From 19 to 30 April you can watch again plenty of captivating world films thanks to the film festival MOOOV. Since more than 30 years, this festival and its forerunners Cinema Novo and Open Doek are attracting an enthusiastic audience. Marc Boonen, director of Open Doek and MOOOV for years now, gave Glo.be a glimpse behind the scene and explained what has changed.
What does MOOOV do?
Each year, the MOOOV Film Festival shows a series of fascinating films from Africa, Latin America and Asia, especially in Bruges and Turnhout, but also in six other Flemish cities. This is accompanied by school performances, debates and a competition for short and feature films. MOOOV is also a film distributor and regularly buys screens in cinemas to show world movies.
The range of films shown in the average Belgian cinemas today looks completely different from the films shown in the period when Cinema Novo and Open Doek started. While at that time hardly any film from the South was shown, they are regularly shown nowadays. How did this change came about ?
The South produces a much larger range of films nowadays. In Mexico, for example, a number of directors made it internationally, even in Hollywood or at the famous film festivals of Berlin, Venice and Cannes. Their example inspired young people to study film too. Convinced of the power of the medium cinema, the government set up film schools and provided funds to produce films.
More and more films from the South are winning important prizes, such as the Golden Palm in Cannes or the Golden Bear in Berlin. And so films that fit in with MOOOV are more easily given an international springboard. As a result, they are also picked up by the regular film circuit.
Such films certainly do not want to justify the things that are happening in their home country, even though they receive subsidies there. Think of Israel, for example, where many subsidised films strongly criticise the way their country deals with the Palestinians.
Did small festivals like MOOOV also contribute to the changing range of films?
Certainly. Although the major film festivals played a leading role in this, you should not underestimate the impact of small festivals such as MOOOV. For example, this year we invited the director of Félicité. This led to numerous articles in the Belgian media, because journalists were able to interview him. In essence, this was a free promotional campaign.
MOOOV is also a distributor (see box). We buy a film from the world cinema on a monthly basis to distribute it to Belgian cinemas, especially in the 'arthouse' series (quality films for a more limited audience). Bar Bahar and Dukthar, among others, were a great success. We also buy screens in cinemas to show films from the South. We do this for instance at UGC, where we replace commercial films with world cinema.
Meanwhile, MOOOV has made its name in the world of film. Distributors regularly ask us what we think of a certain film and if we would show it. We also recommend films to distributors. That’s another way to have influence.
What is the role of distributors and operators?
Distributors (such as MOOOV)
- buy the film rights
- provide subtitling
- organise a promotional campaign with flyers, posters, etc.
- ensure that as many journalists as possible watch the film and write about it
- have as many operators as possible watch the film so that they opt for it.
Operators (i. e. cinemas)
- watch a series of films and make a selection
- make their choice on an artistic basis, but certainly also on a commercial basis: they hope that as many people as possible will watch the film so that they can cover their costs (including the rent of the building, especially for arthouse cinemas)
- promote the film to attract as many viewers as possible.
The Belgian Development Cooperation has long supported the world film festivals. After all, world movies promote better understanding of other cultures. Do you think MOOOV effectively makes viewers more tolerant?
You must at least believe in it, otherwise there is no point in doing what we do. In any case, getting acquainted with other cultures teaches you to deal with them differently. Certainly in today's world where all cultures are living next to us. Films also have an important advantage over news. News facts remain short and receive little interpretation. A fleeting picture of poverty in Africa is desensitising people rather than touching them. Films, on the other hand, give strong interpretation, have much more depth and humanize the story. A film about a broken relationship during the war in Syria will hit the viewer much more than a flash about the destructions in Aleppo shown in the news.
It also often turns out that people from other cultures essentially share the same dreams, frustrations and powerlessness as we do. It is very important that we can experience this through film. MOOOV also organises film events in schools. This is how we try to stimulate an open view of the world from an early age.
MOOOV seems to be forging ahead. The festival attracts many people and even De Standaard, Canvas and Radio 1 are joining forces. Would MOOOV be able to exist without subsidies?
Thanks to the merger, we became active throughout Flanders. This made it a little easier to involve the big media. But we really cannot exist without subsidies! World cinema remains fragile. I think it is not a government’s role to make profitable projects even more profitable. On the contrary, it must frame what is vulnerable.
News facts remain short and receive little interpretation. A fleeting picture of poverty in Africa is desensitising people rather than touching them. Films, on the other hand, give strong interpretation, have much more depth and humanize the story.
Where do the subsidies come from?
It started with provincial support, but the Belgian Development Cooperation followed quickly. State Secretary Boutmans (1999-2003) in particular saw very clearly the link between culture and development. He has therefore given us fundamental support. After that, unfortunately, subsidies decreased. Fortunately, we have been recognized as a cultural institution by the Flemish community for the last 10 years. Still I regret that the federal and provincial governments apparently no longer understand how important culture is for development.
So why do you think culture is so important to development?
You have to give the culture of the South a place on the basis of an awareness of equality and respect. For us this means, among other things, a cultural enrichment. But you can also look at it on a purely economical basis. Companies have more and more an international workforce, also among the workers, or they invest worldwide. Then it is interesting to learn how to deal with other cultures through films. It widens people's perspectives, making it easier to cure problems in our societies. Just think of racism: hatred against the other. Watching a film made by a director from Congo, Indonesia or Chile can be a real mind changer.
But it also benefits the South. The self-confidence of a director from the South can get an enormous boost if his or her film is shown at a European festival. Just think about the enthusiasm when a film by Michael Roskam is nominated for a big film festival! And it goes beyond the director. When we show films from countries in the South, we show that we take them seriously and appreciate them, that we take off our eurocentric glasses. That is very important!
In addition, we are also talking about direct aid to the South. When we as a distributor buy a film, money flows to the director. This can help him to recoup his investment or start a new film project.
MOOOV: what happened before?
MOOOV arose in 2013 from the merger of Cinema Novo (Bruges) and Open Doek (Turnhout). Both were film festivals that showed films from the South to the Belgian audience. They saw the light in 1986 and 2003 respectively. During practically the entire period, both film festivals - and also MOOOV - received funding from the Belgian Development Cooperation.
But also Cinema Novo and Open Doek have a history. In the late 1960-70s there was a circuit of films about the Third World. The Urban Councils for Development Cooperation organised film screenings in parish halls, with wooden chairs and a rattling projector at the back. The organizers were committed volunteers who fought for the emancipation of the South.
However, the interest was gradually declining and only the diehards were still showing up. Then, in the 1980s, Kinepolis appeared in the larger cities and the public appreciated the more comfortable cinemas.
Yet, Bruges and Turnhout preferred to preserve the tradition, which gave rise to the more professional world film festivals Cinema Novo and Open Doek.