Bridging the makers with the viewers: Eva Van Tongeren on Visite’s fourth edition

What could be a better way to enjoy films than by engaging directly with those whose hands and minds made them? Eva Van Tongeren – curator of the Antwerp-based Visite film festival, member of the collective De Imagerie, and award-winning film-maker herself – sets out to explore exactly this by creating a platform for worldwide film-makers and local audiences to interact and learn respectively what it means to create, as well as to watch and listen. With the opening night of their fourth edition set at Brussels’ Beursschouwburg this Wednesday with a screening of John Smith’s Hotel Diaries, the rest of Visite will be carried out in its home-base Het Bos till 3rd of March.

Can you tell us a bit about Visite in general?

Firstly, Visite is about sharing a love for cinema. Our point of departure is: Films we’ve seen, films we’ve loved seeing and that we want everyone to see. Visite is curated by film-makers for film-makers – and the general public of course -, out of an admiration for our colleagues, bringing together a collage of political, experimental and documentary cinema. With two rounds a year, we invite film-makers to show off their work, as well as ask them to bring along a film from another director. Through this method, we want to put our audiences in touch with film-makers who are often quite local, yet still brush on universal themes through their work and chosen films. Visite is possible thanks to the close collaborative efforts between all the members of De Imagerie: Koen Bleuzé, Thijs Paaijmans, Anne Reijniers and Charlotte Koopman. And of course, the unrelentless support of Het Bos. The films are shown in various forms and vary in length, angle of approach and time period. We show Antwerp-based premieres as well as works which were already premiered years ago in regular festival programmes, but that we feel are still pertinent today.

How does the festival’s name help to evoke its content?

During the festival, film-makers approach us at Visite: they get to fill their evening slot exactly as they see fit. Alongside their own work, we invite them to bring other films and videos to open a discussion on what fascinates and inspires their own work. We aim to challenge them to think of the contexts in which they’d like to present their own work, and the angles of approach the open-floor discussion should take. As such, every evening ends up being different, on the basis of mood and content. Besides a jam-packed evening programme, we also offer dinners courtesy of Het Bos’ in-house cuisine service Otark, after which the film screening is carried out with an open discussion from Bosbar’s theatre. Overall, we establish a space where the viewer and the film-maker can come together to watch, enjoy and discuss all things film.     

How would you describe the majority of the works on show?

The films are shown in different forms, lengths and angles – but in general the focus always lies on documentation, experimentation, politics and hybrid cinema, wherein personal experiences are linked to universal issues. We’ve selected a mix of established names, upcoming talents and everything else that falls in between. Specifically, British film icon John Smith and internationally celebrated visual artists Fiona Tan, Ria Pacquée and Herman Asselberghs stand side by side with the impressive graduation films of Justine Cappelle and the documentaries of Sanaz Azari, Robin Vanbesien and Saddie Choua.

As a curator, how important is your relationship with the exhibited artist?

The far-reaching contribution of the film-makers in putting the programme together ensures a special connection with the film community – arguably Visite’s most important aspect, and our main strength. A particular setting is created with its own special kind of tension and enthusiasm: throughout the evening, the audience learns to not only to familiarise themselves with unique films, but also with the thoughts, inspiration, difficulties and ambitions of a film-maker.

The audience learns to not only to familiarise themselves with unique films, but also with the thoughts, inspiration, difficulties and ambitions of a film-maker.

What do you feel is the festival’s main statement? And how do you feel it fits in with the film-makers’ oeuvres in a more general sense?

Since 2015, our film collective De Imagerie has been showing films on an irregular basis. Our dream to provide film screenings in a broader context, a unique atmosphere and to put together a coherent programme is what resulted in our first edition of Visite in August 2016. Over the course of several days, we invited primarily Belgian film-makers to the inaugural edition. Thanks to the first edition’s success, we decided to carry on the festival project with two rounds a year. Visite’s formula ensures that the invited film-makers carry a huge weight on the programme itself: a continuous mix of local and global themes, short and long works, new and old films.

On a more personal level, how was working on this exhibition enriched your understanding of the film-makers’ work? And of the cinema scene more generally?

Personally, Visite is the creation of a space for films that I myself have enjoyed watching. It’s about the exchange of ideas, inspirations, fascinations and work processes. The interaction between different films, film-makers and audiences. The power of discussion. Through the scenography of the room and the comfort of food and drinks on offer, we invite the public to continue the discussion that’s already been initiated in the theatre.