Film Festivals, studentship and making a film in Japan – A conversation with Thessa Meijer
A Cinéfondation Résidence at Cannes Festival, a nomination for a Golden Calf and that at just the age of 30. Thessa is a filmmaker to be reckoned with. In her short carreer, she’s already made quite the reputation for herself. It’s an honor to receive her at Go Short during the Student Night at 15 February 2023. We spoke to her beforehand.
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On a laptop screen she appears. She’s in the cafeteria of her studio, a room resembling an Austrian “Stube“. The grainy quality of the Teams-call could make you assume she’s in some après-ski barn, but it’s nothing like that at all; she’s in Amsterdam. However, the temperature still resembles the icing cold – or this year’s room temperature – pistes in the Alps.
Thessa has accomplished much as a writer and filmmaker. She’s known of making THE DAY MY HOUSE FELL, THE WALKING FISH, HEAT and NERVOSA. Her work is screened all over the world: from SXSW to Sitges and from Les Arcs to BiFan; everywhere in the world, her name has appeared on the big screen. In 2019, she received the YDA’s Special Jury Prize at Cannes Lions. Currently, she’s working on her first longer film, which will be her debut.
How are you?
“I’m doing well, thank you. I’m right in the middle of the writing process for the script of my debut film, a film I’m working on with my producer HALAL. It’ll be a while though until the film will be up on the big screen, presumably after next year.”
It’ll most likely be too long for Go Short. Will it be screened at other film festivals?
“That’s the intention, yes.”
I understand if you can’t say anything about that yet. What would be a reason for you to attend film festivals after the film is done?
“Festivals are incredibly worthy to me. This is the only place you can get in contact with the audience and enlarge your international network. Without these contacts, I would’ve been more hesitant to apply for a Cannes Cinéfondation residence. And sending in a film is always pays off, even if many rejections may make you uncertain about your work. When I was still in college, many of my films got rejected by film festivals, but still, a Dutch producer found me in a database of one of the film festivals I submitted to. That eventually led to a coproduction.”
A helping hand for your carreer!
“In addition, I get inspired at film festivals and it’s a lot of fun to meet other filmmakers and to see how other makers work. Being a filmmaker can sometimes be a lonesome profession and it’s pleasant to connect to international filmmakers and to share experiences about your profession together in that way.”
"To students I want to say: try out as much as possible. Now is your chance."
And what could film festivals learn from?
“The submission fees can be crazy sometimes. That can be a little less at a couple of film festivals.”
Go Short isn’t that bad, asking only € 10,- for a submission (which should be within a student’s budget). Speaking of, what kind of student were you?
“My time in college was like a playground. I studied Audiovisual Media, HKU (Utrecht). I worked hard, but I only wanted to do what I found valuable. Many times, I tried to manipulate assignments to suit my own needs.”
What advice would you like to give to (film)students?
“Try as many things as possible, now is your chance. Also, try to find a way that works just for you, not ‘just because people tell you to’ or ‘just because that’s the way things have always been done’; there’s no right or wrong.”
“Sometimes, that’s easier said than done, because there’s of course a lot of pressure. Student film awards can turn up that pressure, because you want to show something good for a graduation project. You sometimes see makers conform and play it safe. I wouldn’t recommend that. Find a way to work in your own ways and collect good contacts around you.”
During the Student Night at 15 February, we screen your film THE WALKING FISH. Can you tell us something about the filmmaking process?
“I had a budget because of a Wildcard of the Nederlands Filmfonds and got selected for an Artist in Residency program by Studio the Future and Saga Prefecture in Japan. Together with three other artists, we were allowed to go to Saga, Japan, where I stayed at the Holland House residence. I had a different plan for a film originally, but in my online research of the city, I discovered the Mutsugouru, an amphibious fish that is very common there. I found the little animal fascinating, like it stood still in the evolution. So, I decided I just had to do something with that.”
“Making a film in another country with a different culture – and a language I don’t speak fluently – was quite exciting. Thanks to the people of the Holland House residency, the Dutch/Japanese crew, the input of actors and locals from Saga, we managed to make this film. The cultural differences brought challenges, but we got through it together in the end.”
What was the story you wanted to tell with this film?
“My research was about a certain unsatisfactory with the place a person is born and the shape this person has. Longing to transcend that can have something positive, but can also break you up.”
Thessa will attend the Go Short Student Night for the segment Meet the Maker at 15 February 2023. We’ll talk with her about her carreer, attending film festivals and about getting inspired for making new films. During this session, we screen the film THE WALKING FISH (19 min), made by Thessa Meijer. Her film was nominatedfor a Golden Calf and was in 2020 the Dutch submission for the Academy Awards in the category Short Film. Ask her anything!