Magazine article Insight on the News

Will Hollywood Go Dutch?

Magazine article Insight on the News

Will Hollywood Go Dutch?

Article excerpt

Director Mike van Diem won this year's Academy Award for Best foreign film. But he acknowledges that even Oscars don't Guarantee success in `who's-hot-who's-not' Hollywood.

I carry it with me," Mike van Diem confides, alluding to the Academy Award statuette he accepted with engaging happiness this spring. Van Diem's first feature, the Dutch import Character, was named best foreign-language film on Oscar night.

"Everything you've heard is true," he says. "Once there was a prenomination buzz about our movie, the quality and the quantity of the offers, and the meetings, increased. Then when you win, a circus ensues. My agent received 200 calls between 9 and 11 the morning after the Oscars. You're the favor of the day, the week, the month, who knows how long!"

Van Diem was born in rural Holland in 1959 and educated, without graduating, at the University of Utrecht, where he often was distracted by the abundance of movie programs, current and classic. He adopted his first name at the age of 12 in homage to Mike Connors of the TV private-eye series Mannix.

The director plans to maintain his residence in Amsterdam, but his professional aspirations tend toward Hollywood, or English-language filmmaking in general. "Nothing awaits me as a film director back home" he says. "There's no such thing as making a living in feature films in Holland. You have to combine it with TV, which I did."

Van Diem spent six years as an undergraduate, stringing out a major in Dutch literature while devoting most of his waking hours to movies. He was persuaded to apply to the Dutch Film and Television Academy and was accepted in 1987 -- after applying twice. His thesis project, a 45-minute psychological thriller called Alaska, won several awards, including one of the annual prizes for student films sponsored by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

"I had my first brush with Hollywood hoopla seven years ago" recalls van Diem. "Depending on how you look at it, I was fortunate or unfortunate enough to win for Alaska and got caught up in dreams of instant Hollywood glory. Instead, I ended up in development hell while pitching an English-language script. I got nowhere"

Van Diem trusts that false start will help him guard against false confidence in the wake of his Oscar triumph. "It has me wondering," he muses. "I'm happy that the experience with Character was not my first time in L.A. I'm a whole lot older now. And less ambitious. Let's just see what happens."

Van Diem appears to be fluent in English, the presumably indispensable qualification for a career in mainstream international filmmaking. Apart from some amusingly accented words -- "den" for then and "udders" for others -- his command of the language sounds silky. All a misconception, according to the filmmaker.

"I don't consider myself fluent at all," he confesses. "It's pretty much acquired English. Maybe I've seen more movies than other people. At most, I'm semifluent in movie English."

Evidently, semifluency is easier to acquire in the Netherlands than larger European countries. "The average person in Holland speaks a little English," he says, "but there's a vulgar reason for this. It's not because we have, like, a good educational system. It's because we cannot afford to have our English-language TV shows dubbed. This is true in most of the smaller European countries. We don't dub the feature films we import, either. …

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