Interview: Stefanie Kolk, Clan Director

Clan is a captivating film that shows a tight-knit group of people who live and work on a derelict farm. No one knows the mysterious woman in a black raincoat. At first, they don’t worry about her. But the closer she gets, the more she starts to get in their way. A gradually intensifying film and one that will linger long after viewing. We spoke to director Stefanie Kolk to find out more. 

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The film shows an outsider to the commune, they don’t respond to her in a welcoming way – they physically attack her and take food from her. What inspired you to focus on an outsider and is this something you relate to? 

The starting point was personal, but I’m more interested in the group rather than the outsider. I realised that excluding someone is something that happens between the lines. It’s hardly ever discussed or decided explicitly – because that would be rude.

Think about the Polaroid-seller who approaches you and your friends at the table as you are having dinner. Right before kindly refusing to have a picture taken, there is a moment of eye contact between you and your friends. Your eyes saying: “None of us want a Polaroid, right?”. It can be that subtle. A group is defined and maintained in the world of glances and body language. And I wanted that world to be the setting of my film. 

There is very minimalist storytelling in the film in the way that there is a focus on the subtle visual dynamics between characters and the passivity of the group. What were the challenges you found in directing a group to achieve this? 

I like this question. I wanted the acting to be very natural in this film, because I needed the audience to take the role of observer.

During the 8-day shoot, we all stayed at a holiday park. All the actors were staying in the same cabin, so they naturally became a group. For the most part, I kept the characters they portrayed close to their natural personalities. We rehearsed during the evenings a few times, and on set I kept adding things and details to suggest that the communes life stretches beyond the boundaries of the story.

Along with the minimalist storytelling, the landscape seems secluded and empty. Where was this filmed and were there any challenges to filming in this earthy, natural location? 

This was filmed in the Netherlands Southern-most tip, near Belgium, Luxembourg and Germany. In the scenes outside, there was so much mud that just walking over to the actors took two minutes at a time. I’m still relieved we lost nobody to the mud. It was terrible, although of course it makes for good stories now that it’s over.

You graduated as a biophysicist and lived in Japan for two years before entering the Netherlands Film Academy. What made you change to filmmaking and do you think your scientific background has helped you as a director?

I always loved watching films, writing stories, and drawing. But they were hobbies. I loved science, and choosing a life in research was natural to me because both of my parents were scientists. During my studies, more or less out of the blue I started to feel a desire to make films. Through making a short film, I found out that creative expression was something so fundamental to me that a hobby could never do it justice.

There’s no science in my films in a direct way, and I find it hard to pinpoint how it has ‘helped’ me. But of course, science has had an effect on my mind. Oddly enough, my background in science has made me obsessed with the fact that films can affect viewers in ways that defy language or the most obvious logic. Sometimes, a scene or shot can invoke a very real human feeling that we all know, but that doesn’t even have a word for it yet. That’s where I feel cinema is at its most powerful and explorative. I like cinema best when I don’t even understand why it’s working.

Which filmmakers have you been inspired by and do you think have influenced your filmmaking?

At this stage in my life: the honesty of Kelly Reichardt’s early films, the magic of Naomi Kawase’s films, the non-straightforward use of music in Béla Tarr’s films.

Clan is part of the International Competition 1: Tribal Instincts programme

Interview by Amelia Seely