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Why Flanders is called ‘Hollywood by the North Sea’...


Flanders has seen lots of audiovisual activity lately. It provided sceneries, both cast and crew and financing for productions set in both historical and contemporary times. The ever-increasing number of indigenous films and television series, the appeal of the region towards international productions and the presence of top actors such as Nicole Kidman, Aaron Eckhart, Daniel Brühl or Benedict Cumberbatch make professionals refer to Flanders as the ‘Hollywood by the North Sea’. And it is expected that Screen Flanders will be responsible for a further boost in activities.

In 2011, the BBC/HBO series Parade’s End was the first of a series of international productions to land in Flanders for a longer period of time. Award-winning screenwriter Sir Tom Stoppard was on set as Benedict Cumberbatch and Rebecca Hall played the lead roles in this highly acclaimed WWI drama series directed by Susanna White (Generation Kill). Parade’s End used everything Flanders had on offer, from regional funding and crew to authentic locations and postproduction facilities. Even the film score was composed (by Dirk Brossé) and recorded in Flanders. (It’s a field of expertise Flanders, the home of the film music inspired Ghent Film Fest, has become internationally renowned for.) Local co-producers are Martin Dewitte for Anchorage Entertainment and Jan Vrints for Mollywood.

In September 2012 principal photography on yet another BBC series started in Bruges. In subsequent months, shooting for The White Queen took place in a range of unique medieval locations, mainly in Bruges (a.o. the Gothic town hall), but also in Ghent (o.a. Gravensteen castle). The entire shooting of The White Queen takes place in Belgium and lasts 125 days. Like Parade’s End, The White Queen received production support from the VAF Media Fund and made use of the Belgian tax shelter. Flemish producer is Eurydice Gysel of Czar TV.
Directed by James Kent (Inside Men), the production of the 10-part series is half way in production. The medieval scenery of The White Queen has made a big impression on the series’ protagonists. For Rebecca Ferguson, Bruges is ‘the ultimate place to film a drama based on medieval times.’ Janet McTeer, who previously starred in Parade’s End, was equally stunned, saying: ‘We’ve done loads and loads of location work on these places that need virtually nothing done other than a bit of lighting, because they’re so beautiful.’

Around the same period as The White Queen’s lift-off in Bruges, Danish director Lars von Trier landed in Ghent to shoot some scenes for his new feature Nymphomaniac, co-produced by Bert Hamelinck for Caviar and starring a.o. Charlotte Gainsbourg, Shia LeBeouf and Jamie Bell. And just like The White Queen, a lot of local talent and crew were involved. Veerle Baetens (The Broken Circle Breakdown) played Margaret of Anjou in The White Queen, while Michael Pas (Code 37) and Lien Van De Kelder (The Spiral) had supporting roles in Von Trier’s new film. Wim De Waegenaere took on location management on both productions.

In november 2012, Nicole Kidman and Tim Roth were in Belgium to play Grace Kelly and Prince Rainier III in Grace of Monaco (Olivier Dahan). Shooting took place in a.o. Antwerp, Ghent and at the Eurocam Film Studios in Lint, where the interiors of the palace of Monaco were recreated. The production was made possible by the Belgian tax shelter and highly skilled professionals.

Early 2013 the news broke that Hilde De Laere (Loft, The Loft (US), Memory of a Killer) would represent FBO as the Flemish co-producer of WikiLeaks drama The Fifth Estate. 38 days of shooting will take place in Belgium. Directed by Bill Condon (Dreamgirls, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn), The Fifth Estate will star Benedict Cumberbatch (Parade’s End, War Horse, Sherlock) as WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.
The Fifth Estate is supported by the Belgian Tax Shelter for Audiovisual Production. Co-financing the film with DreamWorks is Participant Media which also teamed up with the studio on such films as Steven Spielberg's Lincoln, The Help and The Kite Runner. The film is scheduled to open in US theaters on 15 November  2013.

Photo credits:
Still from Parade's End, Rebecca Hall in Castle De Borrekens, Vorselaar (Flanders) ©Mammoth Screen/BBC
Set photo The White Queen, Rebecca Ferguson in the Gothic town hall of Bruges (Flanders) ©Screen Flanders