It's well known that Tilburg is made up of characters. But describing the city as cinematic? You don't hear that much. Until you talk to Lidi Toepoel. The filmmaker sees Tilburg as the ideal setting for her films. The city where she was born offers an inspiring breeding ground with fascinating characters, stories, ideas and a valuable network. This is the story of a filmmaker making it in Tillywood.
Lidi has just returned from Norway where her latest film Zoentjesdief was screening at the West Nordic International Film Festival. The film, in which a girl wants to reunite her demented grandmother with a lover, is a huge success. Film festivals in Athens, Mexico, Chicago, Moscow, Italy are running with it. And every time they do, they take a piece of Tilburg with them. 'In my films I always show a glimpse of the city. It's kind of funny, because then when my films run abroad, people sometimes say, "Oh! You filmed in Tilburg." I like that.'
Tilburg is not only the setting for her films, but also a breeding ground. What she hears and sees in the city flows through into her creative work. 'People in Tilburg have a sense of humor and can look at things lightheartedly. I like to see that reflected in my films. Zoentjesdief is based on the story of my grandmother, who had dementia. That's intense, but by showing the film from the child's perspective, it puts air into it. For example, she takes advantage of Grandma by showing her report card for the third time and catching money. With that, somewhere I catch that Tilburg sobriety. '
The childlike perspective, not to be confused with childish, is something that always recurs in Lidi's work. It is, shall we say, typically Toepoels. By working with children, she keeps a playful view of the world, including the film world. 'I learn from children how to look at the world. They are still wonderfully open-minded, everything is possible. Adults often have a colored and therefore limited view of reality. By embracing the childlike, I also try to maintain my own open-mindedness. In the big people's world this is sometimes difficult, but making films helps me enormously.
According to Lidi, the trick to making a good children's film or series is based on finding balance. A balance between emotional and light-hearted, serious and funny. 'When Zoentjesdief premiered, which is meant to be a drama-comedy, it stayed very quiet in the theater. I thought people didn't like it at all. Then it turned out that they were touched and therefore remained silent. That, of course, is a great compliment. When I see adults or children crying at my film, I almost feel burdened, but of course it is also a great compliment to receive. I think that's where the power lies, that both young and old recognize something in it.'
'In my films, I always show a glimpse of the city.'
Lidi's career can almost be captured in a script by herself. The young Tilburger never had the idea that the director's chair was for her. Of course the dream was there, but without a film education and relevant network, it seemed unachievable. Nothing could be further from the truth. 'One day I saw a competition come along for a film script about the region where you grew up. I grabbed that with both hands and won. I got 5000 euros, which I thought was a lot of money at the time, haha. With that money I made my first film: De Laatste Brugwachter.'
Lidi's film premiered at Amsterdam's Tuschinski movie theater and played in many more theaters. 'I was proud, but also curious what I could do better. So I asked the producer what I could do differently or how I could develop. His tip was: 'move to Amsterdam.' Then I thought: is that all you have to offer? That gave me energy. I wanted to show that there are a lot of good people in Tilburg. That you can make something beautiful here too.'
Her first film came about ten years ago. Since then, Tilburg has rapidly developed as a maker city, and Lidi as a maker. 'When I started here, there wasn't much of anything yet. But now when you see how it has developed, the makers in the city, but also support you get, it really is a world of difference.'
Tilburg has helped her on her way, as a film location, but also through the network to be found in the city: allies such as Full Frame, Gemeente Tilburg and Paul Vermee of Cinecitta. 'The financial support is of course very nice, but it is perhaps even more valuable that people believe in you as a maker, in the stories you want to tell.'
Tilburg has never been a fallback or the easiest option for Lidi; she consciously chooses this city. 'Tilburg has developed in a direction where you can keep creating as a maker. I can breathe here, keep working and be stimulated. It feels close to myself, literally and figuratively. That's why I want to keep creating here. It also feels good that this way I can give something back to the city, to bring Tilburg abroad through my films. So that in Japan and Italy they can feel what Tilburg is.'