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Spin of Youth

About this film

Becoming an adult can be like walking on cobblestones. A whole new world opens up, often as a result of obstacles that you have managed to overcome. It’s a promising time, an exciting time, but it can also be very scary. Dutch filmmaker Joël Duinkerke captures this pathway from childish innocence to grown-up questions of morality in his film Spin of Youth, exploring the conflict between two very different worlds that cause an upheaval in Otto, a young teenager, torn between what is right and what is wrong. A universal story that perhaps many of our viewers can identify with, Duinkerke’s short film dives into the turmoil of growing up and the questions it brings with it.

Interview with the Director
Joël, you impressed me with your short film Spin of Youth last year and I’m happy that the film returns to tao films. Can you tell me a little bit about your parcours into filmmaking? Where does your interest in making films come from?

Thank you very much for the compliment and for having me here, Nadin!

As a child I loved watching films. This started being influenced by my bigger brother Michel with lots of 70’s and 80’s Kung Fu movies from Hong Kong, while we both practiced martial arts. A bit later, my friend Remy who really was into blockbuster Hollywood movies of the 90’s, lent me bookshelves full of films such as Armageddon, Face Off and Air Force One. Eventually my interest shifted to more personal, vulnerable and experimental films, and it still is there. My love for cinema lasted and brought me to the film school Narafi in Brussels, where I graduated in 2006. A while ago I started a master film studies at Antwerp University. Professionally, I try to combine this with my work as a freelance filmmaker (mostly corporate films) and coaching creative people in making film and television.

History shows that cinema is not only used to entertain people, but also to influence or convince people. For me, its highest possible aim is to let people hold still for a while (hopefully a bit longer than only the duration of a film), and let them reflect on themselves and the world. In my ideology, empathy and compassion are things that can make this world a better place, and I think that cinema can make a contribution to let people connect with each other and not least, with themselves. Today, in societies with strong polarisation, I am convinced that cinema can serve a role in making people more lenient.

Spin of Youth is an innocent film. But it is also about the loss of innocence. It’s a double-layered film.

I’m really happy that you describe Spin of Youth as being innocent. Directly after finishing up post-production, I felt quite a bit insecure. At that moment, I was afraid that it might have lost integrity. Integrity is very important to me. I wanted to be honest in a way and not to let viewers have the impression of seeing some sort of dirty movie. After some days of good sleep and gaining a little bit of distance towards the project, I lost this insecurity again, because I realised that I just found it tensive to be more explicit in making a stand. That you have categorised this film as being innocent authenticates that I might have found the right balance.

You could indeed say that Otto, the main character, loses his innocence through the excitement he experiences while he is inside the ship and undergoes the ambiguous situation. In Spin of Youth, for me ‘shame’ is also a very subtle theme that plays a part and interests me to work on more in the future. Otto is confronted with being aroused on the ship and that results in an internal moral conflict. I think deep inside, Otto wants to undo the incident, but of course he’ll never be able to. He is not the same innocent boy that he had been before that evening.

For your exploration of youth, you use a rather contemplative style. It struck me because I have always considered youth to be super fast. This is what I had thought when I was young. You challenge this perception. Why did you conceive of Spin of Youth to be a slow film?

Spin of Youth is based on a short story that was set probably somewhere around the 1960s or 1970s. This era appeals to me, because I feel connected with associations I have with it, like freedom (including the sexual revolution), a slower pace of life and - for example, without the existence of smartphones - with people focusing more on other human beings. You are allowed to call me old-fashioned. This era helped me to focus more on the essence of what I wanted to share with the viewer, I think.

I like creating time and space for atmospheres and characters to be. It could have been a bit more, I think. The pacing, cinematography and lighting I chose fit well to my view on this era. For example, for the exterior shots we tried to film in magic hour as much as possible and use few artificial lighting outdoors.

Youth is a universal phase in life; therefore it fits every period of time. This story is universal, too. It’s very likely to me that most people might have experienced something in their lives that both attracted and repelled them at the same time. And might feel ashamed about that afterwards. Saying this makes me feel a bit naive, but I’d like to believe that talking about these kinds of things in life could let people connect more to each other in an essential way. People can recognise themselves in others. This ambition, hopefully, might contribute to some extent to the contemplativeness of the film.

In what way, do you think, can a contemplative film style help us to understand our daily going-ons? I often think of meditation when I see a slow film.

We can connect what we see on film to our personal lives. I think contemplative film can enable opening up discussions and making people share their personal insights with each other. We live in a time in which life rushes by. It might be easier sometimes to go with that flow, but I wonder to what extent people stay owners of their feelings, longings and goals. Contemplative film can contribute to create space of mental bandwidth inside our minds in which we can analyse, reflect and focus on what happens every day, or what happens to us and the way we (want to) relate to that. I think meditation, too, creates a lee or silence. From this space, you can better overlook what is happening and hopefully intervene when necessary.

Can you tell me a little bit about how you approached the film? Did you have a script or was it a free-flow work on set?

This film was developed within a competition program for the 15th anniversary of the festival Film by the Sea in Vlissingen in the Netherlands. A published collection of 26 short stories was the starting point. Filmmakers could pick one short story and transform it, being as free as desired into a fiction film plan. I chose ‘Moederskind’ or Mothers Darling, an 8-page short story from writer Peter van Druenen. Eventually, 6 films were produced within this program on a very small budget, including mine.

One day, I was given a slide film image from a relative, on which a woman was lying down on a small bed inside an old tiny boat. The pose of the woman was sensual and grown-up as well as distant, because she was turned away from the photographer but the curves of her body were shown beautifully. This representation inspired me. It was more intuitively that I connected this image with the story in which there was no boat and no particular pose.

The film plan I wrote contained a treatment that evolved into a script with dialogues. Script consultant Jenny Mijnhijmer helped me with this. The script was the basis of the shooting days. Earlier on, I spoke about integrity. During pre-production, I invested time to talk with my actors. Some actors were willing to show vulnerability or even a naked body for this project. Integrity was the utmost important, because I wanted the cast to know what my honest intentions were. And also wanted them to be proud of the final result. Spin of Youth isn’t a perfect film, but I’m still happy that it represents how I want to make cinema: it’s allowed to scrape off a thin layer of polish, for the sake of an attempt to bring something meaningful to the world. Yes, I know this might sound pretentious.

What are your plans for this year? Are you working on a new project at the moment?

Because my wife and I expect our second child soon, my priorities lie elsewhere at the moment. Clear plans for artistic projects this year aren’t there, yet. But there are different themes I’d definitely like to work on more like shame and morality for instance. Also, I was inspired a little while ago by a song in combination with an image I stumbled upon. In the region I live in, there is this ancient struggle between people and water. In the Netherlands, we are inventive to restrain the sea and protect the land. Since a while, our government is planning to give back land to the water. I am interested in seeking this duality inside characters that are inhabitants of this watery area, called ‘Zeeland’. So, who knows.

Many thanks for this interview.