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November 7, 2011 1:14 PM
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Meet the 2011 AFI Fest Filmmakers | “Bullhead” Director Michaël R. Roskam

The Oscar-nominated "Bullhead."
Director Michaël Roskam’s debut feature is a hulking mass of cinema that practically pulses off the screen. “Bullhead” tells the story of Jacky (Matthias Schoenaerts), a cattle farmer and “juicer” whose life and business are both fueled by similar drug cocktails. As his criminal enterprises escalate, and his life becomes more harried, Jacky flashes back to the traumatic childhood that made him the bull of a man he is today. Memory and longing factor strongly in Jacky’s life and the surprising story line never quite goes where you expect it. This début film is stunning in its originality and holds you in its tight grip right until the final scene. As Jacky, Schoenaerts gives a tour-de-force performance, radically transforming himself from his appearance at AFI FEST last year in Alex Stockman’s “Pulsar.”

A delicate and deft portrait of masculinity, “Bullhead” is an unforgettable launch for an auteur with an assuredly strong future ahead. [Synopsis by Lane Kneedler of AFI Fest]

[indieWIRE invited directors with films in 2011 AFI Fest’s Breakthrough, New Auteurs and Young Americans section to submit responses in their own words about their films. Get to know the films before they screen. AFI Fest takes place November 3 - 10 in Los Angeles.]

“Bullhead”
Director: Michaël R. Roskam
Screenwriter: Michaël R. Roskam
Producer: Bart Van Langendonck
Director of Photography: Nicolas Karakatsanis
Editor: Alain Dessauvage
Music: Raf Keunen
Cast: Matthias Schoenaerts, Jeroen Perceval, Jeanne Dandoy, Barbara Sarafian, Frank Lammers

Director’s Bio:  Roskam was born in Belgium in 1972. He studied painting at the St. Lukas Academy of Fine Arts in Brussels. He has directed several award-winning short films, including “Haun,” “Carlo” and “The One Thing To Do.” Roskam also teaches filmmaking at the St. Lukas Film School. 

Your movie: In 140 characters or less, what’s it about?

“Bullhead” is an emotionally driven tale of revenge, redemption and fate set against the backdrop of the Belgian bovine hormone mafia.

OK: Now tell us what it’s really about.

With this movie I want to expose you to the Belgian cattle industry which is a shady world controlled by gangsters and opportunists, where corruption, hormone peddling and even murder have become commonplace. Within this setting, my story hones in on a profoundly troubled individual and his ongoing struggle to embody the tough guy image he so desperately projects. 

The beef industry, like any other, is competitive and dependent on consistent and reliable supply. When an opportunistic veterinarian offers to bring the family-run Vanmarsenille farm together with a notorious Flemish beef trader, it seems an unmissable chance at long-term profit.

However, when their new partners are implicated in a cop killing, primary enforcer Jacky Vanmarsenille (Matthias Schoenaerts) stalls the deal, only for an unwelcome face from his past to appear and force him to address a long-buried personal demon. 
Like the cattle Jacky tends to so passionately, Jacky also nurtures a chronic hormone addiction, which serves only to further fuel his deep-seated paranoia and lingering insecurities. All this turns Bullhead into a passionate crime tragedy about fate, lost innocence and friendship, about crime and punishment, but also about conflicting desires and the irreversibility of a man’s destiny.


Once an artist, always an artist…

As a teenager I wanted to become a graphic novelist, or a comic strip artist, all the way in the tradition of great artists like Hergé (Tintin). This ambition or dream brought me to the St-Lukas academy of fine arts in Brussels. There I ended up painting and experimenting with video. But the strongly conceptualized world of contemporary arts wasn’t my thing. I missed telling stories.

My twenties were quite “roaring”, desperately looking for my voice as an artist, or more, as a storyteller. But then I met this young producer who gave me the opportunity to shoot this old idea of mine, and “Huan” my first short as born. It felt like coming home. I knew, I’m gonna make movies for the rest of my life.

What inspired you to make this movie?

LIFE & DEATH!

And the fact that this hormone mafia really exists. I can’t say more, because I’m gonna give away a lot of the story.

What was the hardest thing about making this movie?

Financing is hard. But the thing is, I love moviemaking. Everything is a challenge, and I just like it that way. Easy is boring.

Inspirations?

Well, one movie will be remembered as a great film to me, because I saw on the right moment. It was a great inspiration, and a support: Angels with Dirty Faces.

In the works…

“The Faithful”... a love tragedy. Wait and see.

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