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Danny De Vent moves all ages with The Swimming Lesson.

17 november 2008
On November 16th, The Swimming Lesson had its national premiere in Bruges. A month earlier, director Danny De Vent received the Prix UIP for his animated short at the International Film Festival in Ghent, a prestigious competition with both animation and live action shorts from all over Europe.
The Swimming Lesson is traveling the international film festival circuit (Leipzig, Rio de Janeiro, Belfast...), and has won the award for 'Best short animation made for children' at the Ottawa International Animation Festival. But being awarded with the Prix UIP indicates that the film also appeals to an adult audience. In nine minutes, The Swimming Lesson tells the story of four year old Jonas, going to the swimming pool for the very first time. In his eyes, the swimming pool is a terrifying place full of dangers. He tries to escape but falls in the deep end of the pool, floating on his little swimming wings. Facing the horrors he encounters, he gradually overcomes his fear. Director Danny De Vent combines suspense with humour in this little gem. Did you include any autobiographical elements?'The story is told from the viewpoint of a little boy, so I made an effort trying to remember how it felt like to enter a swimming pool as a child for the very first time. The things that impress you as a child are different from the anxieties of adults. But you could easily project the story to a grown up situation: when you do something for the very first time, you cannot helping feeling like a child, in a way.'You studied music and animation and photography, a remarkable combination of backgrounds...'In my opinion, it is more peculiar to confine oneself to only one artistic direction. Leonardo da Vinci was a painter but also an architect, an inventor, a sculptor, a writer and a composer. One thing does not exclude the other, on the contrary, these disciplines add to each other. Animation draws from different fields of art, crossover cooperations are very refreshing.'Which animators have influenced or inspired you?'When I was studying art photography, I discovered the pixilations by Menno De Nooijer. The playful element in his work was very appealing. But the child inside me wants to play, that's what me made me switch to animation. I really got into cut-out animation once I discovered the films by Yuri Norstein.'How long did it take you to finish The Swimming Lesson?'It's not easy to say how long I worked at it precisely because the production has been interrupted; now and then for shorter and longer periods of time. But all in all, it took us two years to finish the definitive version. De ZwemlesWhich techniques did you use? And how did you tackle the issue of animating the water parts? We used a digital 2D cut-out technique in a 3D setting. The water surface is in 3D, we inserted the 2D characters in this 3D world, at right angles to the camera. It was quite difficult, Koen Vermaanen and Bruno Hanssens from Creative Conspiracy know all about it, the 3D and compositing part is largely their work. They formed a team with Bart Bossaert en Gerrit Bekers. Luc Van Driessche of Creative Conspiracy offered to use one of his working spaces, so I was able to communicate and to interact with the 3D and compositing artists present. I learned a lot from working with them.How was the cooperation with composer Johan Derycke?Johan is a close friend. He also composed the music for my graduation film The Beach. We talked through what I had in mind at the very start and then he just started working on it.Did you have to put in a lot of effort to collect the necessary means?I asked Annemie Degryse of Lumière to be my producer, and I only had to apply once for a grant with the Flanders Audiovisual Fund (VAF).Were you surprised to win the Prix UIP?It always depends on what the members of a jury look for in a film, so you cannot predict anything. Which technique was used to make a film is not that important to me, what matters is that it moves the audience. I made The Swimming Lesson primarily for children and I am pleased that kids jurys from several festivals have awarded this film. And the fact that it gets picked out by an adult jury that is primarily oriented towards live action movies, makes this Prix UIP extra special.De ZwemlesWhat did you think of the jury report? Can you think of a compliment that made you feel really proud?I was glad the jury enjoyed the film. Grown ups told me they could empathize completely and that their childhood memories and feelings were instantly brought back.Did this extra attention lead to new contacts or projects?I have had some very interesting talks, but it is a bit early to say whether they will lead to anything.What are you working on right now?Currently I am working on a script for a film that will primarily appeal to teenagers. I am also attending an education to become a teacher in secondary school. I have discovered some interesting parallels between the professions of teacher on the one hand and animation film maker on the other. They both have to grasp an audience, they both have to have a story to tell. Because my education is aimed at teaching in a secondary school, I have interesting input for my script. Do you have a big project you hope to realize some day? What I would really like to do, is to cooperate with experienced live action directors for a while, to work with them on a series of films, both documentary and fiction. With this experience I would then return to animation. I am convinced that the much faster pace of live action movie production would be very stimulating for me.Danny De Vent LINKS Creative Conspiracy Lumière