2016 IDFA Interview: Coco Schrijber (How To Meet A Mermaid)

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In ‘How to Meet a Mermaid’, the sea becomes a haven for mankind, locked in its struggle with its ‘indifferent universe’.

Lex, Rebecca, and Miguel each have their own reasons to lay their lives in the hands of the capricious waters. The question remains, however, whether they will find what they so anxiously seek underneath the surface of the waters.

‘How to Meet a Mermaid’ screens in competition at the 2016 International Documentary Festival Amsterdam where it continues to screen throughout the week. I caught up with the film’s Director Coco Schrijber to discuss the film’s challenging production, distribution strategy and more..

Find more information on ‘How to Meet a Mermaid’ at the 2016 IDFA HERE

What was this film’s central idea that first occurred to you?
Perception of reality.

Meaning, what was its starting point? Was it a specific idea? Character? Theme?
It was an afternoon of watching all kinds of stuff on YouTube and my moods shifted from melancholia to happiness to inspiration to uncontrolled laughter to a somber mood. And all this in matters of minutes, so I was wondering what is the true emotion, what is it that you are really feeling, how can you rely on your state of mind as it changes so quickly because of stimuli outside of you? In those moods, people sometimes take impulsive decisions that they might not have taken an hour, or a day later, such as the decision to end your life.

Speaking specifically of the water, what do you consider your own relationship with it?
I share my late brother’s love of the sea. I was born in The Hague. As a child, I was always at the beach. We went on holidays to the seaside in Spain and Italy. The sea is just my friend, you feel weightless and relaxed being in the waves. I was never trained to swim, but was a natural at it – and I am still faster in the water than most of my male friends. When I swim now with guys in the swimming pool, I beat them everytime.

How were you first introduced to the film’s three protagonists? What was the process like in finding the subjects you would eventually follow with the film? How many people did you vet before coming to this decision?
I met Miguel the surfer guy during a holiday in Mexico, I read about Rebecca’s story in the paper, then somebody said to me: what about your own brother? He disappeared into the sea as well. I said: what does that have to do with anything..? The most obvious is usually right in front of you. I never looked for others, I could relate to their stories on a personal way, I instantly recognized them as part of me, something I would or could have done.

Explain the approach to cinematography for this film? How did the approach change (or evolve) from pre-production through shooting and into post-production?
I know my subject matter quite well, the premise inside out, and from this basis, I will start filming with a sort of ruthless intuition. The cameraman Lars Skree (Armadillo, The act of killing) is very sensitive visually and could understand my associative thinking in shots and framing and we got along great, looking for images that surprised us and discussing how it fit in the film. The helicopter opening shots of the Blue Hole I had in my mind for a long time so we discussed lenses and how the feeling of falling and floating could be beautiful and scary at the same time. But maybe even more than the images the sound was more important. Thanks to my fantastic editor Gys Zevenbergen and sound designer Vincent Sinceretti we could enhance the visuals and show the sea for what she is: a true psychopath, a split personality that attracts the main characters to its depths with calmness, wildness and empathy.

What was the most challenging aspect of completing this film?
The technical stuff of this film was just hell on earth. Of course, always a lot of things go wrong but for this film, it almost wiped me off the map. From lenses being stolen to power cuts while backing up your material that you just shot, to 300 shots gone missing in post-production and everything in between that made a focused editing process almost impossible. I was more on the phone fixing things than able to edit. My next film idea has to be so alluring so tempting before I get myself involved with this madness ever again. Unfortunately for me, something has come up…

Can you explain a little about your distribution and festival strategy for the film moving forward? After IDFA where does it go?
Cat&docs has picked up the sales with which I am very happy. I usually scrutinize the web for various film fests and whichever seem nice to me I’ll apply for them, depending on their approach to filmmaking, location (places in the world where I haven’t been are my preference) and since my previous film Bloody Mondays & Strawberry Pies did really well at the festival circuit, film fests approach me already, so, for now, it is looking really great. Can’t wait to start ‘touring’ since I have discovered that people from different countries/cultures obviously respond to your film in a completely different way. The Dutch audience isn’t bad but always very rational, while Latin American countries or anywhere outside Europe heading East, people seem to be much more susceptible to elusive films, willing to go on the journey you present them.

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