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Filmmaker Q&A: Soetkin Verstegen

Soetkin Verstegen is a filmmaker based out of Brussels. Her films are composed of various techniques including drawing, sculpture, and experimentation. She studied scriptwriting and Cultural studies and is an alumna of the Animation Workshop's AniDox: Residency in Denmark and Akademie Schloss Solitude in Germany. Verstegen also teaches animation workshops in addition to being a freelance animator, puppet, and set builder for studios.

Verstegen’s film, Freeze Frame, was presented at the 58th AAFF. We reached out to Verstegen to learn more about her process and method. Check out the interview below.

Tell us about yourself! What is your background as a filmmaker?

I studied film making and scriptwriting in Brussels. By coincidence, I started some short courses in animation and it's now what I do mostly. Animation is a way of combining many different art forms that I'm interested in.

Briefly describe your film that was presented at the 58th AAFF

Freeze Frame compares the fragile celluloid image to an ice cube. The figures in the film perform a hopeless but beautiful ritual of capturing and preserving. Through formal elements of early cinema, it plays with universal ideas of reanimation and death, motion and stillness, the original and its duplication, immortality, and decay. These reflections are set against the backdrop of a meditative, dreamy atmosphere.

What was your biggest challenge when creating your film?

I think the biggest challenge in making anything is structuring the ideas in my head, cutting things down, and making it simple. There's a moment of going down the rabbit hole when you start a film. Everything is interesting and anything is possible. Then there's a frightening moment of being stuck in that maze and not finding your way out. Getting out is a victory.

What was the most exciting part of creating your film?

The context of residencies in which I made the film. I had the full time to dive into it and concentrate. I had no deadline, fixed topic, or outcome. This total freedom works very well for me. Then when I took a break, I was surrounded by artists and researchers with very different interests and disciplines. Once I stop working, I quite like to think and talk about something else. Most gratifying has been the way the film has been received beyond my expectations. That it seems to be understood in some way by so many different people.

What influences your work and how is that reflected in your film?

I like to read and research about different topics and fields that loosely connect. Right now I'm growing more into observation, composition, choreography, than topic-based thinking. I just spend a lot of time looking at things, especially changes in light. I also try to attentively listen to everything that is around and how it mixes together. I'm impressed with films and other work which are felt rather than understood.

Is there a particular filmmaker who has been the most inspiring or influential to you?

Not influential to particularly this film [Freeze Frame], but these are just some examples of great filmmakers, connected to animation: Karolina Glusiec, Miloš Tomić, Janie Geiser, Pia Borg, Patrick Bokanowski, Susann Maria Hempel, Moïa Jobin-Paré, Elise Simard, Boris Labbé, a lot of short animation coming from Poland. Documentary, dance, contemporary drawing, visual arts, and literature are also an inspiration.

What memorable responses have you had to this film?

It got some honors for being innovative and fresh. Which I'm happy to hear because I often feel a bit behind in time. I was most blown away by the jury report at Clermont Ferrand and the reaction from jury member Osbert Parker at the Ann Arbor Film Festival. I had no idea at the time the film would be picked up. One of the things said was that the film was needed in the world of today. I need film and to hear that your work is needed as well moved me a lot.

What format, techniques, and/or media do you use to create your films?

I've been mostly working with stop motion. Objects, puppets, materials. Right now, I'm working on a drawn animation. I've learned it in the past, but it's finding out how that works again, it's a different way of thinking.

Why did you want to show your work at the AAFF?

I don't have a dogma of how films should be made. For some people, it is in the context of a bigger production with a lot of people and delegation. For me working as independently as possible and do most things myself seems to work best. Staying small can be a good strategy to keep on making films. This big recognition of exhibiting your work at the AAFF is then very important.

Are you working on anything currently? Has creating in quarantine changed your work or subject of your films in any way?

Actually, before the pandemic, I had some images in my head for a film about touch, contamination, and (over)protection. I was reading about how microbes and epidemics changed human history. Then the pandemic came and hacked my idea. It will be a topic in many films for years to come. My characters were wearing masks and protective suits, I mean, there's no way I'm going to do this now. As a smaller project, I'm working on a short drawn animation. It's a notebook of a web of thoughts during a residency on arts and science in Switzerland. While I was in quarantine I noticed I had an increased attention for nuance and subtlety.

What have been some of the greatest creative challenges for you during this time?

I have been very lucky in these times. While others have been struggling, seeing their jobs disappear, I have been employed almost the entire period as an animator in a stop motion studio. It was the best way to spend this period where there's not much to do. I wasn't confined, I actually enjoyed traveling there every day on a nearly empty train or by bike. It's also a break from doing it all myself, and a way to build up some safety to keep on making independent films. But it is long days and weekends I have been mostly busy with the distribution of my film, which is pretty intense. So the biggest creative challenge has been I just didn't have time for personal work. In my head, it gave me space to think about something new, though.

Is there anything you would like to say that I haven’t asked you about?

Thank you for the interview and for continuing to give filmmakers a platform beyond the festival! I hope this special festival year gave the inspiration to make the next editions of the Ann Arbor Film Festival even richer.


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