INTERVIEW: Getting to Know Jan Rofekamp – New Head of the Masterschool
Tell us briefly what you do for Films Transit International: I started FT in 1982, the year of my immigration to Canada. We started with fiction and docs and the whole doc world, as we know it, did not really exist. There were here and there some small fests for our types of films, but the solid circuit we know today…it was just not there yet. Somewhere in the early 90s, I decided to stop with independent fiction and to concentrate on my old love from the 70s: social, political and cultural docs. And that is what I have been doing since. I have seen two major media revolutions that completely changed the deck of cards: mid 70s the birth of video and the mid 80s the birth of cable and satellite broadcasting. Today we face revolution number three: the online world and this one is a game-changer beyond belief.
What projects are you currently working on? Our company sells films but we do get involved in a number of productions a year. I personally need a very strong motivation and have a sense of relevance for a project. Production has always been difficult and the competition huge. I have been working on Hanna Polak's SOMETHING BETTER TO COME, Michele Hozer's SUGAR COATED, Avra Georgiou's DOLLARS FOR A SAINT, a new Chomsky doc REQUIEM FOR THE AMERICAN DREAM, then there are productions in the works on BJORK and FRANK ZAPPA.
2016 Masterschool participants should be prepared to: Of course, you should make the best film you can, but you also have to listen to how the market works today. I think producers should realize that today yes, one can make one film, but one could potentially also make four films out of the same subject for different markets. You shoot a film on Greece, but why not at the same time make a 12-minute short out of your material for The Guardian or the New York Times websites. I think it is important to be aware of the different options there are today and to have a practical attitude toward these markets to maximize all the blood, sweat and tears you put into your film.
Tell us something people don't know about you: Aha…my connection with film started in the local cinema in the Dutch village where I grew up: I saw Dr. No when it came out in 1962 pretending I was 14…I have always kept that love for B-movies. I find nothing more satisfying occasionally than Schwarzenegger, Seagal, Gibson, Dwayne Johnson, Wahlberg going after and killing drug dealers and rapists. I rented Liam Neeson's TAKEN and got my youngest daughter and her girlfriends together and showed them that movie. My other love are the great historical epics or series: From El Cid to Braveheart and the series Borgias, Tudors, Pillars of the Earth, Black Sails...but above all I am forever a fan of Laurel and Hardy.
Childhood dream: My dad worked for KLM all his life and every November when the airline calendars were handed out, he took the calendar of the now defunct Canadian Pacific Airlines that was pinned on the inside door of the toilet, so sitting on the bowl as a kid through the year I saw the famous Canadian landscape pictures: The Rockies, The prairies, Montreal skyline, Nova Scotia….who would have known?
Proudest work accomplishment: 1) Selling the Finnish doc STEAM OF LIFE (full of naked men!) to PBS in the USA. 2) Convincing PBS ( again) NOT to air THE BATTLE OVER CITIZEN KANE ( a true masterpiece!) immediately but giving me a chance for the Oscars. We did get a nomination for it.
Favourite place in the world: The Blue Lagoon, Iceland, but I have only been once.
Favourite sport: Watching a Steven Seagal or Schwarzenegger movie on my stationary exercise bike.
Perfect day: Isolated Greek beach with a good book, Avra and a cold ouzo.
Food can't live without: I would need to live without it, but I must admit…good quality ice cream.
Fondest memories: There are many but when I was a teenager I went three times on vacation to France with a friend: twice hitchhiking and the third time with an old Citroen Diane that broke down after two days driving…interviewing Fritz Lang as a film student in 1970… also as a film student being on the set as an apprentice of Diamonds Are Forever and chatting with Sean Connery in the make up room….and finally around the same time…shaking hands with Alfred Hitchcock on the set of Frenzy.
Hobby: Have no real hobbies now but I really like to look at old coins, old stamps, old books, old engravings and prints.
Pet Peeve: In Athens, church bells early in the morning (at least 5 times a week) around 7am...long and loud....drives me nuts and wakes me up.
Favourite TV show of all time: I think THE SOPRANOS…but I also really, really liked CARNIVALE and THE BORGIAS (the one with Jeremy Irons).
Favourite film of all time: The Longest Day: what I like about this film is that it is full of famous actors, many of them having only one or two scenes, but you never forget these scenes as these where the days when actors had immense screen presence and charisma. Peter Lawford: one scene, almost only one shot: unforgettable, Edmond O’Brien, same, the actor that plays Eisenhauer on the moment of decision…Robert Mitchum with cigar on the beach…unforgettable.
Most memorable trip: Adopting my first daughter in China in 1991, walking on Tienanmen barely a year after the uprising….the China of today is uncomparable with what we lived through then: a day and night difference.
Best thing I read last year: Rosebud (Orson Welles) by David Thompson. Now I am reading a nice thick Spanish novel: VICTUS: The Fall of Barcelona by Albert Sanchez Pinol, quite incredible.
Favourite vacation spot: A small village somewhere on Ithaca.
Inspiration: When I see a doc on a relevant subject that really excites me I get really fired up and inspired about what I am doing and have been doing for the last almost 40 years. Docs are not just docs if they tell a real story, they need a bit of drama and excitement. One great example is a film we handled a few years back: THE MOST DANGEROUS MAN IN AMERICA about 1970s whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg, after the premiere a man stood up and shouted to the filmmakers: "My God, I thought I was watching a fiction film, a real drama."
Looking forward to: Spending more time becoming a teacher for the younger generations of filmmakers.
Celebrity to play you in a film: Richard Gere (people have been telling me that I look a bit like him…and to be frank he is pretty good in a number of his films).