Emerging producer Mathilde Niekamp: Stepping onto an international stage

    Mathilde Niekamp has her fingers in many pies. As a team member at the Amsterdam-based Witfilm, you might know her as the Executive Producer on Lessons for Luca, Salvador Gieling’s engaged yet affectionate family portrait that was nominated for the IDFA Award for Best Dutch Film (pictured above). This past November, Niekamp also took part in the Young Producers program, a specialized route through the festival for local up-and-coming producers. Cut to 2022, and she’s warming up for a co-production with Romanian-Dutch director Raluca Lupaşcu, another IDFAcademy alumnus. Over Zoom, she gave her two cents about the ups and downs of shooting during Covid, financing an international film in the Netherlands, and fine-tuning a festival strategy, among other lessons learned.

    You’ve been involved with IDFA and IDFAcademy a few different ways. Let’s start with Lessons for Luca. How did you first get involved with the project and with Salvador?

    When I started out as an Executive Producer for Witfilm, the development was already done, and we were about to go shoot in Cuba. The first trip I did was before Covid, and that was much easier because it was really hard to shoot during the pandemic in Cuba. After that, we had nothing for quite some time, and then the team went again a year later.

    How did you manage shooting through Covid?

    I think with any other film it wouldn’t have succeeded, but Salvador did almost everything himself—both shooting and sound. Of course, the characters are also his family in law, and his wife is from Cuba, so travelling was much easier. It also helped that the location was their family’s farm, which is in a village, so it wasn’t like getting permission to film in a big city or something. It was really on the lowdown.

    In an interview Salvador did during IDFA, he mentioned that it can be tricky to get financing for a Dutch film when it’s about Cuba.

    Yes, that’s very true because the Dutch broadcasters, I believe, have to do subjects that are related to the Netherlands. So IDFA is a great platform to connect those Dutch broadcasters to internationally themed documentaries from the Netherlands, because the rest of the local industry is quite focused on Dutch themes. And because Lessons for Luca is about Salvador’s Dutch son, I think that also helped; you do need a Dutch connection.

    When the film premiered at IDFA this past year, what was your experience like? What were your goals at the festival?

    It was very important for us to get the film to premiere at IDFA because it’s a nice stage and you get a lot of attention for the film both internationally and in the Netherlands. Also, it made it easier for us to do the feature-length version. In the beginning, it was financed as a shorter, 50-minute film for television only. Even though Salvador already wanted to make the feature version, we didn’t really have the financing. But because it was selected for the festival, people really believed in the film, and the feature-length cut was able to go on television in the end. So that helped us out a lot.

    Getting connected to a sales agent was also a goal. It’s too soon to say, but now we might have found one. I think that’s also something that came out of the festival eventually—a bit late with this film—but because it was at IDFA, we get a lot of emails from sales agents who are interested and want to see the film.

    The premiere itself in Covid times was also pretty special, because there are a lot of films right now who don’t get a live premiere at all, let alone at an international festival where you can also be there as a team, so we were really lucky.

    Looking back, what were your takeaways about how you did the festival strategy?

    Personally, I learned my lesson about sales agents at the Young Producers program. I went to the Netherlands Film Academy, and they probably already told me about this [laughs], but when you work on it in real life it’s different. The sales agent workshop at IDFA was very clear that you actually need a sales agent way before your premiere, which we didn’t have. As an executive producer, my experience just wasn’t so focused on that yet, so I learned a lot about it, and I will do it differently next time.

    How do you experience working as a Dutch producer more within an international context now?

    I think the international industry is very exciting, and you really feel that everyone is trying to do the same thing: make a beautiful documentary that has some impact or meaning, but everyone does it differently. For me, what stood out during the festival was the way of financing. In the Netherlands, we try to finance everything before we shoot, but I attended a talk from a French producer, and they were looking for money just before going into post, which they really needed to finish the film.

    I think it’s very cool that people do that, and I wouldn't have been in contact with that way of producing without IDFA because nobody does it like that in the Netherlands. I work on co-productions as well, but because we are mostly the majority producers, it’s still kind of in the Dutch way and time frame. So, this did make me think about how we can use those international methods more in the Netherlands.

    Can you say a bit about the new project you’re working on, A Modern Gypsy Fairy Tale?

    That’s one of my co-productions actually. It's with Raluca Lupaşcu, a Romanian director who has lived in the Netherlands for the last ten years or so. We don’t have any finances on that project yet, so it was very nice to meet Alina David, a producer from Romania in the Young Producers program, who helped us make some connections there. Now we’ve done an application with another Romanian producer, so we are aiming for a co-production but first we need the Dutch financing to make it official.

    Raluca was also part of the IDFAcademy & NPO Fund Workshop, which means she did the same pitch presentation to the Dutch broadcasters that Salvador did in 2018. That's been good for the project, because it’s the same story: it’s a film that’s in Romania, and it doesn’t have a direct link with the Netherlands, but it’s a beautiful story. Since the presentation, we’ve arranged two conversations with the Dutch broadcasters. I think one of them will be interested, so we can also get started on that this year. Then we’ll also go on another research trip to find the main character, so I think shooting will be mainly next year if all goes well.

    Do you have any tips for other young producers coming out of the Netherlands?

    It’s very important to choose the company you’re working with wisely. Choose somewhere that makes films you really like, and then that will help you develop your own taste and way of producing. Or, start your own company. This year, not a lot of producers from the Young Producers program had their own company, but I think it’s very brave if you do, and more young people should try it.

    Lessons for Luca

    • Salvador Gieling
    • 2021
    • 88 min

      In Cuba—modern Cuba—a farmer gets a six-year sentence for selling his own cow. Like all the best family sagas, Lessons for Luca paints a picture that’s both about individuals and society as a whole.

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