The news their debut feature Small Gods has been selected for Venice's Critics' Week will have come as a huge boost to the Karakatsanis brothers. Dimitri and Nicolas, who come from a Greek-Belgian background, have not had an easy ride with their movie, which took three years to complete. Like their co-producer Koen Mortier (director of the controversial but wide-selling Ex-Drummer), they do not fit into the conventional model of Flemish film-makers that churn out local comedies and tasteful costume dramas. The brothers are outspoken and irreverent.
Small Gods was largely self-financed through their company Kanibal Films and Peter De Maegd's Potemkino. When Belgian funding body VAF turned the project down initially, they found some backing from Mortier's company Cccp. Distributor A-Film - which also released Ex-Drummer - took Benelux rights. Paris-based sales agents Insomnia boarded the project and VAF eventually provided some support.
Small Gods might best be described as a warped and poetic road movie: Badlands done Belgian-style. A woman in hospital after a car crash that killed her son is kidnapped by a stranger. Together, they travel across country. The story is narrated in flashback as the woman tells her lawyer what happened. Most of the action takes place in marginal spaces: in forests and wasteland.
The music from Aldo Struyf of pop band Millionaire adds to the eerie quality, and the musician has a cameo as one of the killers in the woods.
The project was a family affair. Nicolas is the cinematographer and the lead actress Steffi Peeters is Dimitri's wife.
"I didn't want just to make a dramatic film but to make a film about atmosphere and poetry," director Dimitri declares.
Potential financiers were not impressed. "We were told the film was not credible; that the dialogue was bad; that it wasn't an interesting story; that it was edited badly. They liked the music and they liked the photography - but they didn't like the movie," Dimitri recalls.
Mortier put up funds to help them finish the film and the brothers take it as a badge of honour they made it on such small resources. "They (Mortier and his team) didn't have money, we didn't have money," Nicolas says of the parallels between Ex-Drummer and Small Gods. "The spirit (we share) is like, OK, let's push the boundaries of what we know in Flemish cinema to other limits. Let's go further."
Did Dimitri always intend to recruit his brother as DoP' "I was the only fool who wanted to do it," Nicolas interrupts.
The brothers recently collaborated with director Pieter Van Hees on his debut feature, the horror film Left Bank (Dimitri co-wrote the screenplay, his brother lit the movie). They also make commercials but their goal is to make their own brand of poetic, visionary cinema.
The brothers may have grown up in Flanders, but they are not committed to making Flemish movies. They want their work to have an international life and are mulling over new projects. Dimitri is planning a "distorted love story. I wanted to make relationship movies, but in a way that is disturbing." He adds the next movie is likely to be shot in French, not Flemish. That way, he hopes it will be easier to cast the movie and to find backers.