How Lemming Film is moving forward with ambitious productions in difficult times | Characteristics

Amsterdam-based Lemming Film has repeatedly proven itself to be one of the most adventurous production companies in the Netherlands and one of the country’s most active co-producers on titles such as Yorgos Lanthimos. Lobster and most recently Ninja Thyberg’s Sundance breakthrough Pleasure.

However, CEO Leontine Petit and producer Erik Glijnis acknowledge that times have been tough for the independent sector in the Netherlands.

“We’re very, very worried,” Petit says of the Dutch exhibition and distribution outlook emerging from the pandemic, as the multiple lockdowns combined with the return of major American films are putting enormous pressure on independent players.

“It is a fact that we have lost part of our cinema audience. It is absolutely true,” adds Glijnis, pointing to the blocking of films blocked by the pandemic and awaiting release.

Lemming is increasingly branching out into high-end television series. The company has three new series that it will announce shortly. Nonetheless, the two execs insist their commitment to making art house films for the cinema audience remains as strong as ever.

“It’s that balance,” says Petit, who started Lemming Film in 1995. “Some projects are more feature films and some are more high-end drama series. We have always done drama series on the side. It’s something we’ve been doing for 20 years. »

At the end of last year, Lemming was one of the founding members of the new global independent production alliance The Creatives, alongside partners such as Haut Et Court in France, Versus in Belgium, Razor in Germany, Maipo in Norway and Masha in the United States.

The new venture already has a three-year development and funding deal with global drama team Fremantle for TV projects and could potentially strike a similar deal with another backer for its slate of films.

“The Creatives is a group of independent producers who all share the desire for us to remain independent,” says Petit. “The goal was to stay independent and also to be strong.”

Companies will seek to share talents and experiences – but all its members want to keep their autonomy and avoid being absorbed by a big media investor.

“It allows us to take risks in an industry that avoids risks,” says Glijnis, who joined Lemming in 2016.

Last summer, to further enhance its co-production possibilities, Petit and his team teamed up with leading Belgian company A Private View to launch Lemming Film Belgium.

International call

meet me

Lemming took part in this year’s International Film Festival Rotterdam (IFFR) as producer of Sam de Jong’s Tiger contestant, meet me. The film, which will be released theatrically in the Netherlands by Gusto Entertainment, is a satirical drama about a television personality who falsely accuses a Muslim man of attacking her with a knife.

“It was based on the true story of a woman who lies about being robbed in order to recover an insurance claim,” says Glijnis, whose relationship with director de Jong dates back to when they both overlapped at the Netherlands Film Academy.

In this case, the film was entirely financed in the Netherlands. However, Lemming is a minority co-production partner on several high-profile international arthouse films currently in production.

These include Fatih Akin Rhine gold, which ended at the end of last year; The drama of Wang Xiaoshuai above the dust, which The Match Factory sells; the new feature by Mexican author Amat Escalante; the latest from Argentinian author Lucrecia Martel; and Swedish director Isabella Eklöf’s new film, whose controversial Holidays premiered at Sundance in 2018.

“What these films have in common is that they can make a splash at international festivals while reaching audiences in Benelux cinemas,” says Glijnis.

Ambitious slate

Meanwhile, the company has two ambitious majority productions set to shoot in the coming months.

One is Stefanie Kolk’s feature debut Melk (milk), which begins production next month. This film, which passed through Berlinale Talents, is a drama about a mother whose baby is stillborn but whose breasts are still producing milk.

Meanwhile, Lemming is finally moving forward with Ena Sendijarević Sweet dreams, a colonial drama set in Dutch sugar plantations. This is Sendijarević’s sequel to her well-received feature debut take me somewhere nicewhich premiered in competition at the IFFR in 2019.

Sweet dreams was originally supposed to shoot last year in Indonesia but was delayed by the pandemic. Filming is now set for July and has been moved to Reunion. The Swedish company Plattform Produktion is still involved.

Despite the pandemic, Petit and Glijnis are still trying to travel. Rotterdam’s CineMart and Berlin’s European Film Market may have moved online, but the Berlinale is taking place as an in-person festival and Lemming directors plan to attend.

“I think it’s such a shame that Cinemart didn’t go ahead in person,” adds Petit. “But at the Berlinale we will find (our partners in) the Creatives. The online situation has some advantages, but in general it is a people thing. We have to be there and we want to be there.

Marjorie N. McClure