For its 50th anniversary, Film Fest Gent brought together 25 leading composers and 25 filmmakers for its ambitious 2x25 project. Screen talks to contributors Rachel Portman, Daniel Pemberton and Terence Davies, while the festival heads consider the event’s unique place in the film calendar

2x25 Films_Courtesy of Film Fest Gent

Source: Film Fest Gent

2x25 Films

During its five-decade history, Film Fest Gent has confidently and not-so-quietly built a reputation as a prime proponent of film score composition – a commitment that fully crystallised in 2001 with its instigation of the World Soundtrack Awards.

“It started in our search to find a unique position in the international film festival calendar,” says general director Marijke Vandebuerie. By focusing on film music, Film Fest Gent was able to distinguish itself from other festivals. “After all, we are based in a very small country,” notes programme director Wim De Witte, “so when it comes to films and premieres, we’re not the first in line.”

The strategy paid off, with the festival earning widespread approval among composers and film­makers. “It’s a big celebration of film music,” says UK composer Daniel Pemberton, whose recent credits include Amsterdam, animated super­hero blockbuster Spider-Man: Across The Spider-Verse and upcoming biopic Ferrari by Michael Mann.

“I remember being at the bar one night and looking around and thinking, ‘There’s the guy who did Back To The Future. There’s the guy who does Doctor Who. There’s the guy who did The Bourne Ultimatum…’ This is quite a solitary job, so it’s always lovely to hang out with other composers and hear everyone’s war stories.”

Around two years ago, knowing the festival was approaching its 50th edition, De Witte and Vandebuerie decided to use the anniversary event to celebrate and highlight composers like Pemberton the world over. The result was the ambitious 2x25 project.

“We were inspired by what we saw some of our bigger brother and sister festivals doing, such as when Venice asked some directors to make a film for their birthday,” explains De Witte. “But we thought that, since music is so important, why not turn the world of film music composers and directors upside down?” He and Vandebuerie came up with a concept: “Asking a composer to make some music, and then a director to make a film to this music.”

Talent search

The festival heads knew it would be a challenge. Not only would they need to find 25 composers to create original short pieces to then be recorded by the Brussels Philharmonic, but they would also need to engage 25 directors to each make a short film based on one of the pieces, with a budget of $2,200 (€2,000) for each participant. “We didn’t know if we would succeed in this,” says De Witte.

Fortunately, the response from composers – who were naturally approached first – was overwhelmingly positive, with the likes of Howard Shore, Rachel Portman, Gabriel Yared, Amine Bouhafa and Eiko Ishibashi, as well as Pemberton, all coming on board (scroll down for the complete list of 2x25 composer/director pairings).

“It’s a wildly creative idea to pair music with images that are inspired by the music. It’s the other way round from how we usually work,” says Portman, who was the first woman to win the Oscar for best score for Emma in 1997. She had a minute-long piece “in my bottom drawer, but I didn’t want it to be in my bottom drawer because I loved it so much. It’s ebullient and slightly circus-y, and in its melodic-ness it’s just doing its own thing, which is something I like doing when I write music for film.”

Daniel Pemberton_DP Studio 2020 (4)_CREDIT Somayeh Jafari

Source: Somayeh Jafari

Daniel Pemberton

Pemberton, meanwhile, saw the project as an opportunity to try something new.

“It’s fascinating as a composer to be asked to write orchestral music that will be turned into a film, because you’ve normally always got to be aware of what the film is, and the limitations, and the timeframe,” he says. “But with this, it was almost daunting because you could do anything. So I ended up going very bombastic, which is not what I’d normally do. I wanted to do something that exploded halfway through.”

After Pemberton, Portman and their 23 co-participants had completed their pieces, it fell to the Film Fest Gent team to match them with directors. This was “the most difficult part”, says De Witte, “because the filmmakers take the biggest risk. There [were] some that agreed, but in the end said, ‘I don’t feel anything with this music, so I would rather not do it.’”

Each director was sent two or three unlabelled pieces, from which to select one. “We chose filmmakers who already have a big career, like Terence Davies, Radu Jude and Paul Schrader, but a lot of them are new voices in cinema,” De Witte continues. “We wanted a diverse selection in the sense of where they come from and how they approach cinema. We didn’t always know what their approach towards music was. This was something we’ve been finding out as we receive the films. But all the films we’ve seen so far have their own unique quality.”

“Some of them,” adds Vandebuerie, “are very personal.”

