Hesdy Lonwijk has been on his creative journey for more than 11 years now. His career made a jumpstart when his graduation film Color me bad won multiple awards in 2007. With his reality-based storytelling Hesdy is able to question the status quo. During the interview we talked about Hesdy’s filmmaking style, how surrealism influences his work and where he finds his inspiration.
What makes your work challenging as a director?
To be honest: I feel like the biggest challenge is wanting everything to be perfect and at the same time trying to get over my own insecurities. Every time I start a movie, it feels like the first time. Each time I feel like that’s when they’re going to find out that I am an impostor and have zero talent for directing. It’s crazy that these thoughts even crossed my mind. Obviously they are there to be ignored but sometimes it’s hard to overcome one’s own insecurities. I now realize it’s either not the right project for me or I am not ready to embark on that particular journey.
Did you ever fear that you couldn’t make money with directing?
Of course, but I started off pretty fearless. The money always followed. Maybe that’s because I could care less about the money itself: I just wanted to created stories and thought everything was possible. The blessing of being naïve. It’s one of the reasons I love working with young people: their naivety is a very big power which adds fearlessness to their approach. For me that’s inspiring: to keep you fire burning – even when you grow out to be an established name (which I am not of course). You have to stay eager and should be willing to do whatever it takes. If you really want your story out there, you must find a way.
Hesdy LondwijkYou have to stay eager and be willing to do whatever it takes.
When you think back to the time you started out, would you say you had false beliefs or external factors which held you back from starting a career in directing?
I started out thinking I would become a pediatrician and so I made sure I took all the required courses like math, chemistry, physics and Latin. During my college years at some point I let go off the idea of becoming a doctor. I moved to the city of Rotterdam and went into a totally different direction with a study account management. I even interned at an ad agency as a junior copywriter. I took some extracurricular courses in journalistic and script writing in the US, but it still hadn’t daunt on me yet that I was on my way to becoming a filmmaker. Everything fell into place when I saw a director working on a set one day. I knew right away I wanted to be that guy in the middle of all that creative chaos, the one who looked like he knew how to make sense of it all. Still, I had to overcome the biggest obstacle yet which was telling my parents I wanted to go back to (film-)school. In our culture you get recognition when you become a doctor, lawyer, engineer etcetera. Being an 'artist' ranks very low on that social status scale. As expected, they did not really approve, but I went ahead and did it anyway. I just felt somehow that this was the road on which someday I would discover my true calling. Now, it's still around here somewhere but I can't completely say I have found it. Not yet...
You use a lot of poems to communicate with your audience. Why do you use poems and how does implementing them add to your film?
When I was 17, I got inspired by the work of Salvador Dali which led me to start reading books from surrealist authors. This was long before I became a filmmaker. I believe that there is poetry all around and within us despite the fact that most of us live within structured lines, squares. I strive to tell stories in an unstructured way because it resembles how thoughts and ideas takes shape in my mind. None of those are square to begin with so I try as much as I can implement some of it. I feel like I’m only scratching the surface with my work so far.
You already won two awards in 2005 and 2007 for your short films and afterwards got discovered by the advertising world. Did you always have a plan and if yes, what was the bigger dream?
Back then, I just wanted to tell the story of my graduation film in the style of Alejandro González Iñárritu of whom I am a big fan of. Needless to say we had to take a huge risk because Alejandro applies techniques we weren’t taught at film school We shortlisted and rehearsed the scenes prior to the shoot and placed the camera where the actors wanted to be instead of the other way around. It was an adventure of insecuritie John Cassavetes would say. Ultimately this way of shooting worked in our favor and I still try to apply it to this day. Now did I have a plan how all of it turned out with the awards and such? Definitely not but I already promised myself not to let others - or myself for that matter - box me in. I could shoot commercials on one side and work on socially critical movies.
If you would get the chance to talk to a creative person or someone who inspires you. Who would it be and why?
The director Alejandro González Iñárritu is a massive inspiration in the way he manages actors. The level of depth and the layering he adds to his stories is inspiring. Before he made Birdman, I heard that he had a midlife crisis where he wasn’t motivated anymore. I can see how that would affect his work. The greatest tool of the director is his mind, perhaps his peace of mind. It's what we carry around and thus bring to the set. This is something I would love to talk to him about, next to the art of filmmaking of course. Next to Alejandro, the cinematographer Bradford Young (Selma, The Arrivals, A most violent year) is a huge source of inspiration for me. He has a strong focus and vision on what is called ‘capturing black bodies’. In short it is to consciously capture black people on screen in an aesthetic way. Seems natural until you realize there is an enormous lack of diversity in the film world.
What is the biggest lesson you have learned that you can pass on to other filmmakers?
I like see a lot of parallels between the art of filmmaking and running which I started doing about 5 years ago. Approaching a film project is exactly as I would approach a race: instead of focusing on the finish line (final outcome) I break it down to several parts and direct my energy into getting as much joy and knowledge out of each bit. I ran an ultramarathon once and too be honest my preparation wasn’t all that well. But each hill that I climbed, each glimpse of the ocean that I caught, each cheer and smile… it all made me fly and before I knew it I’d hit ¾ of the race. Obviously after that the pain takes over (hahaha) and you have to keep reminding yourself that if you’ve come this far… then why would you stop now. That’s moviemaking in a nutshell: never stop making your dreams become reality even when times get tough. There’s also a valuable lesson when it comes to making the distinction between talent and discipline. I know plenty of filmmakers who are just naturally gifted filmmakers but most of us make it by share perseverance and discipline. In fact, those who end up making it or those who keep pushing no matter what. So stop comparing yourself to others and move at your own speed. As long as you’re moving, you are doing great.
Do you have a specific plan where you see yourself as a director in some years?
I have worked in this industry for 11 years now. My experience so far has allowed me to to have more say in whatever I collaborate on. I’m looking for creative ownership right now. This means having my own production company first. I’m also setting up a collective for bicultural filmmakers. There is this (un-)conscious, constant underestimation of colored filmmakers (both in front and behind the camera). This in turns leads to a lack of cultural diverse stories which I think is a loss for all of us. And I do mean the everybody who loves a good story. I am going to be one of those people inspiring others to bring the untold stories forward.