Meet Pierre Van de Kerckhove director of the short film ALZHAÏMOUR

 From all the films I saw at the Amsterdam Lift-Off film festival this year this one was my favorite. The Belgian film ”Alzhaimour” has left a deep impression on me. It was the film that got applauded more than any other, regardless of who won on the end. The director Pierre Van de Kerckhove through this short film managed to embrace very smoothly few of very important nowadays social issues within only 15 minutes. He managed to raise the awareness regarding Alzheimer’s  type of dementia that causes problems with memory, thinking and behavior.  Beside this, he is also bringing up on the spotlight the impact of parental illness on their children. On the end the message I personally received from this film is that answer to all  of the above issues is love. Just simple pure and distinctive love that is always present and never disappears.

 

According to Alzheimer’s Association  Alzheimer’s symptoms usually develops slowly and get worse over time and they becoming severe enough to interfere with daily tasks. Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia nowadays. The greatest known risk factor is increasing age, and the majority of people with Alzheimer’s are 65 and older. But Alzheimer’s is not just a disease of old age. Approximately 200,000 Americans under the age of 65 have younger-onset Alzheimer’s disease. In this film director Pierre Van de Kerckhove is bringing all the above issues to us in a such of poetic and smooth way, that is simply overwhelming. Personally it was stirring, because my stepfather passed away this summer. So, only by watching the scenes from that nursing home reminded me of the hospital rooms and corridors and they bring in a lot of painful memories to me and even though the film had kind of a humorous and optimistic character I was forcing myself not to cry at the some points.

Take a look the film teaser and description:

ALZHAÏMOUR
Dir. Pierre Van de Kerckhove

Louise, aged 68, is suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and lives in a nursing home. Her daily life is riddled with sadness because her son Daniel is no longer visiting her, discouraged by his mother’s memory lapses. The arrival of a new patient in the home (Leo, 82), who is also suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, will upset Louise’s life … but also that of Daniel!

