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March 27, 1998 2:00 AM
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The Pre-Oscar-Winning Mike van Diem, Director of "Character"

The Pre-Oscar-Winning Mike van Diem, Director of
"Character"

by Brandon Judell




We're sitting with Mike van Diem in the Parker Meridian restaurant
exactly a week before he starts screaming with joy in front of a billion
people on the Oscar broadcast. This attractive gent with an easy laugh
seems extremely comfortable in his dour green sweater. He hardly appears
to be the man capable of writing and directing "Character," an
internationally acclaimed Dickensian/Kafkaesque epic tale about a young
boy who goes through life trying to get back at the father who refuses
to acknowledge his parentage.


Mr. Van Diem's own kin are however very proud to acknowledge him. Even
before "Character." In fact, they were cooing when his student film,
the 45-minute psychological thriller, "Golden Calf" won the Dutch Oscar
for Best Short Film. It also won the student Academy Award in the States
and the Grand Prix du Festival, Film Fin d'Etudes in France back in 1990
and was screened at Sundance a year later. He then joined producer
Laurens Geels at First Floor Features as an assistant director, and
eventually wrote the English screenplay "Across the Street." After a
pleasant push from Oscar, Sony Pictures Classics is releasing
"Character" today.


indieWIRE: Are you afraid because of your increasing fame that you will
be stalked eventually like Steven Spielberg?


Mike van Diem: (Laughs) Actually I was in L.A. and I got like three
anonymous postcards last week so people were making fun of me. Like
"God, you have a stalker already." I don't think . . . It happens, you
know, even in my home country. There is a guitarist in Holland, a
famous guy, and he's been stalked by a woman for more than 15 years.
There's hardly anything you can do about it -- at least in Holland --
unless such a person moves into physical violence or breaks into your
house or something.


iW: Is your next project set already? Do you know what you'll be doing
after the Oscars?


van Diem: No.


iW: Are you waiting for a big Disney children's film?


van Diem: Not necessarily. (Laughs) Actually I had one offer a couple
of months ago. That was before the nomination -- from Fox Family Films.
We
talked about children's films, but no. Like I said there were offers
ever since the Cannes Film Festival, and the offers are certainly
increasing. But I'm not necessarily looking out to do a big thing.


There used to be a time, though I have to admit, certainly before the
nomination, where I would say to myself, "I have to do an English
language film because it's going to be so much easier to get
distribution." When in fact here there are like big budget films with
stars lying on the shelves. They can not find their way to the screen.
In the UK apparently, there's like 20 really good films lying on a
shelf. They'll never get to the screen. With this little Dutch film, all
of a sudden I'm going places. This film is on the map everywhere. So
it's not a given fact anymore that you cannot get shown if you're not in
English.


iW: Since you enjoy making films about the Netherlands, how about a
Dutch version of "Boogie Nights"? After all, you do have that infamous
red-light district in Amsterdam? Would that be interesting? Have you
seen "Boogie Nights"?


van Diem: No, I haven't seen it, but I know what it's about. I don't
think we do make a whole lot of X-rated movies in Holland.


iW: They're just imported?


van Diem: Yes.


iW: Do you want to explore modern Dutch life? A lot of foreign directors
want to get out of their native countries and explore other cultures
like the U.S.'s.


van Diem: No, I don't think that I'll be making films about other
cultures or about social issues or about political issues. I'm basically
interested in what drives certain individuals in certain dramatic
situations. Basically what I do are psychological dramas. So I could do
a psychological thriller or I could do maybe even some comedy. I don't
think I'll be doing a whole lot of true-to- life stories. There has to
be
room for me to make a whole lot of stuff up. No matter how good the
stuff is, no matter what people will bring to me hopefully in the
future,
I will always do a certain amount of rewriting on it to sort of tailor
it for me. Most of the stuff I get here is like very, very, very talky.
I
tend to do things that are little bit more visual and less talky.


iW: You seem very together right now and happy-go-lucky. When you're not
being interviewed, are you extremely depressed?


van Diem: (He laughs). I'm a summer kind of person. If you divide the
world between optimists and pessimists, or the happy people and the
depressed people, I would certainly rank among the depressed.


iW: Depressed?


van Diem: Yes, absolutely. But I sort of try not to get sucked down into
it all that much. Besides, hey, I'm nominated for an Oscar. Come on!
This is all very, very romantic. I have woken up for five weeks now --
we have another week to go -- with a smile. You can't be like excited
about this thing for like every second for 6 weeks long. That is not
possible. Thank God, I get a lot of distractions. I mean people like you
come and sit here and ask me about stalkers in wooden shoes and stuff.


iW: You might be happier if you wore brighter colors.


van Diem: Really.


iW: That green of your sweater is sort of depressing.


van Diem: NO!


iW: You should try yellow.


van Diem: This green is fine. Maybe the lighting is wrong. The green is
great, and it brings out my eyes, and I like it.


iW: If you saw yourself in yellow or red, you'd be much happier.


van Diem: Okay, I'm a person if you look at what I have in clothing,
it's like blue, blue, blue, gray, gray, gray, gray, and that's what I
have. This is the only color I have.


[Brandon Judell is currently lead film critic for Critics Inc. and
contributing editor to Detour magazine. His tome "The Gay Quote Book"
(Dutton) is currently in bookstores.]

TAGS: Interviews
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