The Seven Days Social Film Festival is an annual film festival that takes place at the end of the year in Antwerp, Belgium. This year’s edition runs from November 16 through November 22 in the city’s Filmhuis Klappei. It kicked off last Thursday, November 16, when the Gulden Mira—the Flemish Film Press Association’s annual Award of Merit to a film personality with an exceptional track record—was presented to Flemish film director Tim Mielants.
The Flemish Film Press Association is also known as the Vereniging van de Vlaamse Filmpers (in Dutch), and Association de la Presse Cinématographique Flamande (in French).
Last year, Flemish actor Jeroen Perceval took the Gulden Mira home. This year’s recipient is filmmaker Tim Mielants (b. 1979). Ever since he did multiple successful TV series in Belgium and the U.K., including “Cordon” (2014) and the third season of “Peaky Blinders” (2016, created by Steven Knight and starring Cillian Murphy), he also made “De Patrick” (2019) and “WIL” (2023), two very surprising and well-known feature films in the Low Countries. His next film will be “Small Things Like These,” again starring Cillian Murphy. This film could be a significant step forward in Mr. Mielants’ international career.
But with only two films by Mr. Mielants released theatrically so far, the Gulden Mira—a career award, after all—demonstrates the quality of Mr. Mielants’ work. The man is a highly skilled, accomplished and professional craftsman who works vigorously in his home country, Belgium, and across the Channel in the U.K. He pushes the boundaries of filmmaking, broadens the horizon of film, and shows what the possibilities of film are. That is Mr. Mielants’ niche.
So why not take the time to celebrate him in Antwerp—at least while we still can, because chances are we won’t see him again one day when he’s working abroad, going from one project to another. And then what?
During the Gulden Mira award ceremonies last Thursday, Lukas De Vos—a renowned Flemish lecturer, essayist, journalist, author, and President of the Flemish Film Press Association—took off with a heartwarming tribute to Mr. Mielants, the twentieth recipient of the Gulden Mira, VVF Prize of Merit, and entitled his introduction ‘A disastrous ideology: Indecision as a driving force.’
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am happy to see Tim Mielants sitting in front of me at the Klappei theater with his left arm. I heard he almost lost it when he entered a basement with Jennifer Lopez. Frightened on a dark staircase, the rescue arm still shows traces of her ring she pushed deeply into his skin. It was an unforgettable moment in Mielants’ career as a film director.
Make no mistake, Tim is a happily married man with two children. Last year, J.Lo married her fourth husband, Ben Affleck, after a twenty-year-long split up. But it’s also Mr. Affleck who is producing Tim’s latest film—and that’s a big deal. The film is already being edited, and a new film with Cillian Murphy is in the pipeline. Murphy stars in “Small Things Like These.” The Irish actor feels at home in many film genres. Since his first film for TV, “The Tale Of Sweety Barrett” (1998), he has risen to (modest) stardom. After the suicide drama “On The Edge” (2001), he excelled in “Peaky Blinders,” the virus film “28 Days Later” (2002)—the affinity with Tim becomes apparent later—also Neil Jordan‘s transgender film “Breakfast on Pluto” (2005), and “The Wind That Shakes The Barley” (2006) from previous Gulden Mira winner Ken Loach, to his performances in “Batman” films, “Inception” (2010), and the war suspense film “Anthropoid” (2016). In the Low Countries, he broke through with his powerful performance in the TV series “Peaky Blinders” (2013-2022), giving another staggering performance in “Oppenheimer” (2023). This biopic, honestly, was much better than the commercial blockbuster “Barbie.” And Tim has delivered an entire season of “Peaky Blinders”—the third, if I remember correctly—in 2016. In “Small Things Like These,” he cast not only Murphy, but also Emily Watson and Ciarán Hinds.
It’s interesting to note that Tim’s breakthrough in the Anglo-Saxon film world came about thanks to the BBC. The network had purchased and broadcast the first season of “Cordon,” a series about the panicky reactions after a virus outbreak that caused numerous freedom restrictions. Murphy must have seen the parallel with “28 Days Later.” Anyway, many doors to “Peaky Blinders” immediately opened for Mielants, partly due to the nasty atmosphere the series created, the incomprehensible idea of building a wall around the source of contamination in Antwerp, and the sight of desperate people in the streets. In 2014, Tim based his research on the groundbreaking work of the Institute of Tropical Medicine, located in Antwerp, which was not only the first to try to control AIDS but also the even more deadly disease Ebola.
These are recurring themes in Tim’s work: uncertainty and stubbornness. Stubbornness as ignorance, which is self-protective and self-legitimizing. As George Orwell wrote in Notes on Nationalism, ‘Nationalism is power hunger tempered by self- deception. Every nationalist is capable of the most flagrant dishonesty, but he is also—since he is conscious of serving something bigger than himself—unshakeably certain of being in the right.’ That is populist Nijdig Baardje (a character in Mr. Mielants’s feature “WIL” played by Dirk Roofthooft). But the police are also guilty. They allow themselves to be influenced by a power ideology they ignore, and which, like Gregor (Dimitrij Schaad), presents right as wrong: their conscience, and realizing that their moral upbringing works against them, but which cannot provide arguments to resist any social pressure.
