Confessions of a Pit Bull
10 februari 2009
It's not a producer you have there. It's a real pit bull. When she puts her teeth in something, she does what she says - and she does it very well.This was how producer Viviane Vanfleteren was characterised by a French colleague. It was, the dynamic and vivacious producer says, quite a compliment.
When you work in feature animation in Europe, you need to be tenacious. Any given project is likely to take several years to complete and to involve multiple partners. 'You just need to go abroad and you just need to do coproduction', Vanfleteren, who founded production company Vivi Film back in 1990, says of the situation that now faces any big cartoon project.Viviane VanfleterenVanfleteren, the Belgian coproducer on Sylvain Chomet's Oscar nominated The Triplets Of Belleville, has recently been working on Tomm Moore's Brendan and the Secret of Kells, a film which originated at Irish animation and design company, Cartoon Saloon. 'It is completed after five years!' she says of the project, which is being sold internationally by Paris-based Celluloid Dreams and will be released in France (through Gebecka) and Belgium (Kinepolis Film Distribution) in February. Buena Vista will be releasing the film in the UK and Ireland while Bridge Entertainment has the Dutch rights. As this small army of partners suggests, this has been a very complex project to patch together. Each territory is preparing its own release campaign but all the companies have been in intense discussions about trailers, posters and media strategies.Brendan & the Secret of KellsTWO CULTURESYes, Vanfleteren says, the different partners all have very different working methods. She had collaborated with fellow producer Didier Brunner of France-based Les Armateurs before. On Brendan, though, she was also working with her Irish partners at Cartoon Saloon. 'They had their way of working... several times I was going between the two, the French producer and the Irish producer, because I know both cultures!'Vanfleteren may be a Flemish producer but she has worked extensively with French-speaking colleagues. '18 years!' she sighs as she looks back on the history of the company. Vanfleteren began her working life as an interior designer and teacher. Her first real taste of cinema was as a designer on Koko Flanel, Stijn Coninx's 1990 hit. 'There I met some youngsters who were my age - I was young once too - and we just decided to make some shorts,' she recalls of how her producing career flickered into life.The youngest of three children, she is the daughter of a factory worker. 'My brother said to me all the time "you're different from all the rest." My one dream as a little child was acting, dancing and singing.'Brendan & the Secret of KellsHARD-WORKERIn 1994, she decided to quit teaching altogether and devote herself full-time to cinema. Early successes included Mrs Foucault's Pendulum, directed by Jean-Marc Vervoort, a short which screened at over 60 festivals, and Dan Alexe's documentary Howling For God, a FIPRESCI prize winner at IDFA in 1998.The Flemish producer is a hard-worker with a flair for negotiation. On Brendan, she didn't mind being the 'go-between' trying to ensure that all the different partners, which included Hungarian and Brazilian partners, had a unified vision. The film has a budget of around â‚¬ 6.5 million, drawn from every source imaginable.Strong on Irish mysticism and magic, Brendan is an animated yarn set 1200 years ago in the Irish wilderness. The 12-year-old Brendan is set a task by Brother Aidan - to complete the unfinished book of illuminations - the book of Kells. The challenge for Vanfleteren is to emulate the success of The Triplets of Belleville, a film credited with reinvigorating European animation. Thanks to the success of The Triplets, the Flemish producer was gratified to discover that potential financiers of Brendan took her seriously. 'I think that everyone said let's give her the chance to prove that she can do it a second time with another film and another director.'In the days before Triplets, when she attended film markets, Vanfleteren had to scramble to secure meetings. 'Now, it is just the opposite... all the time, I have people coming up to me, saying do you have five minutes. I really want to talk about a project.' She is pitched 'a lot of very beautiful projects from all over the world, asking for coproduction. I cannot take them all in.' Brendan & the Secret of KellsGUTSHaving worked with Cartoon Saloon cofounder Tomm Moore on Brendan, she is now set to help the Kilkenny-based animator develop his second feature, Song Of The Sea. 'It's again about the Irish condition. It's about a little girl who is a seal. You see mythology and all the Irish culture. It's very beautiful for children.'Vanfleteren is aware that she hasn't sustained her working relationship with Sylvain Chomet. After Triplets, Chomet moved to Scotland. He seemed to lose some momentum in his career. The Flemish producer is keen that the same thing won't happen with Moore. She and Moore hope to have some material from the new project to present to potential financiers at Cartoon Movie in March. In the meantime, she is involved in some animated series, among them Jan Bultheel's International Hareport about two hares running an airport so all the animals can fly. Brendan & the Secret of KellsShe is a successful producer with an Oscar-nominated feature behind her. Nonetheless, she says that putting together movies is as tough as ever. She didn't make a conscious decision to move into animation. 'Animation came to me but I like it very much.' When producer Didier Bruner was putting together The Triplets of Belleville, he was told 'she (Vanfleteren) doesn't have experience of animated features but she has the guts!' Bruner was immediately won over by his indomitable Belgian partner. The duo are currently even preparing a 3D series called Ponpon together and they are collaborating on various other projects.'It would be good if I could get a feature film out every two years but that's very hard,' she reflects on the five year hiatus between The Triplets and Brendan and the Secret of Kells. However, she has many other projects in different stages of development, ranging from animation over documentaries to live-action. Having worked on her own for so long, she'd be ready to join forces with a bigger company if the opportunity arose. 'I've proved what I'm worth and I have lots of good projects!' Viviane Vanfleteren (Â°1966)Brendan and the Secret of Kells, Tomm Moore (2009, animation)Fernand Huts, de koopman Manu Riche (2006, documentary)Panamajumbo, kunst en koffie, Elise Nys (2006, documentary)Johan Vermeersch, de president, Manu Riche (2005, documentary)Waregem koerse, de paardenrace, Mieke Struyve (2005, documentary)Steve Stevaert, de politicus, Manu Riche (2005, documentary)The Triplets of Belleville, Sylvain Chomet (2003, animation)Hide & Seek, Gerrit Messiaen & Robert Visser (2002, live-action)* selected filmography From: Flanders Image magazine #13, Spring 2009 www.flandersimage.com