Can you describe what you do? Where you are based, the neighbourhood you live in, your daily routine, the people you work with, the scene you feel the closest to.
We run Cinema Cartoon’s together. Our role is rather operational. Because Cartoon’s is part of the Lumière Group, we make sure that our venue lives in Antwerp. Which means ensuring to reach the right audience, employing an effective marketing strategy, handling the students that work here, and taking care of the building. Three years ago the cinema was saved from bankruptcy and we came through a good year and a half ago. We’re learning as we go along. It’s just the two of us, and ten students helping out with ticket sales. Cinema Cartoon’s is open 365 days a year. We have 12 to 15 shows each day so we do need a set routine. The venue is located in an old chocolate factory, and thanks to its 40-year history, many older visitors tell us amazing stories from a time when we weren’t even born yet. Apparently quite a lot of legendary bands took to the stage in our basement over the years.
How do you perceive Antwerp? In your view, what kind of city is it? Its people, its cultural landscape, its vibe? How does it compare to other, similarly-sized cities?
As cinema exploiters, we’re pretty envious of cities like Amsterdam, where there are 17 arthouse cinemas. Cinema Cartoon’s and Cinema Zuid are the only ones in Antwerp. Antwerp is the largest city in Flanders, but we lack a strong film culture. Brussels scores better, we feel. Antwerp is a pioneer in the wider cultural landscape, though. There are myriad of theatre companies, art centres and music clubs here that do not take the easy road. In that abundance of options, cinema is often pushed aside.
What would you say is Antwerp’s main appeal for creatives? What gives the city its edge?
Antwerp is the largest city in Flanders, and thus an important intersection of networks. All kinds of creative sectors come together here, and strengthen each other. For film specifically, there are a lot of small projects and studios in Antwerp that make great productions, which are all affected by local fashion design and music.
There is a need for a better balance between locals and tourism.
How would you say Antwerp contributed to making you who you are today? What role has the city played in shaping your outlook and career?
Jon: Antwerp started influencing me when I came here to study. Since it is not solely a student city, I wasn’t limited to those stereotypical frat parties and activities. When I leafed through the cultural brochures for the first time, it felt like heaven. I have always had a contradictory relationship with Antwerp: I used to think that there was a touch of arrogance and hostility, which was an image that the media had created. I felt like Antwerp wanted to be a world city, but could not cope with the world living in the city. Now that I actually live in Antwerp, that idea has become more nuanced. Now I can also see a lot of beauty. Like recognising patterns in the tiles on the Hendrik Conscience Square, or having a conversation with my neighbour who wants to start a gallery for the neighbourhood. Those things are more beautiful than the city hall’s façade decorated with thousands of lights.
Jan-Willem: Thanks to the pull of the city, I met many friends who grew up outside of Antwerp but settled here. A great number of things here get an Antwerp spin to it – although that is true for most cities.
On a personal level, what would you like to see more of in the city?
The number of tourists has risen so much lately. The people who live in Antwerp have moved their activities to other parts of town such as the Mechelseplein. We have to be careful that all parts of the city are still accessed by the locals. That’s the biggest challenge for all cities in the 21st century in our opinion: to what level do you build a city for tourists and how do you reconcile this with a city for the regular inhabitants? Cinema Cartoon’s is pretty much the only thing left in the city centre for locals, who have to make their way there through all kinds of tourist hotspots. There is a need for a better balance between locals and tourism.
To you, what is the best way to spend a weekend in Antwerp? If you had to take out-of-towners to one place that truly symbolises the city, what would it be?
Jon: Antwerp is like a house spread over the city. I know there is a commercial with that concept, but I really mean it. You have a swimming pool around the corner, a library next door, markets on the square, and (too little) parks on the end of the street. Library Permeke is one of the most amazing places in Antwerp because it does not only have a huge collection of books, but also graphic novels. And you should have a look at the small statue of a man holding eggs on at the Eiermarkt. I don’t know the myth, but my friend and I made our own version based on the text etched underneath. When this merchant sold eggs from door to door, he took away the people’s worries. The predecessor of a psychotherapist!
Jan-Willem: In Antwerp there is an enormous cultural offer to choose from. With all the fashion brands established here we can compete with London, while our coffee bars are of the same level as Milan’s. People from out of town can hardly imagine that there can be so much in our little city of 600 thousand inhabitants. I’ve spent a lot of time at the bars at the Mechelseplein. The media loves to claim that café culture is on the verge of extinction in Flanders, but at this square you can walk in three bars and find that there isn’t one free spot in any of them.
A local legend, neighbourhood anecdote or urban myth?
Let’s make clear for once and for all where Cinema Cartoon’s found its name. It has nothing to do with animated films. 40 years ago a hockey club had its own whisky and cigar bar in the basement of this building. The French-speakers loved films so they built their own film theatre. To make it all official, they started an association, Cartoon’s. They did not realise that the apostrophe did not belong there. Theatre Monty bought the cinema and made it public, keeping the name that the hockey players had made up. We’re still the victims of a spelling error made forty years ago.cinemacartoons.be Interview Tine Van den Poel Photography Joke De Wilde