That is why Wil (played by Stef Aerts) relies on ambiguity—support for the Resistance and yet a co-perpetrator to the persecution of Jews. But Lode (Matteo Simoni) also gets carried away despite his friendship with Wil and his protective sister Yvette (Annelore Crollet). Tim emphasizes this with people’s tribune Omer (Gène Bervoets, one of his fetish actors, Gulden Mira recipient in 2010). The way the die-hard fans of their football team Antwerp spontaneously turn into an excited crowd, screaming ‘Jews Outside’ in the film, evokes images of Goebbels and Riefenstahl. Aloofness then becomes one-sidedness. Worship displaces reason. Idolatry sublimates the sad fate of those who have nothing, know nothing and refuse to know anything. David Taylor insists that Orwell’s work can be summed up in two words: ‘Be decent.’ Tim understands this very well, but correctly states that standards of decency can be as damaging as ukases—the Catholic Church is very exemplary for this.
“WIL” (2023, trailer not available with English subtitles)
Fast forward to “Small Things Like These.” The screenplay is based on Claire Keegan’s 2021 debut novel; she received the Orwell Prize for political fiction in 2022 and ended up on the shortlist for the Booker Prize. In that story, Bill Furlong, a happily married coal trader with five daughters, faces the same devastating and impossible choice. He discovers a girl locked up in a dark coal shed of a convent. She is sheltered, can barely walk, and begs to see her baby. This is just the beginning of a most scandalous exploitation by both the church and the state of Ireland towards unwed mothers and sex workers for centuries. Only now is it beginning to leak out how inhumanely those ‘sinful’ women were placed there and were treated in the so-called Magdalene Laundries—they were squeezed out into laundries and craft workshops. For the slightest failure or resistance, they received severe punishment. In reality, more than 30,000 women have been mistreated and abused. But what should Furlong do in 1985? Denounce the abuses? Or secure his own peaceful life, knowing that he himself is the son of an unwed mother? He was lucky that a rich protestant lady cared for them and gave them work and education. Pulled back and forth, he finally doesn’t move—Cillian Murphy will probably bring out his darkest look and sharpest of frowns. But I know the movie will be quite different from the book.
Sometimes Tim takes a more light-hearted approach to his films, even though the atmosphere can tilt towards film noir, as he depicts in his tragicomedy “De Patrick” (2019). It is a nude film inspired by personal experiences. Because Tim’s parents—I hope they are not present tonight—are naturists, and as a little boy, Tim was allowed or had to accompany them to a nudist camp in the French Pyrenees. He has had uncanny thoughts about it. In the film, the character of Patrick (played by Kevin Janssens) lives a carefree life. Until he loses his hammer—with an exaggeration, you could think the hammer is the missing knife at the end of “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo,” starring punk J.Lo Rooney Mara as Lisbeth Salander.
It is an ordinary hammer from a collector’s block, not a Marvel hammer from Thor. Something like a toothbrush that you don’t want to lose, or a pair of worn-out jeans—a gem. Patrick’s world is disrupted, especially when it turns out that the hammer was used for a theft. Everything will end up fine, of course, but you learn a lot: naked people are ordinary people, or as Oscar Wilde said, ‘If man was meant to be naked, he would have been born that way.’ What is essential is not Kevin Janssens’ penis, but the confusion of a simple man who does not know whether he is an idiot or a criminal. Or just an ordinary person.
The same surprise awaits you when you’ll see the film that Tim has chosen to be screened tonight. “M” from 1931—yes, in black and white—is an admirable choice and, at the same time, an excellent token of Tim’s filmic driving force. His modesty is a virtue, the choice of Fritz Lang is prophetic. The act itself is hardly important—the hunt for a child murderer—but the self-justification is. In legal terms, the irresistible urge. To kill. To insult. To cover up your own interests. To stimulate self-protection, in this case, by the underworld. ‘An outsider is ruining our business and our reputation,’ Capo Schränker says. But at the same time, there is already that echo of “WIL.” The unbearable pressure of the masses, of the crowd running berserk. In the years before Hitler came to absolute power in 1933, Fritz Lang already sketched of things to come: the cruel actions of the Volksgericht, with Gustaf Grüntgens (Schränker) as the harbinger of the crazy fanatical Nazi judge Roland Freisler. And with the horrible child molester Peter Lorre, who is bursting with self-pity, adopts a victim’s role who, when necessary, simulates memory loss. But does the justice department do any better? Is there compassion among the police? Will the mothers get their daughters back? How would you judge yourself? You get that and much more schizophrenia in the restored version of “M,” from which the excessively long police meetings had previously been deleted. But it is appropriate to show the film on November 16; newspaper titles from November 17 are shown in the film.