The way that director Pierre Van de Kerckhove  presented such a complex subject in a such a simple way was so magical. Even though I watched more than 20 short films and features during the Amsterdam Lift-Off film festival I can barely remember all of them today, but it is not the same with this film. From this film I remember almost every scene and I am not the only one that experienced this, a lot of the film festival visitors noticed the same.Therefore I decided to meet and interview the film maker.
ME: Dear Pierre, I would like to thank you because you gladly agreed to have this conversation with me in the first place. The first question is:
How did you manage to direct the film with a such a complex message and presented it in such a simple way that everybody is able to remember every moment of this film. Did you did it deliberately or it simply came out this way fortuitously?
PIERRE: It is my first fiction script and of course, I did lots of mistakes. I have made documentary film during 20 years and it really helped me identifying some problems in the script…. This story has been written with the collaboration of a script writer but the shooting has been made in difficult conditions and without budget resulting in last minute adaptation and improvisation.
My documentary experience also helped me directing the actors allowing me to remain calm and be able to react to most of the unpredictable issues which was reassure the team. I can say that we have re-adapt almost 50% of the story during the shooting. I think that a film director who would never have done documentaries would have follow ,,stricto senso”  the script and would probably not have been able to face the editing difficulties. Since I am very perfectionist I was never satisfied with the editing and the editor who was very young couldn’t understand why I was asking to re-edit several times. What I was really looking for was the simplicity of the message which was not especially obvious in the script. I think that if, finally, the simplicity of the message was achieved, it is due to to the fact that I unsatisfied by the length of my Film. Indeed, I found it to too explanatory and this was confirmed by a very experienced script writer who pointed out the meaning of the sub-text approach. As a result, I decided to drastically shorten the Film and reached the simplicity that today is so appreciated by the public.
In a recent Festival, the audience feed-back was to say that this film is done like lace, it is probably the nicest recognition and feed-back I ever received up to now. So, yes, simplicity, is probably what makes the nicest film and surprisingly, it is what is the most difficult to achieve. Your question makes me thing to the fox of the famous book « Le Petit Prince » from Saint-Exupery : taming is trough sub-text, I was really convinced that it is the key to make a famous film. A simple story with a minimum of dialog.
ME: According to Alzheimer’s Association  Just like the rest of our body, our brain changes as we age. Most of us eventually notice some slowed thinking and occasional problems with remembering certain things. However, serious memory loss, confusion and other major changes in the way our mind works may be a sign that brain cells are failing. The most common early symptom of Alzheimer is difficulty remembering newly learned information.
In your film Leo is approaching Louise every morning to meet her again from the beginning, even though they already met the day before. So, Leo uses his imagination and he is coming up with the different ways to approach the lady that he is attracted to, without being able to explain why. And he is doing this every day from the scratch.
Have you studied a lot about the Alzheimer’s disease before you decided to direct this film, and what inspired you in the first place to make it?
PIERRE: I only knew a few things about Alzheimer disease trough one of my family member who’s mother suffered from Alzheimer and who finally was even not able to recognize her own children anymore. I didn’t do deeper research on the disease as the aim of the story was about love. The idea came to my mind further to a personal heartache I faced a few years ago. The question was, when you really loved someone, is it possible that everything is definitively erased ? Is love printed in our DNA? So isn’t it the best way to demonstrate it with a couple who both suffer from Alzheimer who were split since years and retrieve each other in a nursery being attracted to each other without memories ? The aim was clearly not to make an informative film on the Alzheimer disease but again surprisingly I received feed-back from psychiatrists, Festival Directors and sick people.
ME:  Please don’t get concerned about my health after this question and start thinking that I might have Alzheimer’s symptoms too. I haven’t forgot what you shared with me when we met. I just believe that it will be very interesting and motivational to my audience to hear your story directly from you. I had a similar event in my own life too. I also felt paralyzed for a while after my divorce, when my family fell apart. And similarly to you I started with writing and that was a kind of  psychotherapy for me. So, my question is:
Would you like to tell me few things about your background? How and when did you decided to get involved and to become fiction film director? How did all get started?
PIERRE: Like most of the documentaries, I was in need to do a fiction and by the way I already did 2 fiction-documentary. Since 2001, I stopped directing documentaries as I realized that I couldn’t change the course of the events while I was thinking I could. My last subject was about a Ghanaian political refugee expulsed after 7 years from Belgium. After one year, I went to Ghana and lived with the expulsed refugee for 2 months. When I returned to Brussels I found an African actor who was living in Belgium illegally and shooted the film of that story : « Clandestin Blues ». I just loved that film ! The film has been produced by the Belgian TV but at the same time came the tragedy of a young lady who passed away during her expulsion. She was killed, squeezed by a cushion that the police placed on her head to avoid her yelling. I thought that my film was coming just on time but the Belgian television refused to broadcast it as they thought it was too politically sensitive. Finally, the television broadcasted one year later but I was really disappointed and came to the conclusion that I was better to stop definitively to direct documentaries. During 14 years I did different things and started to feel the need to write a long feature script on the teenager crisis that I would inevitably be facing with my children. During 10 years I tried to imagine a story but I couldn’t find the link that would assemble all the scenes of the movie.What triggered me? A sad personal event so common today.

One day, while I was surfing on internet with the intend to create my own website looking for a domain name, I realized that the one I wanted to pick was already taken by an «homonymous » . Who was this guy ? An american citizen from french origin, painter, writer and film maker….. Instinctively, I decided to jump in a plane and try to find him and meet him without telling him.

I was lucky ! I found him in New Mexico. A french guy of 84 years old full of resources and who accepted to help me to finalize my script. Additionally, we realized that we had the same family origin.

So what inspired me in writing ”Alzhaïmour” ? My return to Belgium. I was sharing my life, since I was 22 years old, with someone I truly trust but on my return I discovered that she met someone else during my absence. The evening of my return she told me that she has decided to split from me while nothing could prevent such a drastic decision. My life was falling apart and I started writing like crazy for one year and a half with the help of my friend Daphnis Boelens.

Today, this story is behind me and this sad story helped me find my way and to still believe in Love. I did write a lot during all those months and, it is precisely this betrayal pain that has convinced me of my destiny as a fiction director. I feel ready and if destiny wants it, we will still hear about my films.

