… we were specially aware about the Greek crisis and we understood very strongly that we are being lied in trying to make us believe that Thought Police is democracy.
— Karim, what did inspire TUNDRA?
— Olivier Picard, the main actor of Tundra, is a friend of mine. Together we usually have a lot of conversations, specially about political and economic situation in Europe and the world. As artists, we are pretty worried about misinformation. Just before Tundra, we were specially aware about the Greek crisis and we understood very strongly that we are being lied in trying to make us believe that Thought Police is democracy. It is on this base that we created the character of Tundra, an angry man who completely refuses submission.
— What was the way to filming TUNDRA?
— At first, it was a long feature movie, the shooting was done over months in complete auto production. But with the lake of financing, it was very complicated to finish it. We had missing scenes with no clue how to shoot them, so after 5 years, I decided to make a short. The whole story changed, even if the purpose stayed the same but finally I think it was better that way. It forced me to get to the essential.
— What are most acute issues for directing/producing films in Belgium/EU today, you think?
— We have the big chance in Europe to have public money to make movies. But the endless issue is there is a lot of money specially for classical or commercial movies, but not enough for creative and audacious pieces of art. But everybody knows that risk and questioning yourself is what makes art and creation move forward. In my opinion, this is for me the biggest issue here.
— What do you think of festivals circuit today?
— For us festivals are primordial, it is where are the first audience. When we can, we love to be present to feel the public reactions, it helps us a lot, and reactions are always constructive whatever they are. But festivals should be maybe more audacious, it is was could save cinema. Today, festivals are more and more programming like theaters, and less and less like discoveries of new artists. If festivals become only a way to watch movies before the rest of the world, so we will lose a lot.
— What is your way to the directing, cinema and art?
— I always adapt the directing according to the project. It is a mix of preparation and intuition. And intuition can be in the present moment: if I feel something, I have a team who knows that it is better to let me follow feelings there, because usually it is when I do my best. But sometimes, I also like having a triangle between the directing, my camera and the actor. For example, in Tundra we did this many times. I told to the main actor what was the principle of the scene and where he needed to reach, and I let him go into the character and improvise dialogues and acting. This was the magic happens and this what I call directing.
— What are your favorite directors, films, artists? What film is the gold standard for you?
— First, I have to say that for me references are a bit tricky because it is like I compare myself to them, what I definitely do not, I have too much respect for them. So, I will more make an answer of a fan than a director, because I also like to play that game: I am in love with cinema and art.
I don’t really have one favorite movie, I have many… I could mention Come and See by Klimov which is for me the most right and impressive on that subject, or Shinya Tsukamoto and Alan Parker, but so many others… I like books and paintings by Clive Barker, and also like the whole period of Flemish Primitives. In music, I like Vladimir Vysotsky who is for me the Russian Brel, and I am a big fan of Nick Cave or Enrique Bunbury (a Spanish singer).
— What comes next?
— More movies! I am developing features and I will see what could be made first, and I think I will come back again to short, because I like this format.
Karim Ouelhaj is an author, director and producer. His first feature, Parabola, is noticed in 2005 in Venice with an official selection at Giornati Degli Autori Venice days. It won also the Federico Fellini Award in 2006 at Tiburon (USA). Parabola is the first part of a societal triptych included after Monkey Dust (Le Repas Du Singe) in 2013, which won the best female performance in Rome, and A Reality Every Second (Une Réalité Par Seconde) in 2015 which won an award in Romania and another one in Los Angeles.
Meanwhile, Karim Ouelhaj also directed an experimental and musical movie around the Belgian rock band Frank Shinobi in 2010.
In 2016, The Frozen Eye (L’oeil Silencieux) won the Grand Prix and the Méliès d’argent for its Premiere at BIFFF (Belgium), will follow many selections and awards (seven for now in UK, Brazil, Sweden, Belgium and USA), including the prestigious Méliès d’Or from the European Fantastic Film Festivals Federation.
In 2017 he realeased, as well as a DVD box set of a big part if his filmography, his last short: Tundra. Rewarded from its premiere by the Director’s Choice Award at Indie Flicks Festival in England and more recently by the Grand Prix of Short Movie Club Film Festival at Minsk in Belarus.