Koen Van Bockstal, CEO of the Flanders Audiovisual Fund (VAF)

Source: Courtesy of Flanders Audiovisual Fund (VAF)

Koen Van Bockstal

“Connext is very sharp, very focused,” says Koen Van Bockstal, CEO of the Flanders Audiovisual Fund (VAF), which supports the annual showcase of Flemish film and TV projects taking place from October 9-10 October in Antwerp.

“It is quite unique,” he continues. “We allow people to look into the cooking pots before the meal is actually being served.”

Although these have been golden years for the Flemish industry, thanks in large part to the work of the Flanders Audiovisual Fund, but there are plenty of challenges that Van Bockstal and his team are attempting to tackle. He is in talks with the local audiovisual sector to come up with a memorandum about audiovisual policy to present to the political partners and the new Flemish government after next year’s elections. He sees the talks as an opportunity for the industry to present a united front to the politicians.

“It has been a long time [since] scriptwriters, directors, producers and broadcasters and streamers and film festivals have, with the VAF, really been sitting round a table to think together,” he says.

Van Bockstal explains the need for the united front is that when different groups approach the government independently, they allow the politicians to “divide and rule”. By uniting, it gives them a better chance of success. It’s too early to reveal too many details of strategic goals he is pursuing but Van Bockstal confirms he wants to “fortify” the VAF budget. The organisation currently runs on around €30m a year. “A little bit more would be helpful,” he says.

Van Bockstal is also looking for higher spending obligations in local projects from the international streamers. They will be obliged to invest 4% of their turnover into the local industry from next year onwards but he would like to “raise the bar a bit higher”.

The VAF itself has three main funds: Film, Media (high-end TV series) and Game. The media fund has €7m a year at its disposal while film receives €20m.

Van Bockstal is hoping to increase support to the media fund without taking it from the film fund. “ We want to make sure we can continue supporting enough high quality, a bit left of centre TV series that would probably not be financed that easily by the commercial broadcasters,” he explains.

That said, he realises politicians have other preoccupations beyond the audiovisual sector. “I am in competition [for funding] with areas of society I don’t want to compete with.”

Nonetheless, Van Bockstal is prepared to think big. One idea he has been mulling over is a dramatic streamlining of the VAF, “a totally integrated approach which would mean the Film Fund disappears, the Media Fund disappears and the Game Fund disappears.”

Instead, the VAF would be given a “lump sum” and would be allowed far more autonomy over how it manages the money. This, he says, would cut bureaucracy and the need to deal with multiple different politicians and government departments. “It could be so much more efficient.”

At Connext this year Van Bockstal is particularly looking forward to the unveiling of Lukas Dhont’s Future Five initiative which sees the Oscar-nominated young Flemish filmmaker select and turn the spotlight on five rising directorial talents from the region.

“In order to keep Connext fresh and innovative, and a surprise for people, we are always trying to come up with something different,” says Van Bockstal. “Let’s call it a very alternative way of doing talent development.”