The Making Up of WINTERLAND

  • Datum 27-01-2011
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Who knows what happens in the wings of our lives when we ourselves are on the stage? Dana Linssen visited the set of Dick Tuinder’s winterland and discovered to her astonishment that her report on the making of the film was incorporated into the final product. The third version of the film will be released in February. Fragments from an essay.

Part I

1 In the summer of 2008 Dutch newspaper NRC Handelsblad sent me to visit the set of winterlanda true story that never happened, the first feature by writer, artist, filmmaker and creator of images Dick Tuinder. The film has since been completed and exists in several different artist’s editions: the touching, nearly-finished version I watched on the filmmaker’s computer, the cut that was shown at the Dutch Film Festival, and the variation screened at the International Film Festival Rotterdam last year. Then there is the version that accompanies a live band on tour, and finally the latest edition that will be shown at Amsterdam’s Ketelhuis in February. It’s impossible to say, ‘This is winterland‘. winterland is a flux. One thing is certain: winterland exists. I was there.

2 winterland is a film-within-a-film about film, in which Tara Elders plays the lead in ‘Project Icarus’, director Dick Tuinder’s alleged new film. In between two scenes she discovers that somewhere on the country estate where they are shooting, a rift has opened up in time and space, through which a character from a different Dick Tuinder film has wandered into her world. The other character’s name is Sally. Sally Dewinter, seen in Tuinder’s previous short films and drawings. She is on her way to Winterland.

3 ‘Where is Winterland?’, asks Tara Elders, who, just to make things a bit more confusing, plays a character named Tara Elders in winterland. Or is it Tara Elders who poses the question?
‘The question is not "where" is Winterland, but "when"’, replies Sally.
‘When is Winterland?’, asks Tara.
‘That way’, Sally replies.

4 A year after my set visit, I received an email from actress Catherine ten Bruggencate, a former student of my parents. ‘Come have a look at where I live’, she wrote me. "I live in paradise."
So we headed for paradise.
Where is paradise? I left it to the driver to figure out. The entire way to the garden of Eden I slept in the backseat, only to wake up in a deja-vu. ‘How strange’, I said.
‘I did a set visit in a forest very much like this one, about a year ago"
‘Yes’, said Catherine.
‘No’, she added.
‘That was earlier, I think’, she said. ‘I discovered this house when we were shooting wolfsbergen [Nanouk Leopold’s film from 2005] here.’
‘Funny’, I said. ‘I was referring to winterland. I didn’t even know wolfsbergen was shot here as well.’
‘Yes’, she said. ‘I’ll show you the mansion later.’

5 I admit I don’t really enjoy set visits. Ostensibly, visiting the making of a film is the most journalistic activity a film journalist could undertake. It is the cinematic equivalent of a battlefield, a forest fire, a political crisis or a giant motorway pile-up. Something happened and you are there to report. Of course, you’re not really there; you’re always arriving late, or observing from the wrong angle. But you are the first person to create some sort of order, the first one to define the meaning of two dead, of a toxic cloud, of an attempt at reconciliation. You are the first to coax big statements from the director, like: ‘This film is going to change the world.’

9 On the train on the way back, the thought occurred to me to email Dick Tuinder to ask his permission to do a report about the set report, as an analogy to the film to coincide with its release. He would write something, Aryan Kaganof was shooting the making-of on his cell phone, and me: three different perspectives of a two-dimensional world, entirely in the style of the film.

12 Tuinder later emailed me:

‘I really like your idea to explore the backstage of reporting in de Filmkrant. Oddly enough, the last thing I mumbled at Kaganof yesterday before falling asleep was that we had to integrate your early report into the film in some form.

Because I believe you can never have enough duplication.’

Part II

1 The following day my article read: ‘Artist Dick Tuinder is currently shooting his film winterland on an estate in Steenwijk. It’s a fanciful road movie featuring his virtual alter ego Sally Dewinter losing her way in reality. Wonderland is hidden somewhere on domain De Eese in the province of Overijssel. Or Winterland, rather: a world so wonderous that even Alice could only imagine it in her wildest dreams. So forget Alice. Here’s Sally. Sally Dewinter.’ *

2 As time passed, I began to wonder how we were going to pull it off. What would it look like to have three accounts of that one day? One in which the director talks about making a film about characters losing their way in the mirrored palace of his reality. Another in which a documentary filmmaker-cum-actor demonstrates how to shoot the making of all this. And finally a journalist expounding on the futility of writing set reports, since the very act of observing and being present removes all objectivity — perhaps even makes you an accomplice of the movie, because you wrote about it in the papers. For example:

‘Dick Tuinder: "The film is a tribute to Sally Dewinter. In winterland she accompanies actress Tara Elders (the film will also be a tribute to her) on a journey through various virtual, real and fantasy worlds and all the ways of telling stories about them. These realities only meet for a few fleeting seconds."’

