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Elif Kirankaya

LIFF programmer Nick Hortensius: 'It's great to share your taste with so many people'

Alumnus Nick Hortensius started volunteering at the Leiden International Film Festival (LIFF) in his student days. He has since grown with the festival to become head of programming. How does he look back on his student days? And what can we expect from the festival this year?

As head of programming at a film festival, you must have always been a huge film fan?

'I happened to be talking about it the other day with a fellow programmer and a cinema owner: we all turned out to live near a Videoland as children. I used that video store as a kind of library: walking there and getting DVDs on the spur of the moment. That way, by the time I was sixteen, I had already seen all kinds of arthouse films from the canon of the film industry. When I think back on that now, I wonder what on earth I was doing with that at that age.'

Did you know straight away that you wanted to do something with that hobby?

'No, I studied psychology first. It wasn't until I came across a minor in Theatre and Film in my third year that I realised I could also do something with film professionally and academically. I liked that minor so much that I continued with the master's in Film and Photographic Studies. Then I also started volunteering at LIFF, where I was soon asked to join the programme team. After another master’s in philosophy, I had a choice: find a job for four or five days a week or continue with LIFF and hope my role there would continue to grow. I gambled on the latter. That worked out really well: LIFF is now one of the biggest film festivals in the Netherlands.'

You have now been head of programming and education there for ten years. What do you enjoy about the job?

'I really enjoy sharing the ideas and films I gather during the year with a large audience. It’s a huge privilege to watch a film on a watermarked laptop and six months later see people enjoying it in a large cinema hall, sometimes with the maker present. We also organise primary school screenings as a festival and sometimes give guest lectures or workshops throughout the year. I myself have also started film festivals for high schools.

A group of about 10 students organise a film festival for their own school over a two-month period: from the films to a theme, logo, poster, decoration of the cinema and sponsorship. It's great to see how many talents come together in this: from organisational talent to a marketing spiel.'

What kind of student were you yourself?

'You have in the Netherlands the six-and-a-half culture, where just passing is enough, but I was the seven-and-a-half. I got through everything well on time, but I also never worked my ass off. I did just enough to make sure I would make it. I think I always had a 7.5 average for my bachelor's, minor, master's and second master's.'

What is your favourite memory of your student days?

'I experienced my two theses as very positive. You don't hear that often, I realise that, but I had chosen topics I was enthusiastic about and was given a lot of freedom by both my supervisors. One was about B-movies, with Showgirls by Paul Verhoeven on the front cover. On the other was The Notebook, with a kind of cigarette warning that this film could give a romanticised view of reality. Just the idea that I could write about subjects like that, I loved it.'

You've been involved in film professionally for so long. Do you still occasionally watch films in your spare time?

'I watch an awful lot of films at film festivals, but on a free evening I find a football match more relaxing than a film. I still haven't seen Oppenheimer, for instance. That will come again when the festival is over.'

What can we expect from this edition?

'We have a lot of somewhat bigger previews of films that are going to be released in the coming years, sometimes not until well into the following year. In addition, every year the range of films that are not going to be released in the Netherlands grows and we have the 'real festival parts', such as a film screening in the Hortus, in a swimming pool or in the Rijksmuseum van Volkenkunde or a cinematic beer and wine tasting, where we pair beers or wines with film scenes. So if all goes well, you go home with a beer or wine you want to drink and a film you want to see more of than just one scene. It’s precisely this kind of activity that creates that special film festival atmosphere. When you walk into the Trianon cinema these weeks, you immediately feel that it's different from usual.'

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