ME: When I met you, the first thing that impressed me about you was your calmness and simplicity. You are very humble person regardless of your great experience and knowledge within film industry, unlike a lot of younger film makers who are acting like they are already stars.
Tell me please, what is your philosophy in life that influences your creative work and your behavior in general?
PIERRE: My philosophy of life? Take things as they come, here and now. Before I tended to ruminate past and future depending too much on the others goodwill. Now I have decided to rely only on myself and that’s why I love photography, for example. Cinema is quite different , it depends al lot on money and it is hard to find people who love cinema enough to invest. I have tried three times to find invetors to support my film ALZHAÏMOUR but couldn’t find anymone to finance the film. Even the Belgian cultural institutions didn’t offer any support. I have been really lucky that some professionals who read the script, volunteered and helped me finalyzing the film. The most difficult to accept is not being able to pay your team because the official institutions do not follow. I learned that everything is fragile, that tomorrow can be worse and that I was fortunate that people who loves you offers you their trust and support. Having prices or not is not the most important to me, the public recognition is the only thing that really matters … and of course the possibility of making new films. This is not won yet.
ME: All of us we have some role models in life and in our careers as well. Since you are a film maker my question is:
What’s your favorite movie and who are your biggest influences regarding film making?
PIERRE: My referents are mainly American filmmakers, apart from the Mexican INNARITU (Amor and los lobos, Babel), Robert Redford, Sean Penn, Clint Eastwood, Scorcese, Ridley Scott, and many others … Americans use neatly the subtext and to my point of view they have the best writers of the world. I do not like French cinema in general, as there are too many dialogues. One exception, but it is so rare: “The husband of the hairdresser” from Patrice Leconte. A real pearl ! The film that struck me the most: Blade Runner!
ME: Audience often does not understand and does not have any knowledge of the film making process. We go to the cinema, we watch a film, after the screening we usually criticize what we saw. But most of us never think about the huge work that is going on behind the scenes.
Can you describe the creative process from conceptualization to the final product to all of us that might be interested? How long does it take?
PIERRE: The creative process? One year submitting all over lots for a very poor result, about nothing while I really was a believer in the system, trying to get a budget. Finally, an full year to realize and edit the film with no budget. The result? Something, because nothing is already something. And I’m glad that this nothing, which represents a lot of work and daily struggles, is appreciated by the public!
ME: If I told you that I would like to get involved into the film making business in the future, what would be your advice? What is the best way to develop my knowledge and to discover necessary connections and associates and to grow my network?
What advice would you give to the people wanting to get involved with the business?
PIERRE: The main advice that I could give to someone who wants to finalyze a film is first believe in yourself. There are always people to make you doubt about you, either due to jealousy or lack of competency or understanding. Then try to surround yourself well, create a team that believes in you, and imagine a story turned towards others and not towards his belly button. Everything is in the idea and the confidence that we have in this idea !! Now knowing how to communicate your idea is not always easy, especially if it is not yet fixed in a scenario. The director is an artist and not a fiancial person. A “good” producer is not only driven by the money, the film will generate in a film.
ME: Amsterdam Lift- Off is not the only film festival you participated with your film. Can you mention all the names of the festivals you showcased your work until now?
How have things changed for you since you got into it? Have you got any awards for your work so far? How does this affect your self confidence?
PIERRE: I registered the film in more or less 200 festivals for three months and until now 50 festivals have selected and awarded ALZHAÏMOUR. Not yet a big festival like Cannes or Sundance, but its career is far from being over. Even, if it does not open the door to the next scenario, I will anyway be happy with the public support but than my career as a fiction filmmaker may stop there. I do no feel I could request once more a whole team to work for free. I do not find it ethical!
ME: You have 20 years of experience in the audiovisual world. As you said you were involved with documentary films only. This was your first project in different category than you used to work. Please tell me few things about your experience to work in a field you haven’t worked before. There were any obstacles on the way?
What is important for one film maker to know, before he decides to jump into unknown field?
