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One-on-one with Filmmaker Jana Van Brussel - “Filmmaking is ‘a work in the dark’"

Jana Van Brussel is a 22 year old visual artist who studies in the field of documentary filmmaking at RITCS in Brussels.


iFilmFestival: Tell us a bit about your most important film so far.

Van Brussel : “'Top Girl' is a film that serves as a metaphor for typecasting in the acting industry. The actor re-interprets the role of Lady Nijo from the well-known feminist play Top Girl, but this time on her own terms. By careful deconstruction of the character a twilight zone is revealed, somewhere in between performing and being. The gap between identity and society becomes visual. The film is based on real events that my friend Margaux went through while she was studying abroad in New York City. We used techniques inspired by Steven Arnold and other surrealist photographers to fully grasp the sense of transformation and of protecting one’s own bare skin. We wanted to make sure that she was never revealed entirely, that she was always in charge of what was being shown of her. ”


top girl jana van Brussel film festival filmmaker
Top Girl (2020)

iFilmFestival: What were the key challenges making it?

Van Brussel : “During filming, we found ourselves walking on the edges of a complex phenomenon. We wanted to dive into the past again, but the key challenge was not to fall into the same stereotypes that reduced Margaux to a childlike, naive and submissive version of Lady Nijo. We walked through her experiences together until she found the tools that put her in charge of the situation. For Margaux, the film became more of an exploration of what acting could mean for her, putting it in her own advantage and ultimately gaining more confidence in her own skills.”


iFilmFestival: What’s one aspect that you’re particularly proud of?

Van Brussel : “I didn’t choose the people on set because of their particular technical skill, but people I felt safe with and with whom I had profound conversations with about the film. The project was about having an intersubjective space in which things could develop naturally, associatively and not in an hierarchical, determined and closed thinking. I did not make one single decision alone, every person involved has made some decisions that were entirely conserved in the finished film. That, and the fact that it was a very crafty film, I really found freedom in doing stuff with my hands and painting faces; while putting together the flat image on the screen, we were working on the 3D space as well. ”

iFilmFestival: How did you get involved in filmmaking?

Van Brussel : “Quite randomly. I stumbled into a filmmaking class on campus abroad and I was fascinated by the energy that a group of people could generate around one project, plus I was quite good with a camera. So I decided to try my luck back in Brussels. It was only in my third year in filmschool that I really got a sense of the depths of cinema as a medium, when we started to research the politics, ethics and philosophical side more profoundly.”

iFilmFestival: What new projects are you working on or are you hoping to work on in the future?

Van Brussel : “I’m currently doing research on my masters film. It is not yet quite clear what it’s going to be about exactly, but it will be a very physical film, as a response to this period of restraint. In times of mistrusting your own body and that of others, and in times of being choreographed in our communal lives, the movement of the body can be a very political act. ”


iFilmFestival: What role do film festivals play?

Van Brussel : “They are crucial for the distribution and showcasing of any film in general, although I haven’t experienced the pleasure yet of having my film screened in front of a real audience due to Covid. If everything goes right next year, Brussels Independent 2021 will be my international premiere.”


iFilmFestival: What is your advice to filmmakers tackling the festival circuit?

Van Brussel : “Never get discouraged if you don't get selected. It's a lottery, we all know that.”


iFilmFestival: How do you see the future of film?

Van Brussel : “I think the answer to that question must remain unclear. Filmmaking is ‘a work in the dark’, if we could do anything at all, it's at least being sensible. ”

jana van brussel filmmaker film festival
Jana Van Brussel

iFilmFestival: Which filmmaker do you admire and why?

Van Brussel : “The one film that put everything upside down for me was the iconic 'The Color of Pomegranates' of Sergei Parajanov. It was a film that came out of nowhere for me and added a whole new spectrum to my perception of what cinema could be. It's so majestic, with the exact right amount of poetry and balance, of storytelling in minimalistic gestures, not to mention the way in which time and space are arranged.”

iFilmFestival: What film have you recently seen that you have admired in one way or another?

Van Brussel : “In these last weeks I was completely taken away by 'Rain', a film of Olivia Rochette and Gerard-Jan Claes. They are a Belgian filmmaking duo, and in this film they worked together with the legendary Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker to capture her (then)upcoming performance 'Rain'. It's a film about the body and the unceasing act of moving it, a work that has to be done over and over again. Most of all it's about a process, conscientiously putting together the pieces with perseverance. It's a reflection on filmmaking and the presence of the filmer, as much as it is about choreography.”

Thank you Jana for answering our questions!


Interview by iFilmFestival on 3 March 2021.