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Flanders’ indigenous box office bonanza in 2003

The truly gigantic success at the local box office of Erik Van Looy’s De zaak Alzheimer (The Alzheimer Case) and Jan Verheyen’s Team Spirit II, in combination with indigenous arthouse hits such as Tom Barman’s Any Way the Wind Blows and the Oscar-nominated French-Flemish-Canadian-UK co-production Les triplettes de Belleville (Belleville Rendezvous/The Triplets of Belleville) resulted in a quadrupling of admissions for Flemish films last year.

A total of well over 1 million Flemish and Brussels cinemagoers went to see a Flemish film last year. At one point in December, Alzheimer and Team Spirit II even shared one-third of the total box office revenues and it can be safely said that indigenous filmmaking rescued the weak box office year in Flanders. Alzheimer accounted for more than 600,000 admissions by the year’s end in Flanders, leaving behind such US blockbusters as Finding Nemo, Pirates of the Caribbean and The Matrix Reloaded. Team Spirit II, which opened on 10 December, ended the year at 200,000-plus.

The next test for Alzheimer will be its release in the French-speaking part of Belgium, which is waiting for the French-dubbed version which Paris-based distributor ARP Séléction is preparing for an April release. ‘France will be a true test case for us,’ says MMG producer Erwin Provoost. Just before Berlin, it was also announced that Dutch distributor A-Film will release the film in the Netherlands. (Alzheimer is to receive its market première at this year's European Film Market in Berlin. At AFM, the film is also to receive market screenings.)

Besides Alzheimer and Team Spirit II, there was also Any Way the Wind Blows, the feature film debut by dEUS frontman Tom Barman. A hit in Flemish and Brussels arthouses (close to 75,000 admissions), the film had its international première at the Locarno Film Festival and continued its festival tour via such cities as Montreal, Vancouver and Stockholm.

And there was also Sylvain Chomet’s animated feature Les triplettes de Belleville which, after taking both Cannes and Annecy by storm, is now up for the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature Film and for Best Song, as well as for an Independent Spirit Award, a BAFTA Award and three Cesars. Only last week, it grabbed the BBC Four World Cinema Award. Triplettes is also a commercial hit with sales to most territories around the world.

While 2003 was marked by the release of films that, with a few exceptions, were made by established filmmakers, 2004 looks to be the year in which emerging talent finally gets a much deserved, as well as highly anticipated, platform. In Berlin, there's Stéphane Vuillet's competition entry and closing film 25° in Winter, an urban road movie starring Carmen Maura. Also expected are Felix van Groeningen with his stylish feature debut Steve + Sky, a fatal love story set against Ghent’s escort scene; Rudolf Mestdagh gathered Belgian chanteuse Axelle Red and last year’s Shooting Star Matthias Schoenaerts (Meisje, Any Way the Wind Blows) to star in Ellektra; while Flemish actress Hilde Van Mieghem (Kafka, Rossini, Hombres complicados) recently completed shooting on De kus (The Kiss). These are just a few names on a growing list. And a number of other young filmmakers like Lieven Debrauwer (with Jam) and Dorothée van den Berghe (My Queen Karo) are readying their second features.

Other young talents like Fien Troch (Another One’s Happiness), Bavo Defurne (Secretly Inside), Pieter Van Hees (Connected) and Christophe Van Rompaey (6) and others are expected to start shooting either this year or in 2005.


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