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Berlinale Women Directors: Meet Willemiek Kluijfhout – ‘Sergio Herman: F*cking Perfect’

Berlinale Women Directors: Meet Willemiek Kluijfhout - 'Sergio Herman: F*cking Perfect'

Willemiek Kluijfhout studied Philosophy at the University of Amsterdam and attended the Dutch
Film and Television Academy as a director. She has directed several highly acclaimed documentaries and
award-winning fiction shorts that have been shown on television and at several international film festivals,
such as “Ball Possession,” which won two nominations at the New York City Short Film Festival. “Mussels in Love” was Kluijfhout’s first feature length film, which competed for the Canon Cinematography Award at the
Planete+ Doc festival in Warsaw, Poland (May 2013) and was the opening film at the Culinary Cinema at the
Berlin Film Festival in 2013. 

Her latest feature-length documentary, “Sergio Herman: Fucking Perfect,” will premiere at the Berlinale
2015. A revealing story about perfection, ambition and sacrifices, it is about master chef Sergio Herman, who closes down his 3 Michelin-star restaurant Oud Sluis.  (Press materials)

W&H: Please give us your description of the film playing.
WK: A feature-length documentary on 3 Michelin-star chef Sergio Herman, owner and chef of the best restaurant in The Netherlands. For 25 years, Sergio Herman has strived for perfection. At the height of his culinary career, he decides that in order to further pursue his dreams, he must close his famous restaurant Oud Sluis. The documentary follows the celebrity chef during his year of transformation: closing down his restaurant, building a new life for himself. It is an intimate portrait that shows the struggles of a man in transition. It exposes how Sergio deals with the existential questions and doubts that many of us identify with in life. “Sergio Herman: Fucking Perfect” is an intense story of perfectionism, ambition, and sacrifice.
W&H: What drew you to this story?

WK: I love food, I love cinema and a good story. Thanks to my film “L’Amour des Moules” (Mussels in Love), I was given the chance to take a look behind the scenes of Oud Sluis. I was deeply impressed by the high level of performance and began to see that cooking on a Michelin-star level is like avant-garde art. The creativity behind the dishes was one thing I wanted to show, but the personal story of Sergio Herman was the main inspiration to make this documentary. This film is about a man in transition. Sergio is at the height of his success. But he wants to stop at the top of his game. The existential questions Sergio faces and the doubts he undergoes are feelings that every ambitious person would identify with.

Sergio has a strong personality full of contrasts. What drives him? Despite his purposeful stance, he is constantly in search for something different, something better. For those lofty ambitions, something else has got to give, and that is not without consequences. Sergio Herman slowly begins to realisz that the price of success is high, maybe too high. Those are questions that resonate with my own life.

Following Sergio for a year, the emotional closing of the family restaurant, the building of a new dream, is like a hero’s journey — a classic story wherein a hero needs to gain insight. On a philosophical level, it raises the question of whether we can escape ourselves. The urge towards creation and perfection makes Sergio Herman the phenomenon that he is. His self-realization has brought him to great heights, but is at the same time destructive. His talent is a gift and a curse.
W&H: What was the biggest challenge in making the film?

WK: There were many challenges, as always in documentary. 
First of all, there was this secret that he would close his restaurant. Nobody was allowed to know. He had only shared it with a few intimates. He had told me, and it was one of the reasons that I knew the story would have a big turn. But I couldn’t tell anyone, was not allowed to make it public, until he himself brought it to the press. So it was hard to explain others why this would make a great story.
Another challenge was shooting in this narrow kitchen on 16mm rolls that we had to change every ten minutes. The cooks running around, using every little space, high on adrenaline, and we, the crew, trying not to be in their way.
But the biggest challenge in documentary is always the relation you have with reality. How much do you frame [the story] and how can you stay open for what occurs before you without filling it in and try to make it fit your script? You can’t say in documentary, Today I am going to shoot, and then this and this has to happen because I need it for my film. It is waiting, having a trustful and honest relationship with the people in the film, and constantly anticipating for things to happen that are important to the story that you are telling and then being there, recognizing it, and capturing it. A strange struggle between influencing the situation (because you are there) and trying not to influence the situation (because I am not directing it).
W&H: What do you want people to think about when they are leaving the theatre?

WK: I hope they have been on a journey, that they are immensely inspired by the passion, creativity, and ambition of Sergio Herman, but at the same time aware of existential questions in life. I hope that the story resonates their own lives: What choices do I make? Do I do enough to fulfill my dreams? How do I cope with my family and work? What sacrifices do I make? What drives me?
W&H: What advice do you have for other female directors?

WK: I would like to cite Madeleine Albright: “There is a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.”
W&H: What’s the biggest misconception about you and your work?

WK: That documentary doesn’t need a great story. That is one big misconception.
Another misconception I fear is that because of the fact I am a female director, people will think the film will be for a female audience. That is the reason why I often only use my initials (W.J.A. instead of Willemiek), to be gender neutral. I don’t know if it works.
W&H: How did you get your film funded? Share some insights into how you got the film made.

WK: The film is made as a Teledoc. For this project public broadcasters, CoBO with Dutch Film Fund, and independent documentary producers worked together. A Teledoc is a documentary with a contemporary Dutch topic or clearly Dutch connection, taking place in the present, accessible, stimulating, narrative, cinematic, and intended for a wide television and/or cinema audience. A maximum of 12 contributions for development and 6 contributions [for making the] Teledocs are awarded annually. The length of the films is between 75 and 90 minutes. The budget for development and test shots are up to € 20,000 and €300,000 for realization.

For Sergio Herman Fucking Perfect, the Broadcaster involved is VPRO, and the producer is Reinette van de Stadt from Amsterdam based Production Company Trueworks. It is shot on 16mm film. Over a period of two years. 
W&H: Name your favorite woman-directed film and why.

WK: Fish Tank by Andrea Arnold. 
There is so much energy in this film. Despite the miserable situation the young girl is in, growing up on a bleak Essex council estate with a mother that doesn’t take care of her, this is a film full of hope and tenderness and humor. Sensitive without being sentimental.
The camerawork is vibrant and very well framed and brings you very close to the life and world of a 15-year-old girl. I can identify and feel her underlying rage, desires, and power.  In almost every scene, you’ll find this mix of sensuality, anger, sadness, and fun. There’s a strong contrast between touching tenderness and sudden cruelty, lightened up by funny remarks from the little sister. That gives me a lot of energy and at the same time touches deep in the heart. I find comfort in the world Arnold creates.

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