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The making of Dancing in the Air

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At BIAFF 2010 Willy Van der Linden won a 5-Stars Award with Dancing in the Air.

"Sitting behind the geraniums" is a Dutch saying which means
"staying home doing nothing because of old age or illness."

Still from 'Dancing in the Air'.

Still from 'Dancing in the Air'.Still from 'Dancing in the Air'.From morning till evening a lady sits behind her window box which is filled with geraniums. One day an old friend passes her window on his bike. It is Armand who taught her how to dance about 60 years ago.

Time goes very quickly. Now it's already her 80th birthday She thinks about her husband who died some years ago and about her children. Her son seems to have disappeared. Her daughter wants her to sell the house and move into a home for elderly people.

Toby, a small dog, was her only friend, but he passed away recently. A new one would outlive her. The lady feels very depressed when her daughter calls off a visit.

She switches on the radio, fills a glass of wine and goes back to her window. She wants to celebrate her 80th birthday in loneliness. On the radio she hears the song "When he taught me how to dance."

But what a happy coincidence! Just at that moment Armand appears in front of her window. In her dreams she dances with him again just like 60 years ago. He wishes her a happy birthday.

Still from 'Dancing in the Air'. Still from 'Dancing in the Air'. Still from 'Dancing in the Air'.

In my club "Focus Vaartland" the 67 year old lady Yvette Bergmans is one of the hard workers. She has been single for many years. She has no camera, but she is always present and is willing to do any club task. I discovered that she was born with a talent for acting. I discovered it while making one minute movies.

Where did I get the story?

Why not writing a story for a film with a main role that is just right for her I thought.

Still from 'Dancing in the Air'.Still from 'Dancing in the Air'.I typed the words "loneliness", "lady" and "story" in google. Suddenly I found a website for people who enjoy writing stories and ask forum-friends what they think about them. "Wonderful", "very moving", "however a bit depressing because there is no happy end" … etc. These were the feelings expressed by readers of that website upon reading the story of a lady and her loneliness. I thought it would be an excellent film subject.

The story was very simple. An old woman celebrated her 80th birthday doing nothing but sitting in her armchair and looking through the window behind her windowbox. I started to make drawings. For every shot I made a drawing. I added self-invented scenes to the story: the lady receives a birthday card with congratulations. Her bank has sent it! Daughter Martine and son-in-law pay her a brief visit, but they only talk about selling her house. The dog Toby is sitting on her lap. Suddenly he disappears in a crossfade. She goes to the animal home to buy a new one. The doggies are lovely, but she changes her mind. "Imagine that my new friend survives me. What will happen to him?" she worries. Therefore she buys a goldfish. Her neighbour often visits her, but only to share tea and biscuits. On her 80th birthday she prepares a cake with "80" in icing on it. Unfortunately her daughter cancels the visit. In the beginning of the film my clubmate Armand passes her window. He taught her how to dance sixty years ago. At the end of the story he re-appears when she is depressed. They dance again. Just like 60 years ago … I had my storyline and storyboard.

Cast and location

Finding the cast was not a problem. I only needed 6 or 7 people. A man and woman in their seventies. A boy and a girl in their twenties. And a few extras. There was one challenge: the younger ones had to look like the older ones, but sixty years earlier … When I was at a dinner party in the festivity hall of our community I saw a pretty waitress. She had the same looks as our "old" Yvette. I rushed to her and asked her to play a role in my film. Luckily she said "yes" and now she would like to do this again.

Location was ideal

Also finding the location was easy. One of my clubmates offered his sitting-room. Everything we needed was in it: old paintings, an old armchair, old cups and saucers… Everything was old. When sitting in the armchair, however, Yvette could not look through the window. The chair was too low. Therefore my friend built a platform. He took an old table and cut the legs shorter. The armchair was put on the platform.

In Dutch and in English (Many thanks, Ron)

As usual I intended to make a Dutch and an English version of the film. That's the disadvantage of being a foreigner. Therefore I needed an English and a Dutch birthday card. Also a newspaper with the column "Properties". Ron Prosser of the "Hayward Heath Movie Makers", a club that I visited last year, sent me one together with a selfmade leaflet about a dogs home somewhere in England.

Excellent voice-over (Many thanks, Magda, Isobel and Phil)

Portrait of Isobel Way.Dancing in the Air is called Op dat wolkje van weleer in Dutch. It has no dialogue, only a voice-over. Therefore I didn't need a microphone for the acting scenes. Magda Verbist, the actress in Hannah, the film that she made together with Urbain Appeltans in 2006 and won "The Daily Mail trophy", was willing to read the text in Dutch. Urbain recorded her voice for me.

Isobel Way, Phil Martin's neighbour did so in English. Isobel is in her nineties. She played the main role in I Just Knew, the winning one minute movie made by Phil some years ago. Her "cracking old voice" is excellent.

I miss my friend, Ludo

Still from 'Dancing in the Air'.I only asked a few clubmates to form a film crew (monitor, script, make-up), but from time to time there were too many. They were also accompanied by their wives or partners. There was one whose presence I appreciated even more: that of my dearest friend Ludo Sollie. He passed away some weeks ago at the age of 51. When I was taking the last shots of the dancing young couple he said : "If I were you I would take them from a frog's perspective". I did so. What a magnificent shot it was ! Many thanks, Ludo. It was his very last contribution to a film in his life. He has helped me so many times. I miss him.
Still from 'Dancing in the Air'.To be honest the dancing scene in the beginning and at the end is a bit plagiarized from a scene in the film about Beatrix Potter. Also the song "When he taught me how to dance" comes from that romantic dramatised documentary, but I think that every film is in some way a bit inspired by written stories or film scenes.

Gentle pace

In Belgium the film received a very high score. It won a silver medal (second place) at the regional competition in the category "stories". Also the BIAFF-judges praised its qualities : "The gentle, lyrical pace was sustained beautifully with good photography and direction… "

- Willy Van der Linden


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Page updated on 03 October 2011
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