Renaat Lambeets, SBC member, cinematographer and well-known steadycamer enjoys both drama and documentary making. He has contribued to films as various as Whatever Lola wants by Nabil Ayouch (2007), No man is an Island by Tim de Keersmaecker (2015), Snake Dance by Manu Riche and Patrick Marnham (2012), and Any Way the Wind Blows by Tom Barman (2003).
Problemski Hotel is the first fiction by Manu Riche, one of the filmmakers with whom he regularly collaborates. The film is an adaptation of an eponymous novel by Dimitri Verhulst, a successful Flemish author who wrote The Misfortunates also adapted for the screenby Félix Van Groeningen in 2009.
The film is about life in an asylum seekers’ center. Bipul (Tarek Halaby), an exile from « a fucking forgotten village in No-where-istant » suffers from amnesia and is considered part and parcel with the place. He welcomes and helps the newcomers with procedures. Also he has made friends with Maqsood (Gökhan Girginol), he generally avoids mixing too much with exiles, because – as he has often experienced – they always end up leaving until he meets Lidia (Evgenia Brendes), who dreams of living in London.
Prior to the belgian release of Problemski Hotel, on Wednesday, January 12th, 2016, I got in touch with Rennat Lambeets to ask him about his work as cinematographer :
Renaat, how did you join this project ?
Renaat Lambeets : I have known Manu since 1985. We met at the VRT. But he didn’t belong on television. It wasn’t artistic enough for him. Manu is an author, he always produces something special.
It was the first time that you had worked together on a fiction. How did it go ?
RL : At first, it was hard. While working for him on documentaries, he would never see the rushes before editing. On this movie, at first anyway, he was always behind monitors, he wanted to oversee the shots, etc. I wasn’t used to this and I asked him what was going on. But finally things went back to normal after a couple of weeks.
How did you work together ?
RL : At first, Manu wanted to change the rules of fiction. He wanted to shoot without saying action, without actors knowing, in order to maintain freshness, but also because, the subject being so hard, the actors had often interesting discussions about the refugee center and their status off camera. But it was hard to start rolling when electricians were still adjusting lights or when the focus puller had no time to take her marks, so I had to slow down his will to shoot all the time, while respecting Manu’s desire to be as natural as possible.
How did working with actors go ? I read that many of them weren’t professional actors ?
RL : Yes, it’s true. Many secondary or walk-on parts were refugees or asylum seekers. Even the main actors : Tarek is a Palestinian dancer who has travelled almost everywhere, Gökan is from Turkey, Evgenia from Kazakhstan…
They were all very curious about the end result. They came to every preview and prerelease of the movie. And on set, they paid close attention, they didn’t dare to ask to see the shots etc.
What were your plans as far as lights were concerned ?
RL : I know Manu, so I knew I couldn’t put too much light. For him, a good light, is the one that is already in the room you’re shooting in, even at night. Sure, I could add some sources to improve the photography, but in general, I had to start from what was already there. For the frame, we worked a lot in sequence shots with steady-cam or by hand.
What kind of material did you use ?
RL : We filmed with my F55 and my Cooke S4 which are very soft. I prefer the F55 to the Alexa because it is handier, and because its batteries consume less. For instance, when I’m in Africa, I can leave for the bush with only three full-charged batteries and they last three days.
What about lights ?
RL : I don’t have lights of my own, we rent them from Lites. Most of the time, I let my electricians choose whom they want to rent from. Since it was very low-ceilinged, we mostly used 4300° neon lights, which enabled me to shoot both in the daytime and at night without losing too much diaphragm. I also used Kinoflos and once an HMI.
What budget did you have ?
RL : I don’t know the total budget for this film, but it wasn’t much.
Who were your co-workers on this film ?
RL : René Haan was my gaffer. I worked with him for the very first time. Manu decided to start shooting on such short notice that I had to find people immediately avalaible. But it went well. Nicolas Mambourg was key grip. I’m used to working with Veroni Londers as focus puller. For color grading, I do all my films with colorist Frank Temmerman. Most of the time we worked at Het Raam in Amsterdam (the film is a Dutch coproduction), but we ended at Option Media in Malines.
I read that apart from a few external scenes, you shot almost all the film on one location.
RL : Yes, we shot in BNP Paribas’s former buildings. They were about to be demolished, and so completely empty. But it was for the best, it enabled the decoration team to do a wonderful job. Working in that kind of building is great because we could do whatever we wanted. The only difficulty was to manage light through the windows. There were openings everywhere, we had to shoot against the sunlight all the time.
What do you think about the whole film ?
RL : I’m very happy with the results. The film has already received very good reviews and has been nominated at the Rotterdam film Festival (from 27 Januray to 2 February), but also at the Cinequest (from 1 to 13 March), and at the Ramdam, in the Ramdam of the year category. I didn’t know that festival, but apparently it’s the festival of unsettling films. It takes place from January 18th to January 26th.
Focus puller : Veroni Londers
Key grip : Nicolas Mambourg
Gaffer : René Haan
Colorist : Frank Temmerman
Technical material :
Camera : Personal F55 and Cooke S4
Electrical equipment : Lites
Postproduction : Het Raam and Option Media
Set Photos :