Dutch film festival kicks off amid drama over commercialisation

Nederlands Film FestivalThe Netherlands’ most prestigious film festival is about to kick off but it wouldn’t be complete without a little drama outside the cinema.

‘Venice has a lion, Berlin a bear, and now Utrecht has a golden calf,’ said director Wim Verstappen in 1980 when he suggested a suitable emblem for the Dutch film festival.

The 35th annual dance around the golden calf kicks off on Wednesday but various producers have bowed out, not because the calf is too shiny and ostentatious but because it is not shiny and ostentatious enough.

Klaas de Jong, producer of Michiel de Ruyter whose director Roel Reiné and male lead Frank Lammers will remain in the running for Golden Calves, has withdrawn the film from competition.

Blockbuster

De Jong, and many producers with him, feel the festival is not blockbuster-friendly enough. ‘All too often the award for best film goes to a film which has been seen by 2,000 people at most while someone nobody’s ever heard of gets a Golden Calf for best actor. It’s a party for the elite,’ De Jong complained in the Volkskrant.

As the festival is financed with public money, it should do much more to reflect the tastes of the public, De Jong said, and that means a spectacle along the lines of the Eurovision Song Festival or the Voice of Holland with people at home voting for the so-called ‘publieksprijs’, or the public’s choice of best film.

De Jong goes further. ‘Why not have an award for best arthouse film and one for the best popular film?’ he asked. The organisers of the festival have promised rather vaguely to ‘look into the suggestions’ and perhaps next year the festival will be organised on a different footing.

Grim tale

So which of the five contenders will win the Golden Calf for best film? Critics are going for Gluckauf (Limburgs for ‘Come back up safely’, an old miner’s term), the grim tale of a small-time criminal and his relationship with his son, set in a Zuid Limburg still suffering from the wounds left by the closing of the mines.

But perhaps the ultimate accolade will go to Bloed, Zweet & Tranen, a film about the life of singer André Hazes. That would make Klaas de Jong happy. A film about a singer of and for the people seen by lots of people: 310,044, some thirty times as many as went to see teen drama Prins, another hot contender. A publieksfilm if ever there was one.

Much more

Meanwhile the festival is about much more than popular blockbuster versus precious arthouse films with an audience of one. Documentaries, television drama and short films are also up for awards.

The festival also caters for non-Dutch speakers and helpfully subtitles a large number of films and documentaries in English, among them romantic suicide comedy (if there is such a thing) Surprise, a nominee which could live up to its title and walk off with the top prize.

The award ceremony will be broadcast by the VPRO on Friday October 2. Comedian Claudia de Breij presents.