3 The film isn’t finished yet. A different film is, though. I find it in my mailbox one day, arriving all the way from South-Africa: the civilisation and other chimeras observed during the making of an exceptionally artistic feature film. Though his producer had told me that Dick Tuinder is in the midst of editing and painting backgrounds for the green screen shots, Aryan Kaganof’s making of has been completed.
I didn’t feel like watching it. Who watches a making of before seeing the actual film? I remember putting to one side the screenplay that Dick Tuinder handed me as my set visit came to a close.

the civilisation… starts with a (re-enacted, I later found out) scene in which director Dick Tuinder buys a Steenwijk newsagent’s entire supply of the Saturday edition of NRC Handelsblad, and later he sits writing at a table with the paper’s art section opened in an obscenely demonstrative fashion in front of him.
Writing a letter to the editor, I suspect.
Back when I had sent the piece to Tuinder for fact checking, I half jokingly wrote: ‘Included is a brief account of what I experienced today. Newspaper these days, they write the strangest things.’
At least he’d succeeded in integrating my report into the making of.
the civilisation… also contain a scene in which Tara Elders (acting the actress) demands clarification from Dick Tuinder. The assistant director has just handed her a new scene and then gave her another one. She wonders what kind of film they’re actually making. And then she has to find out in the papers that the film is a tribute to Tara Elders. ‘I wonder if this film isn’t a tribute to Dick Tuinder’, she remarks.
End of scene.
Okay, it’s in the making of, but did it also end up in the film itself?
I laugh heartily, but feel embarrassed at the same time. And honoured. And screwed: I won’t be able to review the film anymore. How can you critique a film to which you yourself, even if unwittingly, contributed?
And what is this unwritten law among critics that everything should revolve around the review? Does the film not exist if nobody writes about it? If I don’t write about it? But then winterland would have existed long ago, no?
In my head.
In my words.
Isn’t this what this scene proves? If it is in fact in the film, that is.

4 It’s in the film.

7 Strolling across De Eese estate with Catherine ten Bruggencate.
‘Look’, she says, ‘in the false perspective of those conifers over there I wouldn’t mind staging a rendition of Little Red Riding Hood’

8 And: ‘Look’, says Catherine, ‘look over there, between those trees, from that window is how we shot the final scene of wolfsbergen.’
wolfsbergen is dryly absurd family drama, the genealogy of four generations’ worth of miscommunication. Perhaps it’s only suitable that director Nanouk Leopold chose "blissful" De Eese as location, since it is a family estate that hides secret histories of adulterous princes and political machinations.
The end of the film portrays the ultimate form of reconciliation a contemporary film character can achieve: self-reconciliation. Life goes on. The girl called Haas who earlier in the film ate glass to express the pain of not being heard, looks out the window.
She sees a wolf.

9 I realise we’re in the shot. We’re in the goddamn shot! Why doesn’t anybody say something? We’re interrupting the image and might scare the wolf, who might come after us. When I get home I’m going to watch the final scene of wolfsbergen on DVD to see if I can spot myself in the background.

12 The Méliès moon above the nighttime forest is almost ready. Full and almost perfectly round, it shines with a fresh coat of paint, as if Dick Tuinder had climbed up an immense ladder and added a few touches at the very last moment. In the distance floats a huge papier-maché eye balloon. A hand-drawn Sally winks down from between the stars.

Dana Linssen

Dana Linssen is the editor-in-chief of de Filmkrant and film critic at large for NRC Handelsblad and Hollands Diep.

winterland will screen on Sunday, February 6 at Het Ketelhuis in Amsterdam, followed by a tour of film theatres across the country.

* Zwerfkeien mompelen, Sally hangt aan een oogballon, NRC Handelsblad 07/26/2008