“M” (a.k.a. “M—Eine Stadt sucht einen Mörder”; 1931, trailer)
A tribute to Fritz Lang, a tribute to Tim Mielants (who wrote a nice writer on IMBD as Milantz—that German disposition!). So his is the Gulden Mira award, which looks slightly different this year. The statue’s artist, Frans Wuytack, could no longer cope with it. The new statue is still in preparation. None the less, today, we also remember the death of our former, indispensable secretary Willy Magiels, who passed away exactly five years ago. He had met Fritz Lang in person and published a Dutch-language book on his work, co-written with Danny De Laet (“Fritz Lang: (On)Schuld en Boete.” Antwerp/Rotterdam, Film International-Rik Duterne 1975, 85 pages.). Misfortunes never come alone: last week, our oldest member, Swa Geudens, passed away at age ninety-nine. A young man like Tim will have no memories of this last editor-in-chief of the socialist newspaper Volksgazet, but he does know its working class readers thoroughly. For that commitment, he rightly deserves the Gulden Mira on the opening night of Seven Days Social Film. [End of Lukas De Vos’ tribute].
As expected, Tim Mielants’ response was down-to-earth and modest—it characterizes and typifies the driven and talented filmmaker—when he said, ‘This award really means something. It has now been summarized very nicely here, but there have also been black and dark moments in my career, with many insecurities and moments when I wanted to quit. But you never make a film on your own and, fortunately, there are many people who supported me in those difficult times. I dedicate this award to everybody I had the opportunity to work with.’
Afterwards, and as already mentioned, the film classic “M—Eine Stadt sucht einen Mörder” (1931) by Fritz Lang was screened at the Filmhuis Klappei.
The previous recipients of the Gulden Mira are in 2002 Frans Weisz; 2003 Roel Van Bambost; 2004 Marion Hänsel; 2005 Jan Decleir; 2006 Robbe De Hert; 2007 Jacqueline Pierreux; 2008 Fernand Auwera; 2009 Chris Lomme; 2010 Gène Bervoets; 2011 Marilou Mermans; 2012 Roland Verhavert; 2013 Raoul Servais; 2014 Harry Kümel; 2015 Nouchka van Brakel; 2016 Associate Directors; 2017 Ken Loach; 2018 Johan Leysen; 2019 Stijn Coninx; 2021 Eric De Kuyper; 2022 Jeroen Perceval; 2023 Tim Mielants.
Filmhuis Klappei, Antwerp, Belgium
November 16, 2023
DE PATRICK (2019) DIR Tim Mielants PROD Bart Van Langendonck, Sarah Marks SCR Tim Mielants, Benjamin Sprengers CAM Frank van den Eeden ED Alain Dessauvage MUS Geert Hellings CAST Kevin Janssens, Pierre Bokma, Ariane van Vliet, Hannah Hoekstra, Jemaine Clement, Bouli Lanners, Josse De Pauw, Jan Bijvoet
NOBODY HAS TO KNOW (2021) DIR Bouli Lanners SHOOTING DIR Tim Mielants PROD Jacques-Henri Bronckart SCR Bouli Lanners, Stéphane Malandrin CAM Frank van den Eeden ED Ewin Ryckaert MUS Pascal Humbert, Sébastien Willemyns CAST Michelle Fairley, Bouli Lanners, Andrew Still, Julian Glover, Cal MacAninch, Ainsley Jordan, Clovis Cornillac, Anne Kidd, Donald Douglas
WIL (2023) DIR Tim Mielants PROD Jan Segers, Bo De Group, Hans Everaert, Guy Goedgezelschap, Tomas Leyers SCR Tim Mielants, Carl Joos CAM Robrecht Heyvaert ED Bert Jacobs CAST Stef Aerts, Matteo Simoni, Annelore Crollet, Jan Decleir, Gene Bervoets, Koen De Bouw, Kevin Janssens, Els Dottermans, Dirk Roofthooft, Jan Bijvoet, Dimitrij Schaad, Karina Smulders, Pierre Bokma, Marc Lauwrys, Ariane Van Vliet
SMALL THINGS LIKE THESE (2024) DIR Tim Mielants PROD Matt Damon, Cillian Murphy, Alan Moloney, Jeff Robinov, Drew Vinton SCR Enda Wash (book “Small Things Like These”  by Claire Keegan) CAST Cillian Murphy, Ciarán Hinds, Emily Watson, Amy De Bhrún, Abby Fitz, Eileen Walsh, Ian O’Reilly, Tom Leavey, Cillian O’Gairbhi, Ella Cannon, Louis Kirwan
CODE 37 (2011-2012), 11 episodes
ZINGABURIA (2012-2013), 10 episodes
CORDON (2014), 10 episodes
PROFESSOR T. (2015), 2 episodes
THE TUNNEL (2016), 2 episodes
PEAKY BLINDERS (2016), 6 episodes
THE TERROR (2017-2018), 4 episodes
LEGION (2017-2018), 3 episodes
TALES FROM THE LOOP (2020), 1 episode
THE RESPONDER (2022), 2 episodes