Halal’s photographer turned commercial director on turning the everyday complaints of the Dutch into works of art and more
Noël Loozen was an assistant to Dutch photographer Viviane Sassen when he drunkenly suggested to Gijs Determeijer (Partner at Halal) that he should become his agent. After a stroll through the Dutch Dunes, the two came to an agreement, and as Noël says, “the rest is history.”
While already an accomplished photographer in his own right, Noël recently made the jump into directing, bringing his trademark quirkiness to the commercial world. LBB’s Liam Smith sat down with Noël to find out what this transition has been like, and how he turned the everyday complaints of the Dutch into a series of peculiar images.
LBB> This year you made your first move into commercial directing. How has the transition been?
Noël Loozen> It feels good! I’m hoping some of the work will culminate in more projects that are comparable to my fiction films. Like Roy Andersson
, to me he is one of the best commercial directors. The fiction and commercial work of Andersson very much communicates that same recognisable cinematographic and storytelling quality. That’s my goal when moving into commercial directing, to keep a strong visual trademark and identity.
LBB> Can you tell us a bit about your latest spot for Bols?
NL> I was brought on board by the agency, …,staat, to work with them on a film to introduce Bols Genever to the US market. Genever can only be made in the Netherlands, similar to France and Champagne, Scotland and single malt Scotch whiskey, and so on. Bols however is truly an Amsterdam brand, founded over 435 years ago in the Dutch capital. I wanted to make something that represented that Amsterdam heritage, that reflected its Amsterdam essence. I was given a lot of freedom by the creative team, whom I collaborated closely with, and the end result is (in my opinion anyways) really enjoyable to watch. It’s fun, fast-paced, quirky, different, and all in all very Amsterdam.
To me personally it was also a new experience to make something with such a fast rhythm, as my work is normally way slower. But I succeeded in combining the tempo whilst still asserting my personal signature in there.
LBB> You’ve shot a few short films, including Botanica and Limburgia that launched last year. Can you tell us a little bit about them?
NL> They are both about small worlds that fascinate me. I’m super drawn to explore how people live in their own arenas, bubbles and/or little worlds. Putting those universes under the lens, and investigating their impact and significance, is perhaps an ongoing theme throughout all my work.
'Limburgia', which premiered at the Dutch Film Festival last year, discloses a peculiar – perhaps even forgotten or previously unknown - tradition from the Netherlands province of Limburg: ‘Schutterijen’. Fear not, this tradition is as unfamiliar to many Dutch as it is to you.
The plot is developed as the film uses the tradition of the Schutterij
as an arena from which to examine wider themes - such as letting go of the past in order to move forward, local versus global and young versus old. I wanted to disclose parts of this distinct culture of Limburg in an era of globalisation and homogenisation.
'Botanica' de-mystifies the taboo subject of fertility – from a man’s point of view. It’s a topic which is often seen as taboo, especially between males. It’s a sort of dark comedy that taps into bigger topics such as changing gender roles, relationship struggles and the concept of masculinity.
Both films are actually about the idea of losing your loved one, and fighting to hold on to that person in absurd, almost insane, ways.
NL> Dutch people complain. A lot. So, I made a little cabin – a pop-up office - in Amsterdam’s VolksHotel. I shared an invitation on Facebook that everybody was welcome to complain at my 24/7 office in the lobby of the hotel. When I first opened my ‘office’ that morning, there were already rows of people that wanted to complain (I still laugh when thinking about it). So, I had to gather the troops and call for assistance. A lot of Dutch media visited me and, not to pat myself on the back, it actually went a bit viral. After that I expressed some of those complaints visually. I wanted to turn the negative complaining into a positive colourful photograph. Turning the bad into good. Like heroes do. Shortly after I got a regular image column in the Dutch newspaper Het Parool, where readers could send me complaints and I would picture it.
"My sandwich bags always tear open on both sides."
"Why is the edible avocado that is wrapped in so much plastic the same price as the less edible avocado without plastic?"
LBB> What drew you to join HALAL?
NL> HALAL and I go way back. It’s like family, they gave me a lot of opportunities and invested so much in me. I mean, you can have a lot of great ideas but to execute them you need people that know you, your way of thinking. You need to trust them. If you do, it’s a great support system. I joined when I was still Viviane Sassen
’s photography assistant. I wanted to join an agency and I think I was drunk when I asked one of the founders, Gijs Determeijer
, if he would like to be my agent. He said, “let’s take a walk in the Dutch Dunes”. The rest is history. HALAL consists of four departments; photography, fiction, documentary and commercial. In that sense, it’s been a super way for me to explore and blur the lines between industries and formats.
LBB> What project that you’ve been involved with are you most proud of?
NL> Well, I feel quite proud that my short film ‘Spoetnik’ did so well in terms of awards. It was my second fiction film. It premiered at Berlinale and picked up Best European Short Fiction Film at Go Short Festival and the Grand Jury prize at Festival de Cinema de La Ville Quebec, to mention a few. So that was really a nice boost to my artistic self-confidence! I think ‘Spoetnik’ also reflects my visual style very well, it’s stylised and playful, a surreal drama.
LBB> Who and what are your creative inspirations?
NL> As I already mentioned, I really look up to Roy Andersson. I also admire installation/video artist Roman Signer
. His way of thinking and sense of nonsense appeal to me. When I look at his work I always feel like making things myself. He was actually one of the driving-forces in inspiring me to go to art academy.
LBB> What do you get up to outside of work?
NL> Hmm, difficult question. I’m always busy with a project in some shape or form. It might not always be commissioned, but I tend to jump from one thing to another. As most people, I like to drink and eat. And I enjoy observing my fish. I have an aquarium, and it’s kind of zen to me.
LBB> What are your plans for 2018?
NL> I am currently starting to write my first feature film with HALAL, and I’ll work even more on that in the Norwegian woods for a couple of months. I hope to have it finished by the end of 2018. The rest of 2018 is open to everything that comes on my path.