The 56th Chicago International Film Festival is excited to welcome directors Sabine Lubbe Bakker and Niels van Koevorden to our fair city for the premiere of their film Becoming Mona. This poignant tragicomic journey of courage follows Mona from early childhood when she is inculcated to be a quiet, obedient presence in the world. She blossoms into a talented young artist, but years of repressing her feelings have impaired her emotionally, binding her to unhealthy relationships at work and at home. Still, there is a fierce, independent spirit that lies inside her, waiting to be liberated. Assured direction coaxes flawless, seamlessly connected performances from actresses Tanya Zabarylo and Olivia Landuyt in the title role as a young woman and young girl respectively. Below, Bakker and Koevorden explain why they’re eager for Chicago audiences to experience their newest masterwork.
Sabina and Niels: Which one of you read Griet Op De Beeck’s novel on which the movie is based on and what made you think that it would make for a movie?
We both read the novel while traveling to New Caledonia. Making a fiction feature was not really our ambition, but this book was written in an observational style we connected to. The story and more specifically the atmosphere reminded us of our own childhood and that of our friends when we were growing up in Belgium.
Take us through your collaborative process. How did you work together in adapting the book, how did you divide responsibilities behind and in front of the camera? How, in fact, did you meet?
Well, we met at the Dutch film festival exactly 10 years ago. We were chatting between platters of cheese and sausages after the premiere of a film called The Divine Pig. Sabine wanted to take Niels home, but he was afraid she would change his life for good. A couple of months later his fear was gone. After that we immediately started working together.
For our previous film we really did everything ourselves: camera, sound, editing, directing. Now it was different as there were more people involved. In general, we prepare everything together. Yes, really everything. As we live together, we talked about the adaptation for a long time. We work slowly but steadily: it took us a year to write the synopsis for the adaptation. But when the base is good, we can work faster and then it is simply sit down and write. We write together: for instance Niels works on part 1 and Sabine on part 2, then we read and talk about the structure and the scenes and then we switch parts. On set Niels operates the camera and Sabine directs the actors. But we also often interfere with each other on set.
Your previous film, the documentary NE ME QUITTE PAS, was an official selection of the 50th Chicago International Film Festival. What connections can we find between your documentary work and your first fiction feature film?
Still difficult to say about our own work, but I guess they are both slices of life. We try to create a world where the viewer can hang around for a bit, without too much plot. They are both character studies in the sense that we are mostly interested in how relationships affect people, meaning how people affect people and less so in how one character develops throughout a film.
How have audiences responded to your film?
Very interesting! Most people start talking about which character they relate to, what they recognize. So it feels the film brings an interesting conversation to the table.
What other films are you excited to see at the festival?
I think we are just really sad we can’t be there in real life, to stroll around and hear what film is buzzing. A festival is often so nice: to watch films from people you didn’t know before and discover new things. But we’ll keep our spirits up and scroll online through the program in the coming days.
What do you hope audiences take away from your film?
We hope that people think about their own (family) relationships. And maybe also, to be nice to each other…
Becoming Mona is available to stream Oct. 14-25 in the United States. A livestream Q&A with directors Sabine Lubbe Bakker & Niels van Koevorden will be held Wednesday, Oct. 21 at 4pm. Suggested Streaming Start Time: 2:05pm.