Dutch filmmaker Jan-Willem van Ewijk is developing a US-set feature, Sleep, following a father and his teenage daughter as they travel through from the Mid-West to California.

Van Ewijk’s latest film, Atlantic, about a young Moroccan man who attempts to wind-surf to Europe, opens the IFFR Live programme this evening (Jan 24).

The director describes his new picture as a story of loss with a Sixth Sense twist, set against the backdrop of contemporary America and hinging round the country’s gun culture.

“It’s a trip the father always wanted to give his daughter for her birthday,” said Van Ewijk.

“During the day he shows her America but at night something strange happens. He leaves her and breaks into people’s homes to watch their children sleep.

“Guns and gun culture play a large role throughout their trip. They meet a lot of people with guns. Slowly the truth of the situation emerges.”

For now, van Ewijk envisages the protagonist as a Dutch man who has emigrated to the US but said this may change in development.

“The immigrant angle is important. It’s about someone whose dream it was to move to the America but then goes through something incredibly traumatic there,” he said.  

In spite of the sombre twist to the story, van Ewijk says he wants the film to have the dark humorous feel of his 2006 debut feature Nu, about a couple who have been separated by a mysterious accident.

“Critics wrote that it had a poignant of sense of humour. I lost that a bit with Atlantic and would like to get it back,” said van Ewijk. “I’m looking for something in the vein of the Coen’s Fargo,”

The director, who grew up in California as a child before moving back to the Netherlands, explained the film has an autobiographical side drawing on his own “love-hate relationship with America” as well as the loss of a sister from illness.

Jan van der Zanden and Ineke Kanters at Amsterdam-based production Waterland Film are producing the film.

The company’s recent credits include Boudewijn Koole’s Kauwboy and it also co-produced Martin Reitman’s Dos disparos, which is screening in IFFR’s Limelight section.

“I’ve also received a lot of support from the Sundance Lab which helped develop Atlantic,” added van Ewijk. 

“Once you’ve been there they look after you for life. They suggested quite a few potential US partners.”

The Netherlands Film Festival has given development support and Savage Films in Belgium and Fabian Massah’s Endorphine in Germany have signed letters of intent to co-produce the film.