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GET FAMILIAR: VICTOR D. PONTEN

Posted by Anne van Lingen on

We recently celebrated the one-year anniversary of our Patta Milan store with the release of Ladri di Patta, a short film written and directed by Victor Ponten. Victor has a long history of directing Dutch rap videos, creating marketing campaigns, short films and is responsible for two feature films. We decided to seize the opportunity to ask him a few questions. Read on and Get Familiar. 

Hi Victor, please introduce yourself to our readers.

My name is Victor, I’m 39 and I’m a film director. I was born Arnhem, moved to Rotterdam when I was 19, to Amsterdam when I was 21 and to Landsmeer when I was 37. I have a wife, three kids and I’ve made two feature films until date.

Where did your interest in film come from and what was your first encounter with it?

The first film I saw in a cinema was The Great Mouse Detective. A forgotten and unusually gloomy Disney film with a big final fight on the Big Ben with a hot air balloon and a thunderstorm that scared the shit out of me. I must’ve been five when I saw it but the images are still burned into my visual cortex. I grew up on a pretty strict diet of tv and film, with parents that weren’t necessarily pro-TV and believed mostly in the classics. For instance our TV was such a small portable thing and was stowed away in a basement. It only came out a few times a week. Sounds pretty intense and if I look at it now it probably was. And of course it only made that object even more mystical to me. But images have always had a strong attraction to me, so I used to peek into our neighbors’ house from our garden to watch whatever they were watching on their TV. Even though it was more than 15 meters away from me and I couldn’t hear any sound, I just couldn’t help to watch. And although visual culture has always attracted me, I had to turn 20 to realize that being part of it was a possibility for me and I had to turn 30 to become confident enough to call myself a film director.

How did you start your career in the film industry?

I started all the way down the stairs, being a grip assistant. I literally ran into it, when I coincidentally was on a TV set and the key grip was in need of an assistant. He asked me to level a track on which the camera can be pushed on a cart, and I did it and got me hired. It was on that same set I’ve met Jim Taihuttu, with whom I instantly became best friends. A couple of years later we started our company Habbekrats and started off directing as a duo. But in between those moments were 5 years of doing every lousy job on a set you can think of. That was basically my film school.

What are the most valuable lessons you got from commercial work? How about personal projects?

The line between personal projects and commercial work to me is pretty blurred and from every project I take something with me. The biggest lesson I’ve learned in a pretty early stage was to value the importance of an idea. Without it, I’m lost. An idea is the start of everything. It can be a word, a sentence, a question, an image, anything really, but I need that guiding principle. Even for a feature film I use this essential thing that needs to vibrate in every element of it. For Rabat it was the question ‘What does friendship mean?’. For my other film Catacombe it was ‘What if you’re just not talented enough?’. Sounds pretty abstract, heavy and simple when I say it like this, but something like that really guides me in every step I take in a project.

What are the influences that shape your work most?

On a personal level at the moment I’m very influenced by artist such as Bad Bunny and J Balvin. I’ve literally been vibing for weeks now on their music and melodies. They’ve really helped me to stay positive lately. I think reggaeton is one the most vibrant cultures around at the moment and I would love to contribute to it, so I’m on the look out for that. On a professional level I’ve been under the sphere of influence of director Denis Villeneuve for years. I relate deeply with his dark and moody vision and approach of cinema. But it all started with Spike Jonze and his creative aura. His journey from music video director to visionary film director is something that always ignites a blaze in me.

Which project do you take most pride in and why? 

Without a doubt ‘Rabat’, the road movie I’ve made with Jim in 2011 starring Nasrdin Dchar, Marwan Kenzari and Achmed Akkabi. I recently read an interview with Bilal Wahib, a big talent in the new wave of Dutch actors and artists. He mentioned Rabat as his main motivation to pursue an acting career although at the time the Dutch film industry was pretty white. And still is, sadly enough. The fact that he saw three guys looking like him spearhead a movie helped him to vision himself on that stage. I’m really proud of that.

Is there a message you're trying to communicate to your audience through your work? What is it? 

Be empathic. Put yourself in the perspective of another person.

If you could pick a dream project what would it be? 

I have been dreaming about a project set in Surinam, Africa and Europe telling the story of the Dutch Atlantic slave trade from a multiple perspective.

Name another creative that you would like to work with.

Bradford Young, cinematographer on films such as Arrival, Selma and A Most Violent Year. Or Hoyte van Hoytema, cinematographer on Interstellar, Her and the upcoming Tenet. I can’t choose.

The short film "Ladri di Patta" you directed for the Patta Milan store anniversary was inspired by the neo-realist "Ladri di Biciclette" classic from 1948. Please describe how this project came to be and explain the creative process behind this project.

This project started with a conversation between me, Lee, Violette and Gee at Patta. We were talking about stuff happening within the Patta family and the Milan store was one of the things that was about to pop. I’d shot in Milan before and loved the city. I saw Ladri di Biciclette as a kid and that film sticked with me too, and during the making of Catacombe it was one of my references for how to approach fatherhood and how wanting to be a good father doesn’t necessarily result in actually being a good father. So the film was pretty top of mind. When talking about a street wear brand originating in the Amsterdam sneaker culture going to Italy, honoring this classic Italian film seemed like a nice idea to us. From there I started working on ways to find the balance between making a modern-day short honoring the classic, without it becoming just a sort of trailer like copy of the original. I wanted it to be a hint of what a 2020 Ladri di Biciclette would look like. To make something that could live on its own merits and in the now.

What is the most memorable moment in your career so far?

During the development of Catacombe, which was very very tough, I ended up in a pretty dark place that - once I realized that - got even darker. Facing yourself at such a moment and overcoming it to find joy in making films again is a refining experience which I will never ever forget.

Do you have any exciting new upcoming projects you could share with us?

I’m currently working on season 3 of Dutch crime series Mocro Maffia. Besides that I’ve recently started developing a project with writer Joost de Vries and me and Jim are talking about teaming up again on a new project which excites me very much.

Follow Victor on Instagram.