PIERRE: It is first of all a question of self-confidenece, trust in yourself and remain humble. How many artists did remain ignored all their lives and finally recognized post-mortem? Many and they are often the most interesting. I think that you have to work first for your mental survival and if others do not follow, you have to hang on against all odds. One thing is certain: QUALITY IN EVERYTHING is always recognized! Now, what is Quality in all things? I’m refering you to the book of an American author, Robert Pirsig, who was my bedside book for 10 years “Treatise on Zen and the maintenance of motorcycles”, you will understand all you need to know about the process of creation…
ME: It is so important to do what you love. In one of my previous interviews I interviewed one of the best helicopter pilots in Europe, Cpt. Dimitis Ververelis. On my question about what makes him happy he answered using one of the great philosophers Confucius’ words: “Choose a job you like and you will not have to work one day in your life”. I can say that I am not a lazy person. I love to work, but I don’t enjoy very much the definition of job. I am talking about the 9 to 5 slavery kind of job. For me there is the great difference between job and work that someone enjoys to do. What about you?
What do you love about directing? Do you consider directing a job from which you can make a decent living or it means something else for you?
PIERRE: As a livelihood? In cinema, we generally start poor and we hope not to stay so because practicing this art without means is almost inhuman. If I would like to be rich ,? It would be to keep my freedom of thinking and acting in the cinema world. To live, it does not interest me. I need very little and even if all of a sudden I get rich, I will not change my lifestyle. All what I would not need to make my films, I would spend it trying to save this planet that human being do not respect. Financing a minding revolution? Maybe, but I do not know if the human being is able to do so. Human would do lot’s of damage before understanding his stupidity.
ME:
What is the toughest thing about getting a project done?
PIERRE: When you do not have the finance, you have to manage everything on your own. For ALZHAÏMOUR, I was a screenwriter, a producer, a director, an assistant, an editor, a finance and an actors diretor at the same time. It was the first time that I had to manage actors and, at the same time, think of everything. Not easy not to panic. What is difficult? Stay solid in your head and reassuring the others.
ME: The very important thing for every artist is to be able to showcase their work to the world. There is no meaning in making a work of art and keep it to yourself.
How do you promote your projects? Only by submitting your work to film festivals around the globe or you use social media platforms and other methods too? 
PIERRE: Only through festivals at the moment and through my Facebook friends, most team members are part of it every time the film is awarded. My main goal is doing the second film that I want to make. Two distributors contacted me to take care of the distribution of Alzhaimour but it is not signed yet.
ME: We already talked about the importance of loving and enjoying what you do.
Would you like to share with me what was the best or most exciting thing that ever happened to you while shooting this film?
PIERRE: This is the second scene of the film, the moment when the lead actor, Leo (Yves Jadoul) offers Louise a waffle. She did not know how to open it and another director might have stopped the scene to redo it. I didn’t and I think this comes from my documentary experience, I was praying that the actors didn’t stop and I have let the camera going on. Result, a funny action with actors who trusted me. They started smiling and laughing and I kept this moment in the editing while it was not part of the script. A great creative moment!
ME: When you work with people you choose to work with and you admire, you can’t help to not get emotionally attached to them in the some way.
How do you choose your associates? Which are your criteria?
PIERRE: I have been a teacher at a film school for many years and what is great is that the whole team was almost made up of students of 20 years ago or from the last few years. They were really like a group of happy friends who wanted to give me a chance. What’s more motivating than that? The important thing for me is not to have the best on the market but to collaborate with motivated people who love cinema. The rest is a question of seriousness, of will and all were very involved.
ME: You started this project with almost no budget. You said you are very grateful to your crew members and actors who worked almost for free, so this project could be completed. Did you ever think of giving up?
How did you managed altogether to get through these difficulties?
PIERRE: Without budget? Today it is possible to make a film with little but, as I said before, I do not feel comfortable not being able to compensate people who works. It is not normal to consider that the team should not rewarded because it is a short film. Especially if it is usually a small budget and the refusal of some authorities to take it into account is incomprehensible to me. I realize that there is never enough money for everyone but …
ME:
Would you tell me about the sad event that happened regarding one of the film actors after the shooting?
PIERRE: The main actor was really fantastic. I had an excellent contact with him and we did strated to discuss the next film together. Unfortunately he passed away in a stupid accident two months ago. His death really affected me a lot but his last actor performance was a hymn to Love and what a wonderfull recognition! Yves was an 83 years old man full of humanity and with the joy of living of a child.
ME:                                                                                                                                                            You are already working on your new project. What can we expect from this one? Are you willing to share a small insight of your new project? 
PIERRE: I have three projects that are ready: two short films and one feature film. The first short is in Colombia and the USA. This scenario is inspired by a true story that a Colombian friend, whom I had not seen for 30 years, told me there. We wrote the script together. A history of drug trafficking, of course. But treated in my own way and this could surprise more than one. The second short film project is inspired by my family’s story. Indeed, my grandfather was resistant during the Second World War and hid Jews for 5 years. About a year ago, I went to Israel to recollect myself on the Yad Vashem Memorial in Jerusalem where my grandfather has his name on the memorial wall since he was declared “righteous” among the righteous for saving Jewish lives. In a combination of hardly credible circumstances, I found myself on the Palestinian side in full brawl. I saw young teens with catapults throwing stones at Israeli army trucks in the Palestinian territory …
And an Israeli soldier shot me in one of legs. Yet I was there, in civil clothes, as a dubious spectator. So that gave me a very, very strong idea that I can not reveal you now, sorry! There I understood all the absurdity of this conflict and I decided to make a scenario. The third project is my meeting with my namesake in the USA. There was so much going on there, and when I got back, I made a road movie that I called “Like a horse in winter”. Filming should take place in the USA, Belgium (or France) and Portugal. Since it’s impossible to do these three projects without a real budget, I started talking about a simple story with Yves, the actor of Alzhaïmour,to shoot in Brussels, camera on the shoulder ,… We’ll maybe do it together in the afterlife!
 ME:
 Is there any artist that you would like to collaborate with in the future?
PIERRE: If I had financial means? There are two actors I would like to collaborate with: Clint Estwood and Sean Penn. In Belgium, there is an actor who also turns a lot in the USA, Matthias Schoenaerts.
ME: Since we met thanks to Amsterdam Lift-Off, tell me how did you experienced your participation there? Please, be honest with the answer. The same way the Lift-Off Global Network is asking the audience to be honest with rating the films, I think the film makers should also have a chance to rate the festivals they are participating. So my question is:
What did you like the most regarding the Amsterdam Lift-Off film festival and what was that you didn’t liked at all?
PIERRE: At the Lift Off festival, I liked the atmosphere but there were too few people on the day of the screening and the market part, where I was supposed to meet producers, disappointed me because there was almost none. I was expecting something much more important to make good professional networking but that will come with time, I suppose. I also attended the Lift Off in Paris, same issue. I am invited to another festival-market in Milan and I hope it will be fruitful.
ME:
After this interview many people might ask me where they can watch your film ”Alzhaimour”? Not the teaser, but the whole film.
PIERRE: I have just published a Blue-Ray version for sale by I do not know yet which distributor. In the meantime, you can contact me via my email pierrefarja@hotmail.com to request it.
ME:
 I would like to thank you for your time, patience and sincerity. Thanks for sharing  your personal photos for this interview blog post. It was my pleasure meeting you and Claire, your partner in life, your right hand and biggest supporter in what ever you do. You are such a wonderful people and I am hoping to see more of you in the future. As I mention in the description of my interviews category, I only do interviews with the people that I admire. I hope that together we managed to motivate some people through this interview to never give up on their goals, their dreams and whatever they do in life. For the end I would like to ask you to give me one wise advice.This is something I always ask at the end of interviews.

PIERRE: There are some people who spend their time in dreaming and who never realize their dreams and there are some people who live them. That’s the difference, right? To conclude, a sentence from William Faulkner “Make dreams in order not to lose their sight “. Or, “Perfection is not about doing something big and good, but doing it with greatness and beauty.” Let’s not wait for death to find talent …, live every day as if it were the last one because one day it will be.

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