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Meet the Cast & Crew – Ismaël and Robert: Visual thinkers and vagabonds, from set to set

“Do I really have to?” I ask. “Of course”, says Robert. “Ultimately, we are visual thinkers.” Therefore, I reluctantly turn on the webcam for the Skype-interview as arranged, showing me the faces of directors Ismaël Lotz and Robert van den Broek. Surprisingly, they look relaxed, only a week after the hectic shooting days in and around Helmond finished.

And yet… appearances can be deceiving. Naturally, they enjoy making the film, which is their craft as well as their passion. And yes, it is indeed inspiring to work with renowned actors from England, however, according to Robert it is also a ‘fucking topsport’. “On the first day of shooting everything came together at once, and it all has to work immediately – and keep on running. Otherwise, we’re getting nowhere.”

Foto: Ludwig Lotz

Ismaël on the job.

Hell of a Job
Ismaël looks on with an approving smile. He has shot incredibly beautiful scenes with his camera, which is duly noted. Even before I’ve asked my first question, he shows me a short edited sequence with flawless imagery. While mountains have already been moved, the work is far from completed. The editing remains to be done, Ismaël tells us, sighing. Robert agrees: “That will take a lot of time; our sound engineer Linze Valk has a hell of a job ahead of him. He will start doing the sound editing and is composing the soundtrack”.

“Luckily, the partnership is going extremely well”, he reflects. “Ismaël and I understand each other very well, and we both just want to create beautiful things, so we operate on the same wavelength.” Ismaël remains silent, probably to convey his agreement. They are crazy about what they do, everything reflects that. When I ask how they got involved with the Alice project, the answer is easily guessed: through an earlier film.

All About Nothing
To be exact: the predecessor of Who is Alice, called All About Nothing, released in 2013. Non-duality also was the main theme for that film. Robert: “Ismaël and I both individually felt that we wanted to do something with film and non-duality. We pitched our idea to Paul Smit, and together with others, worked to visualize it for the camera. It was really quite spontaneous, and all of a sudden there it was: All About Nothing.

Just as in that film, the contemporary production naturally came into being. As a filmmaker, Ismaël had international ambitions, and the budget was created to create a new film with the same group of people. The screenplay and production scheduling for Who is Alice were created quite effortlessly thanks to the smooth cooperation from the entire team .  “Working together felt just as trustworthy as in the past. Still, this will become an entirely different film,” Ismaël assures. Different how? This is an international feature film that you cannot designate under one genre. Ismaël elaborates, “There is a lot of comedy, but also elements of drama and thriller. You don’t need to be interested in non-duality specifically to still enjoy this film.”

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Robert during the shooting ‘De Yoga Studio’ (Eindhoven).

Working Like the Devil
Naturally, the actors have an enormous part in this. The directors wholeheartedly pay a very enthusiastic tribute to the actors. “Ali Bastian for example”, Ismaël brings up the leading actress. “She puts up a performance in front of the camera that I never seen before in my life. She has worked like the devil during the shooting days. She’s a tough one, because its hard work when you are playing in nearly every scene. Despite that, Ali has always remained patient and accessible.”

Robert shares this admiration: “Ali works incredibly hard. It was rare that she would join us when we went for a drink in the evenings. She was totally exhausted after a day of performing and wanted to prepare thoroughly for the next day of shooting.” He’s also very pleased with the other actors: “David Fahm for example is such an excellent actor, a real pleasure to watch. And our little princess, of course”, he says affectionately about Summer Jade Webber, who plays the role of Anna. “She can quickly switch from being herself to her character and back in just a second;  extremely admirable.

Gypsies and Vagabonds
They had to go to London for it, but it was definitely worth it. Ismaël, Robert, Paul and Guido Weijers casted their actors in the English capital within a few days. How did you make your selection? “Instinct,” says Ismaël boldly. Robert nods affirmatively. “When an actor walks in the room, you already feel if he or she fits the role. It’s something that can’t be explained.” In July, the crew will return to London to shoot the last scenes.

The production is suffused with professionality, but between the lines Ismaël and Robert mostly just have fun doing it. There are already a lot of beautiful memories and more being made as we speak. “Being a gypsy for three weeks in your own environment, capturing it all on camera, together with the actors and the whole crew, that is just amazing. You’re literally being a vagabond, from set to set,” says Robert. Ismaël smiles and says: “I especially remember the atmosphere; sharing beers together in the evening.”

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Ismaël films the audience of the award-evening at theatre ‘De Lievekamp’ in Oss.

Who is Alice?
“The beer, yes…”, Robert continues. Absorbed in thought. “That seems to be a hallmark of this production isn’t it?” They say so jokingly, knowing they have already put months of work into the film. “I look forward to be in London for the last scenes”, Robert ponders. “We’ve already agreed to meet all the actors there, even those that are not playing in any more scenes. It will be a kind of reunion, in a London pub.”

The first of many reunions? Who knows. “The actors in any case have said goodbye to the set with great sorrow. This film has brought everyone together in a warm and intimate group,” Ismael says. Robert: “Keith Ackerman, who plays the role of John, approached me during the shooting. He said: ‘I hope you will never find out who Alice is. I am really looking forward to a part 2, 3 and so on.’ A nice compliment, of course, and a striking abstract of the production. And actually, I hope the same.”

Interview: Jeroen Schalk
English translation by: Judith Boeschoten
Photography: Hans Tibben, Ludwig Lotz