman • Director of Young Hearts

"It wasn’t so much a children’s film I wanted to make as a family film, like the ones I grew up with"

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- BERLINALE 2024: We met with the young Flemish filmmaker, who’s presenting his debut feature film, a sensitive coming-of-age tale about a boy who discovers love

Anthony Schatteman • Director of Young Hearts
(© Thomas Nolf)

We met with young Flemish filmmaker Anthony Schatteman, who’s presenting his debut feature film, Young Hearts [+see also:
film review
interview: Anthony Schatteman
film profile
]
- a sensitive coming-of-age tale about a boy who discovers love - in a world premiere within the 74th Berlinale’s Generation KPlus section.

Cineuropa: How did the project come about?
Anthony Schatteman:
In 2012, my graduation film, Kiss Me Softly, told a fairly similar story. The film met with some success, and I thought I was done with that story. But, eight years later, when I was working for Ketnet, VRT’s channel for young audiences, I remember having a discussion with the channel director who was complaining about the lack of fiction aimed at young audiences where the main character was gay. I wasn’t convinced; I suspected that, by 2020, we might have had our fill of coming-of-age/coming out stories, but he explained that we probably needed them more now than we did ten years ago. For my part, I had this story buzzing around my head, I didn’t think it would be of interest anymore, but I knew that when I was ten, I never saw films with gay characters who were accessible to me. Obviously, these films existed for older audiences, but they often involved sex scenes which were too explicit to be watched by families. So I decided the story still needed to be told and I focused on the love story, bearing in mind that it had to be appropriate for 8-year-olds.

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Was the age of your protagonists a deciding factor?
I didn’t want their sexuality to be called into question so openly at that point. Romance and friendship were central to the set-up. I found it really hard to decide on their age. We held auditions for boys between 11 and 18 years old; I wanted to keep my options open. We soon realised that 15-year-old boys were too mature. When we found Marius, who plays Alexander, we realised he was the right age at 13.

It's also pretty groundbreaking to show 13-year-old boys talking about love, whether heterosexual or homosexual.
Yes, but all of us remember our first love. But it’s hard to talk about it, to confide in anyone. I wanted a character who would permit that, who would be very open over his relationship with love, and who could lead his friend into this way of thinking. Ultimately, it’s a story about finding our place. We’re all familiar with that moment in our lives where we have to understand where we are. It’s not so much the story of a young, gay guy as the story of a young person discovering who they are and who they’d like to be.

Elias doesn’t dare to talk about it, but his loved ones are there, ready to listen.
Ultimately, his is an inner battle, a personal quest. It was really important, in my mind, to focus on this inner fight. He doesn’t have any real homophobic front to contend with. And I also wanted to feature three generations. I believe parents and grandparents should reach out and be present for young people. My parents’ generation had more of a tendency to avoid conflict, or discussion. I think they were just afraid that my life would be harder as a gay person. They waited for me to talk about it. I understand that, but I also think that my youth would have been different if we’d spoken about it earlier. The father in my film doesn’t even envisage his son being gay; he has a very heteronormative view of the world. Our generation is incredibly focused on emotions and feelings. Maybe it’s up to our generation to build bridges with previous generations in order to talk about our feelings.

The film is also a flamboyant love story.
I wanted to show to young audiences that you shouldn’t dismiss love, that it’s quite a rare thing in life – even if some people fall in love more easily than others. When you find love, it’s so wonderful that it’s worth overcoming all obstacles. There’s so much love around me, in my family, that I also wanted to share that in my film.

What’s the greatest challenge when attempting to address young audiences?
I mostly wanted to make a film which could be watched by all ages. It wasn’t so much a children’s film I wanted to make as a family film, like the ones I grew up with in the ‘90s. Films like My Girl, Mrs Doubtfire. I also wanted everything to be very bright and colourful, and for the music to have a real presence. When my editor in Holland saw the film’s images, he said: "that village is like a fairy tale village!". I hadn’t looked at my village from that angle, but it’s true that the tools used in filmmaking helped us to lend it that particular air. Whereas we actually experienced the worst ever summer, weather-wise. We had to be creative to make the summer movie that I had in mind!

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(Translated from French)

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