Ahead of its public opening, Geoffrey Macnab visits the EYE in Amsterdam and looks at how the museum and the EYE Film Institute can boost the Dutch film industry

You might think you were in a real-life version of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. When you arrive in Amsterdam’s Central Station, you exit the building on the river side and take the ferry to Buiksloterweg (where Shell used to be based). As you cross the water, there in front of you, at the bend of the river IJ, is the new EYE building, a sleek modernist construction with a scaly aluminium skin. It has been likened both to a gigantic, low-heeled slingback shoe and to an intergalactic cruiser. When it opens to the public on April 5, the building is set to become the hub of Dutch film culture. It is, at once, a cinematheque, a museum and an office space.

EYE Film Institute Netherlands director Sandra den Hamer has called the building “the symbol of our extreme makeover”.

“We hope that with the opening of this building, we can provide yet another icon to symbolise the importance of film culture in the Netherlands,” adds Ido Abram, EYE’s director of communications. “Look at this building. It has a very iconic importance and landmark function for film in the Netherlands.”

When the EYE Film Institute was formed at the beginning of 2010, it brought together four organisations: Holland Film, the Netherlands Institute for Film Education, the Filmbank and the Filmmuseum. Abram adds that “EYE is not here to compete with other Dutch film organisations. We’re here to strengthen the ties.”

EYE’s new home is certainly dramatic. Corridors and floors are all slightly slanted, giving you the feel that you are on the set of an old German expressionist movie. Thanks to the many windows, you are always aware of the huge barges chugging down the IJ and of the ferries that dart to and from Central Station.

The EYE is ‘the symbol of our extreme makeover’

Sandra den Hamer, EYE

“The building is conceived as a highly tense and dynamic geometric solid. The light is reflected in multiple ways by smooth, crystalline surfaces,” explain the Vienna-based designers Delugan Meissl Associated Architects of the $50m (€38m) building. The design is intended to combine the twin disciplines of film and architecture, “both dealing with reality, fiction, illusion and real experience”.

The building boasts four cinemas and an enormous exhibition space. On the morning of Screen’s visit in early March, builders were making the finishing touches. Ladders, scaffolding and boxes cluttered up some of the space. Even so, the scope and style of the building were self-evident.

Showing visionary work

All the great and the good of the Dutch film and museum world have been invited to the pre-opening black tie party on April 4. Paul Verhoeven should be there — a recent cycling injury permitting — and so should fellow filmmaker Anton Corbijn, Amsterdam’s mayor, the culture minister and various other dignitaries. In its early months, the building (under director of exhibitions Jaap Guldemond) is planning an ambitious found-footage exhibition. There will also be a Stanley Kubrick exhibition in summer 2012 and a Martin Scorsese retrospective. Meanwhile, EYE is also expected to work with local film organisations and festivals, among them IDFA (the city’s vibrant documentary festival) and Cinekid. One early programming initiative being considered is Dutch For Beginners, which will showcase the most successful recent Dutch films to international visitors.

At a time when Dutch arthouse distribution is in the doldrums, EYE is committed to showcasing experimental and visionary work, whether from Dutch or international film-makers.

Controversially, the institute was recently told to stop its distribution activities. The Arts Council Of The Netherlands said that because EYE was a subsidised organisation, its acquisitions were distorting the marketplace. This is a charge EYE sources refute. They point out they were only buying films which other Dutch distributors had shunned — and in the process were giving Dutch cinema-goers the chance to see festival gems that otherwise would never have surfaced in the Netherlands. Regardless of the debate, EYE will still be allowed to source new films for its collection and to show them in its own cinemas.

Centre of interest

“Let’s say, all of a sudden, there is something really, really interesting in the Netherlands,” says Claudia Landsberger, head of EYE International — the arm of EYE dedicated to promoting Dutch film abroad — of the new home. “First of all, the building is fantastic and the collection that EYE has will also become more visible [as a result].”

EYE, which has a government-backed 25-year lease on the building, is expecting up to 225,000 visitors a year to make the short trip across the IJ to north Amsterdam to visit the city’s new spaceship on the river. The hope is that the building will quickly take its place on the tourist trail — once visitors have seen Rembrandt’s The Night Watch in the Rijksmuseum, this will be one of their next stops.

‘With this building, we can provide yet another icon to symbolise the importance of film culture in the Netherlands’

Ido Abram, EYE

The new EYE home is nothing if not versatile. Corporations can hire areas for functions, weddings can be held here, and there is a restaurant which can seat 120. The building is south facing which means that, in summer, it will soak up any sun that is going. While visitors loll by the river, EYE employees will work in their offices at the far side of the building. They will have to ‘hot desk’ because there is not enough space for everyone to have their own permanent work station (EYE is also in the process of developing a new ‘depot’, also in north Amsterdam, to house its restoration team and researchers).

Symbolic significance

The shiny new building arrives during confusing times in the Dutch film industry. On one hand, the sector is thriving. Box-office statistics released late last year suggested Dutch cinema was in rude health, as local film had a 2011 market share of 22.38%. The total audience for Dutch films was more than 6.8 million, a 52.16% increase on the 2010 figure of 4.5 million. The number one film at the box-office, trumping everything including Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows — Part 2, was Will Koopman’s Gooische Vrouwen, with close to two million admissions. Not many other European countries can boast statistics to match these. Children’s’ movies in particular have posted spectacular results; 3D movies have become increasingly profitable.

However, the picture is more complex than it first appears. Public funding for the arts, including cinema, is under severe strain. There was uproar at Cannes 2011 when Dutch film-makers learned how dramatically their subsidies were to be cut. Against such a backdrop, the EYE building cannot help but assume an important symbolic significance. It suggests a Dutch industry that is radical, outward looking, confident and keen to be noticed.

Many other industries around the globe will look at EYE with envy, as they did when Toronto’s Bell Lightbox was unveiled. For example, the British Film Institute (BFI) has for many years been talking about building its own National Film Centre as a flagship venue for exhibition, celebration and scholarship of film. In 2009, the then prime minister Gordon Brown pledged $70.8m (£45m) of funding “to help bring this dream alive”. However, as the economy worsened and austerity set in, the scheme was quietly shelved. While the Brits put plans on hold, the Dutch have managed to make their film centre a reality. In 2012, that is some achievement.