Everyone has a lightbulb experience in their career, where they raise their head above the busy streets, and focus on a new road of opportunity on the horizon. Dutch filmmaker Laura Torenbeek moved to the UK to drive in the lanes with other creatives at the Northern Film School in Leeds. I wanted to chat to her about her influences that propelled her to set up her own production company years later, in addition to coordinating an inspiring web series revolving around strong female characters for compelling stories.
Like many British folks, I was stunned at Laura's choice of leaving the flowery landscapes of the Netherlands to join our damp and crowded cities. But, as she rightly mentioned to me early on in our conversation, the opportunities in film within the UK were far reaching. Torenbeek comments, "I went to the Northern Film School in Leeds. I decided to do internships in the UK as I always like the British Film Industry. I think I had a romanticised version of London from all the rom-coms I saw (laughs). I knew doing an MA would be the best option, knowing more people and building connections. 7 years later and I’m still here."
Understanding how many female directors are being celebrated this year, I was interested if Laura had female influences herself when she started out. She says, "It’s a good question, at the beginning I wanted to write down who inspired me, and all I could wrote down were male directors from films I knew. I looked at the list and I wondered, why? Surely there were some women, so what’s the reason?" Like many women starting out working behind the camera, there wasn't always a diverse hall of fame for younger girls to aspire to. However, Torenbeek recently had the chance to work with director Gabrielle Russell on her newest feature film "Deer, Woman, Child" as she commented, "It was challenging but so awesome. You have to be creative in a different way when it’s a low budget. We also had a lot of women in the camera team, we have an amazing male DOP who is working a lot behind the scenes to get diversity and inclusivity within the crew."
Filming her first short film in the UK in Blackpool, the Dutch director was sure to face some harsh realities of the British weather, "The beach was a challenge to film with four kids in the UK. But the experience was great." Now leading a course called 'Directors for Beginners' in her home town in the Netherlands, I asked Torenbeek about the gender mix for applicants signing up, "I would say it was 50/50 male and female. I feel gender inequality starts after film school. There are only 10 students but it was my first experience in teaching, I really enjoyed that. The programme included refugees, so they gave some incredible opportunities."
Torenbeek, like many other's across the world, reconnected with family members in lockdown. Her younger sister wore a cape back in isolation, which sprung an idea for a new web series for the film maker. She says, "My sister used to get teased by it, but she didn't care as she loved it. She’s very cool (laughs). The idea came from here as I wanted to tell female led stories. I thought about creating a web series of women who can write and direct their own stories. I mean, who am I to direct their own ideas. We choose a few and for the first season we now have five stories we are developing." It's clear from listening to Torenbeek that she wanted these women to excel in their own unique ways, "I don’t want to step in the way of their visions. Some want to make it more experimental and I’m like, go for it! The idea is to inspire and empower women more, and there be more content about women. I wanted them to think about what they wanted to see as a twelve or thirteen girl”
I've always been curious, when talking to directors, whether they notice a gap in the market across our media platforms in accessing indie films. She said, "I started putting highlighters on my insta about female film makers. I realised alot of the film school students didn’t know many." It became more clear to me that this wasn't the first filmmaker who found it tough to seek out movies made by women, "You have to search for it and I think that’s a real shame. More women are getting recognition now, but it’s so late. I wish we didn’t have to get really excited about this in 2021. I love what your website is doing, I’ve seen some films you've posted."
Rounding off by complimenting the director on all her various projects she's developing through these shaking times, Torenbeek left our phone call telling me she one day aspires to get into intimacy coordination within film. Let's all hope that a movie version of 'Normal People' gets commissioned soon so viewers can seek more racy scenes, and of course, more importantly, Laura's future work.