Driving back home from a festival abroad, and with nothing but each other’s company in a confined space for hours on end, Alex, Indy and Menna talk about trivial as well as grave issues. Like the situation their friend Tim is currently in, and which nobody really knows how to deal with. Inevitably, someone makes a dumb remark, the women get on each other’s nerves, barbs are exchanged and quickly retracted. Maybe they should just call him to see how he’s holding up?
Eyes on the Road (2019) is Dutch writer/director Stefanie Kolk’s third short film as well as her third to have its première at the Locarno Film Festival, after Clan and Harbour in 2016 and 2017. It’s not until halfway through the film that the issue at the centre of the women’s conversation is laid bare. ‘I don’t think it’s possible to make a good film about such a heavy subject without an indirect approach,’ Stefanie explains. ‘When I started writing, it wasn’t even really to write another film. I just started writing the dialogue I heard in my head. I didn’t know it was going to turn out like this. Once I had the backbone of the script, I refitted the dialogue to make sure the viewer is engaged, and the reveal comes at the right moment.’
Of three rehearsal days, one was taken up by the director and actresses Frieda Barnhard, Olivia Lonsdale and Sinem Kavus discussing the screenplay, and what it means. Stefanie: ‘We continued that conversation throughout the shoot. How unsympathetic do you allow your characters to be? We’ve tried a few possibilities. But the reveal needs to come at the right moment and by improvising too much, you risk being too early or too late.’
When I started writing, it wasn’t even really to write another film. I just started writing the dialogue I heard in my head. I didn’t know it was going to turn out like this.
‘My previous films’ screenplays were at quite a distance from my own life. A road trip like this is much closer to home and it was a lot of fun to be able to share that with the actresses,’ she says, looking back. ‘I was pregnant during the shoot and it was 37 degrees inside the car so physically it was quite exhausting. We put the girls’ car on a process trailer while I was in the cabin up front. I think it helped their performance that they were in a car together without a big crew around them at all times.’
While Eyes on the Road is Stefanie Kolk’s first production with New Amsterdam Film Company, it’s definitely not her last. ‘It feels like family. I’m already developing a feature film with [producer] Miel van Welzen and [creative producer] Thomas den Drijver, and I’ve known and worked with Miel since we were in film school together.’