In School’s Out director Jamille van Wijngaarden enters the hurly burly world of a primary school classroom. We asked her about the nightmare of parents evening, dark comedy and what it’s like being a best director
D&CFilm: When we spoke to you about Catastrophe you said you were inspired by the darkly comic outcomes of ‘tragic characters who mean well but whose actions have disastrous consequences’. What’s the story of School’s Out, and does that still hold true?
Jamille van Wijngaarden: I guess this applies to School’s Out in a way as well. The teacher does her best to ignore and fend off the mom’s verbal attacks. Keeping calm and dealing with the situation like she always does when overly concerned parents come knocking down her door. But then something inside her snaps when the mom delivers her final blow. The audacity of this woman combined with the accumulation of typical parent-teacher verbal abuse over the years turn this sweet older educator into an Uma in Kill Bill type character with only vengeance on her mind – now it’s time to teach the mom a lesson. So even though she’s been holding it together all this time, this clearly was the tipping point and her actions have…well clearly devastating consequences.
D&CFilm: Again in Catastrophe the nature of Amsterdam had a role – this seems very different to what could be the claustrophobic environment of a school room. But a school room is still familiar. How does the setting/ location set the atmosphere for the story?
Jamille van Wijngaarden: That’s a good question. I feel like a classroom is a prime example of a place of innocence and generally a very positive environment. But it can also be this place where you can’t really escape. Of course there’s the door but perhaps mentally it seems like once you’re in there, you’re stuck with who ever you are left with. So with a parent-teacher conversation, a one-on-one, the same normally innocent room, can become this cage where arguments are settled before anyone leaves… if you leave at all.
D&CFilm: The Dutch Directors Guild awarded you Best Director in short film in 2018 for School’s Out. It follows on from your Golden Calf Award (the Dutch version of the Academy Award) for Ashes to Ashes in 2016. What have the awards meant and how have they changed your filmmaking?
Jamille van Wijngaarden: Winning the award for best director has had a very positive influence on new opportunities and it definitely opened up a few doors to do more great things with people who really inspire me! I guess it hasn’t necessarily changed the way I like to make films or how I like to tell stories. Perhaps bigger things are possible now and what seemed impossible before might become reality in the near future.
D&CFilm: School’s Out has already won lots of critical praise – in that way it’s like your other films. Are there other similarities in tone, feel or theme?
Jamille van Wijngaarden: The tone is dark and comedic at the same time and the characters are tragic. Most importantly I always aim to create a unique world that is very much it’s own all of which is consistent with a lot of my work. The theme is new to me though. It’s the brainchild of the scriptwriter (Renske de Greef) that I naturally adapted and got to visualize using what’s familiar to me.
D&CFilm: What role do you think the filmmaker / artist has in society?
Jamille van Wijngaarden: I always want to have something in my films that leaves the audience with food for thought. I think it’s nice If I can make heavy themes more debatable by adding humor.
D&CFilm: Your ‘stylish character driven drama Teef’ will premiere in autumn 2019 on Dutch Television. How’s it going and what can you tell us?
Jamille van Wijngaarden: It premiered the first weekend of October at the Netherlands Film Festival in Utrecht and it was really exciting to see what the reactions were like. It definitely was a film out of my comfort zone; a character driven story, not a comedy and having a dog as one of the main characters. A big challenge but also an opportunity to create a world that really feels like it’s own. I hope people will like it.
D&CFilm: We hear you’re working on your debut feature film. Good luck with that, and with Teef and thank you for your time!
Jamille van Wijngaarden: Thank you!!
Schools Out’s picked up Best Comedy and the Audience Award at the English Riviera Film Festival 2019