From the outside, it looks as if these are boom times for Dutch production. Paul Verhoeven's Black Book, released in the Netherlands by A-Film in the autumn, is closing in on a million admissions at home and has been sold around the world by London-based sales agent ContentFilm International. Oscar nominee Ben Sombogaart (Twin Sisters) has done brisk business with his family film Crusade: March Through Time, which has posted more than 300,000 admissions in the local market while piquing the curiosity of international buyers (London-based Celsius has pre-sold it in a number of smaller territories and will target bigger territories when Crusade screens in official selection at Berlin). Meanwhile, in Sundance, there is the world premiere of Steve Buscemi's US remake of Theo van Gogh's Interview.
Nonetheless, it is worth noting that Crusade was shot in English, with an international cast headed by Emily Watson. Although based on a Dutch book, directed by a Dutchman and produced by Rotterdam-based Kees Kasander, it was a Netherlands-Belgium-Germany-Luxembourg-Hungary-US production.
At $20m, Black Book may have been the most expensive film ever shot in the Netherlands, but it too was an elaborate co-production. Some believe it sold so well because it has an international director who also happens to be Dutch.
In other words, Dutch films remain a tough proposition in an international marketplace dominated by English-language fare. "Foreign films are, for starters, not easy to sell. Dutch films are even more difficult because nobody likes the language ... it's not a nice language to listen to," says Dutch-born sales veteran Ronald de Neef, international consultant at London-based High Point Films, a company known for championing Dutch-language fare. It did eyecatching business on Twin Sisters, closing deals that included Miramax for the US, Optimum for the UK and Kinowelt for Germany.
As de Neef notes, certain trends stand out in the Netherlands. Children's films - at which the Dutch excel - sell well to television in certain territories, notably Germany and France. There is also a market for remake rights. And as with almost every territory, there is an appetite for genre fare. Underlining these trends, High Point has sold its Zoo Rangers children's movies widely while also closing deals on slasher movie Slaughter Night, from first-time directors Frank van Geloven and Edwin Visser (Tartan took US rights while Legend bought the film for Germany).
One common complaint is that the Dutch lack distinctive auteurs. In 2004, the Netherlands Film Fund's then artistic adviser Mart Dominicus ruffled feathers by suggesting the Netherlands was not producing directors with "a strong personal signature" and that Dutch cinema had low visibility abroad. However, there is now evidence that distinctive voices are now being heard.
Nanouk Leopold (whose Guernsey was chosen for Cannes Directors' Fortnight in 2005) is at work on an eagerly awaited new project, Wolfsbergen, an ensemble drama starring Fedja van Huet and Jan Decleir. Alex van Warmerdam, whose film Waiter is on release, remains an original and outspoken film-maker.
There are high expectations for David Lammers, whose Northern Light was a world premiere in Rotterdam's 2006 Tiger competition, and for Jiska Rickels, German-born but Dutch-based, whose documentary 4 Elements was warmly received at the International Documentary Filmfestival Amsterdam. Meanwhile, reports that Verhoeven is set to make another Dutch-language title - an adaptation of Jan Siebelink's Kneeling On A Bed Of Violets - for NL Film & TV is a filip for the local industry.
One of the paradoxes about Dutch films internationally is that they have regularly won Oscars or Oscar nominations (Character, Antonia's Line, Twin Sisters) while being snubbed by European festivals. Black Book producer San Fu Maltha argues that there is greater talent in the local industry than outsiders realise.
"Through Black Book, people will notice how high quality the professional film is in Holland," he suggests. "We have talented people, but they cannot make enough films. If you work in a country where there are 10-15 directors likely to win the Palme d'Or, you're in a competitive environment. We're missing that."
Promised changes to the tax system in the Netherlands may make it easier for Dutch producers to raise finance. "We're going to get a more efficient system which is going to be more advantageous for the Dutch producers," Maltha says. The new model is likely to be introduced later in the year. Producers will be able to access a certain percentage of the budget from public funding if they have the rest of the budget in place.
"Instead of putting money into tax benefits, they (the government) will put it straight towards the film. This will create much less red tape," predicts Maltha. He argues that the talent is there - it just needs the chance to flourish.