Meltse Van Coillie on “Zonder Meer” / interview

The Belgian filmmaker was born in 1992. She graduated from the KASK School of Arts in Ghent with her short film Elephantfish which was shot entirely on a cargo ship. The film screened at numerous international film festivals and won several awards.

What was your starting point for “Zonder Meer”?

It all started with the final image of the film (spoiler): a child playing dead. I’m sure many of us have tried it when we were little; faking our own death. I do recall moments from my own childhood in which I was fascinated with this very passive act of playing, mimicking, just waiting for someone to react – asking yourself how long this situation can last, … It triggered the filmmaker in me because it is such a relatable attempt to provoke reaction, but also a beautiful illustration of someone testing the limits of one’s own physicality. And all of these musings stem from a lack of action – which to me is the whole point. So many thoughts can come from a moment in which nothing is happening.

It’s one of the great mysteries to human kind – what is it like, being dead? A bold thought that not all adults dare to allow themselves. But the innocence we project on children adds another layer to it: the child is learning how to empathize. This is why we developed the further narrative line of the film: the disappearance and possible drowning of a boy. Where adults are alarmed and imagine what it must be like losing their own child like that, the children are more interested by the commotion itself. Instead of empathizing with the one’s coping with this tragic loss, Lucie, the protagonist of this film, tries to imagine what it’s like being that boy gone missing. How does he feel, being dead?

Do you have a favourite moment in the film? Which one and why this one?

I do! And I’m so glad it made the film because there were some edits in which the shot did get cut. It’s the scene in the First Aid / Red Cross tent. It was quite an improvised scene: we just let the two girls (5 and 1,5 years old) play in it, to see what could happen. I love the tension this tent adds to the whole space as well as to the whole scene. To us, adults, it means something bad happened on this location, it scars the landscape, it emphasizes the danger of this recreational beach. But to these children it’s a novelty, something new to explore, a curiosity. By playing in it they are making more common, which creates friction for the adult viewer. But, apart from this tension, another dimension of this space became clear to me: the shape of the tent and the cross in the middle also reminded me of a church or a chapel. Something holy, touched by oblivious children. I guess it’s again – as for the whole film – the testing and exploring of boundaries and limits that fascinated me. 

What do you like about the short form?

I love the way it can be made fast, not meaning that it should be made improvident. And I really enjoy the way short films can trigger so many thoughts and emotions, and can deliver a true audiovisual experience without having to meet the same narrative expectations that go for a feature film. It’s a true playground to experiment with the possibilities of the medium. Also, there’s the great flexibility that goes with making a short film, especially when you can work with a small cast & crew. 

Photo © Silke Van Rooy

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To find out more about Zonder Meer, go to 15:54 in the video.

photo © Daniel Seiffert

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