One of these came from UK director Terence Davies, who was paired via this “musical blind date,” as he puts it, with Uruguayan composer Florencia Di Concilio. “It was such a beautiful piece of music that immediately drew me in,” says the director of Benediction. As well as playing the composition over the locked image of “a breezy day in Essex”, close to his home, he also set it to a poem, Passing Time, that he had written for his sister Maisey, who died two years ago. “Her loss broke my heart,” says Davies. “I heard that heartache in Florencia’s music.”

Portman’s piece, meanwhile, was selected by Vietnamese-Czech director Diana Cam Van Nguyen, who gave it fresh life with animated images of fruit and foliage. “Isn’t it absolutely brilliant?” Portman says. “What I love about it is the images are not in time with the music, and instead she’s cutting across the whole thing, which makes it an interesting match. I love that she’s using natural things like trees and fruit and flowers, but in quite a mechanical way.”

At the time of this conversation, Pemberton was yet to see the film that was made from his “bombastic” piece. In fact, he was not even aware of his director pairing, leaving it to Screen to deliver the news it is none other than Paul Schrader (The Card Counter). “Okay. That’s great. Cool,” he says. “It’s quite over the top, my piece, so I don’t know how that’s going to work with him… It’s interesting, I might have written differently if I knew he was doing it. I quite like the lucky-dip raffle of this project.

“It’s the same as when you’re a composer,” he continues. “Sometimes it’s like, ‘You’ve just got to make this scene work.’ He’s now got the job that we’ve got most of the time — which is, ‘Now you’ve got to make this piece of music work.’”

Pemberton will have a chance to see Schrader’s short when all the 2x25 shorts are posted online by Film Fest Gent in mid-­September. “We want to bring them to a broader audience internationally,” says Vandebuerie, “not just the public who can attend the festival.”

The shorts will also screen on site, but separately, ahead of other films rather than in a single sitting, “because each one’s atmosphere is so different,” says Vandebuerie.

While she and De Witte still had some films to be delivered when speaking to Screen, they are pleased with the results so far. “I am so proud and happy,” says Vandebuerie. “It’s a good anniversary project for us because we could trust in the bond between the directors and the composers we have built up over the history of the festival.

“It fits in with our efforts to bring film and music together, and to make a bridge between the director and the composer.”

2x25 pairings:

Florencia Di Concilio (Uru) x Terence Davies (UK) - Passing Time
Shigeru Umebayashi (Jap) x Radu Jude (Rom) - Greetings From Crîngasi
Gustavo Santaolalla (Arg) x Jacqueline Lentzou (Gre) - Pleiades (or Going Home)
Eiko Ishibashi (Jap) x Laura Citarella (Arg) - Trenque Lauquen
Mihály Vig (Hun) x Alexandre Koberidze (Geo) - The More I Zoom In On The Image Of These Dogs, The Clearer It Becomes That They Are Related To The Stars
Alex Heffes (UK) x Alexandre O. Philippe (US) - Film Fest Gent
Arnaud Rebotini (Fr) x Helena Wittmann (Ger) - The Swell
Jung Jae-il (S Kor) x Jayro Bustamante (Guat) - Fuego Sagrado
Gabriel Yared (Leb) x João Pedro Rodrigues (Port) - Tempo
Daniel Pemberton (UK) x Paul Schrader (US)
Colin Stetson (US) x Ildikó Enyedi (Hun) - My Fear In My Arms
Nainita Desai (UK) x Brillante Mendoza (Phil) - Moro
Daniel Hart (US) x Wannes Vanspauwen & Pol De Plecker (Belg) - It’s Raining, It’s Pouring
Evgueni Galperine (Fr) x Bi Gan (China) - Shards Of Moon
Teresa Barrozo (Phil) x Jia Zhangke (China) - Out Of Jungle
Rachel Portman (UK) x Diana Cam Van Nguyen (Cze-Viet) - Dancing Fruit
Pauchi Sasaki (Peru) x Jessica Beshir (Mex-Ethiopia) - Ladan
Amine Bouhafa (Tunisia) x Naomi Kawase (Jap) - echo
Gabriel Chwojnik (Arg) x Imge & Sine Özbilge (Belg-Turkey) - Meshes
Abel Korzeniowski (Pol) x Anthony Chen (Sing) - The Cigarette
Dirk Brossé (Belg) x Meltse Van Coillie (Belg) - Chamariz
Patrick Doyle (UK) x Juanita Onzaga (Col) - Sanctuary
Tsar B (Belg) x Jessica Woodworth (Belg) - fly
Howard Shore (Can) x Anthony Nti & Chingiz Karibekov (Belg) - Drift
Anne Dudley (UK) x Stijn Coninx (Belg)