Keeping it short is sweet for film director Thys
Guido Thys doesn’t think much of the first short film he directed, 2001’s “Mon.” Neither, apparently, did most others; “Mon” didn’t get many screenings. Thys, a 50-year-old Belgian who works mostly in TV, doesn’t lay the fault with “Mon” on the script, or its writer. Instead, he blames his own inexperience; specifically, his failing to recognize that “Mon,” even at 12 minutes, was too long. And in retrospect, Thys says that the genre – psychological drama – was probably not an ideal fit for his talents.”It had one problem: It was too long. Like most short films,” said Anya Daelemans, the producer of Thys’ current film, “Tanghi Argentini,” which shows in Aspen Shortsfest. (The film shows Saturday, April 7, at the Crystal Theatre in Carbondale. It also showed Friday at a screening program in Aspen.)
After “Mon,” Thys maintained his belief that the first ingredient in an exceptional film is an exceptional script. And he knew he found one when he met Geert Verbanck, and read “Tanghi Argentini,” the young screenwriter’s first script.”I fell directly in love with the story,” said Thys. “I asked Geert, might I make a movie of it? The story inspired me.”Verbanck’s script was a great starting point. The story of a meek, aging office worker who wants to learn to tango, has the sort of twist ending seen often in short films, but here it is sweeter, slyer and more unexpected than most. But Thys, learning from his experience with “Mon,” demanded that he give the script all the attention it deserved. With a grant from the Flemish Audiovisual Fund and additional cash from the city of Ghent, Thys and Daelemans – who produced the 2001 short “Gridlock” (also known as “Fait d’hiver”), which won top prize at Aspen Shortsfest and was nominated for an Oscar – pushed to make “Tanghi Argentini” the best film it could be.Pitting their ambitions in a battle with their limited funds, the pair put their cast through a rehearsal period that spanned three months. The three leads – Dirk van Dijck, Koen van Impe and Hilde Norga, all reasonably well-known in Belgium – studied dance, and the film employed a choreographer. The film was shot over four days; most of the filming was done in a university library situated in one of the most famous buildings in Ghent. When the first draft, 19 minutes long, didn’t work, they chopped it down to 14. The result is a triumph – not only of story, but of acting, cinematography, lighting and sound.”You couldn’t see any better work in a feature,” said George Eldred, program director of Aspen Shortsfest. Thys “has mastered so well the magnifying that the tools of filmmaking can contribute to the emotional impact of the story. The moving camera captures the gliding feel of the tango. The colors mimic Spanish art. It’s an intimate connection between the storyline, and the way of telling it.
“It’s elements you may not notice the first time, but you feel it.”Filmgoers are experiencing the impact. “Tanghi Argentini” earned three awards this year – including the Audience Award for best film – at France’s Clermont-Ferrand festival. It also earned best Belgian short film at the Flanders International Film Festival, and it is scheduled to show at festivals in Nashville, Spain and Italy.Thys says he was inspired not only by the script, but by the knowledge that film makes a longer-lasting impact than TV. “It comes out on TV and you forget it,” he said. “With a movie, if it’s a good one, you know people will remember it. So everything with a short must be looked at – the acting, the camera, the movement.” Daelemans brings a similar attitude; she insists on shooting in 35mm.Thys is now focused, as he has been since he went to film school, on breaking into feature filmmaking. And though he has now proved his skills behind the camera, he knows the process starts elsewhere.
“I have to find a good story,” he said. “And that’s not so easy. With these awards, it’s easier to find things. Hopefully.”Aspen Shortsfest runs through Sunday, April 8. For a full schedule, go to http://www.aspentimes.com/film.Stewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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