- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 14, 2001

Belgian filmmaker Dominique Deruddere, who has released "Everybody's Famous," acknowledges that plenty of firsts remain to be achieved by his countrymen.
The subject comes up when he's asked during promotional interviews at the St. Regis Hotel whether any Belgian pop music stars — a principal topic of interest in the film — have transcended parochial popularity.
"Not really," says Mr. Deruddere, who is slight, puckish and very fluent in English. "That could still happen. A lot of things could still happen in Belgium. At the French Open, two Belgian tennis players were in the same semifinal. That was never heard of. If we had won the Academy Award, that would have been a first."
Nominated as best foreign language film, "Everybody's Famous" failed to upset "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" for the Oscar. Coincidentally, another finalist, the Czech import "Divided We Fall," opened in the Washington area last weekend. From the evidence now available, the category was strongly represented.
"Everybody's Famous," which opened yesterday at the Cineplex Odeon Outer Circle, takes a satirical view of the yearning for overnight pop music fame and wealth by a laid-off factory worker called Jean (Josse de Pauw) and his surly teen-age daughter, Marva (Eva Van der Gucht). The father becomes notorious by impulsively kidnapping a No. 1 songbird, Debbie (Thekla Reuten), in hopes of coercing her manager into auditioning Marva. Ironically, this harebrained scheme proves to be the serendipitous means to gratification, confirmed shamelessly on star-struck TV shows that preserve the traditions of "Amateur Hour" and "Your Hit Parade." Mr. Deruddere says one of the most popular prototypes is "The Sound Mix Show."
"The television networks duplicate their pop music shows," he says. "They'll compete for the big stars of the moment. There are always the same faces on every show. It's a really silly situation. You could jump to the conclusion that everybody's famous in our country."
Hence the title of his picture, which contrives to balance mocking and affectionate impressions while exaggerating the phenomenon to some extent. "We stretch reality somewhat," the filmmaker says. "I can't help it. I like to twist things a little beyond. But it's not so far beyond. The Flemish are addicted to these shows, and people recognized its reality when they saw the movie. Remember the guy who was imitating Otis Redding? This is not something I invented. He was a contest winner on TV a couple of years ago. On 'The Sound Mix Show,' you have to look like and sound like the artist you're doing. The quality of your own voice is secondary."
Mr. Deruddere insists that the craze is a recent invention of television. "It just started with a producer who specialized in game shows," he says. "It worked, to our misfortune. So we have duplicates of that format and the weekly hit song shows, too. TV is dictating this kind of entertainment. People in TV will admit that they think the audience is stupid. I say, 'No, you are making them stupid.' At the same time, there's this homely quality to stardom as we practice it. You really might encounter a Debbie riding her bike along the canal. She wouldn't necessarily require a big entourage and bodyguards and all that. So there's an appealing, vulnerable side to the celebrity that prevents you from rejecting it outright."
The filmmaker fears that television is also a chronic source of misinformation. "People are not well-informed in our country," he says. "You see it in the news shows, which will often harp on the same theme, like 'the danger in Brussels' or 'crime in the streets.' Always it's the same immigrant neighborhoods that illustrate the theme."
In the movie he makes a point of ridiculing this bias while seeming to jeopardize his plot. A panicky and unreliable witness is introduced; she misidentifies Jean's pal, Willy, a reluctant accomplice, as a North African. This impression is way off.
Moroccan immigrants take the brunt of such prejudice in Belgian cities, Mr. Deruddere says.
Mr. Deruddere resides in Brussels with his wife and their two young sons, ages 8 and 6. "Nobody feels really Belgian," he says. "I'm Flemish. It's weird to live in a country where two countries operate at the same time. Personally, I like it. It has a lot of surrealistic feel. You're always changing languages, switching between Flemish and French. You can't take yourself too seriously. What are we? About 55 percent Flemish and 33 percent Walloon — two groups of people clinging to different languages and sort of partitioned between north and south who invited a German king to come in and be their leader. It's like a comic strip. There's no real nationalistic sentiment. It's more cultural or historical or regional."
Mr. Deruddere demonstrates two ways of pronouncing his last name. The correct but incomprehensible one is a trill that obviously defies mastery by strangers. The slowed-down version is manageable: "day-rue-dare."
Despite his quarrel with national television programming, Mr. Deruddere acknowledges that television was an indispensable influence on his own youth and professional aspirations. However, that was the first generation of Belgian television, when the staple programming was vintage Hollywood movies or TV shows.
"I was born in 1957, and television had started in our country just two years earlier. We didn't know how to make our own programs, so we bought a lot of American films, including the great ones. Frank Capra. William Wyler. I got to see all those, all good quality," Mr. Deruddere says. "I knew I wanted to be a filmmaker at that time. I had three older brothers and sisters. One of the brothers had a Super 8mm camera, and I wanted to play with it so badly that I stole it and shot a whole reel of film. He sent it off to the lab anyway, to see 'how you things up' in his words. I remember being very excited during the week as we waited for it to come back. The whole thing started there. The footage looked wonderful to me, and I began getting little books that informed you about technique. Of course, later I went to film school, and there you got the history and appreciation in a formal way, as well. But I always thought of myself as a filmmaker, a storyteller."
Mr. Deruddere made his feature debut in 1987 with a comedy titled "Crazy Love," also starring Mr. De Pauw, who became a frequent acting collaborator and godfather to the eldest Deruddere son. The Flemish industry is so small that Mr. Deruddere has directed almost as many features in English as Flemish: two as opposed to three. Only about five or six features are produced in both the Flemish and French sectors annually, but the French titles have an advantage by attracting co-production deals from Paris.
"France is still the most important film country in Europe," he says. "It's very hard for us to get to festivals, especially Cannes, where they will almost never take more than one film from such a small country, and they'll prefer the French-language candidate if it's a question of choosing between films of comparable quality."
Mr. Deruddere's new movie more than covered its expenses with a Belgian opening in April 2000. It was selected for the Venice Film Festival four months later. American distribution deals seemed to be off and on for several months until Miramax finally snapped up "Everybody's Famous," a few days before the Oscar nominations were announced.
The filmmaker's new movie contains a brief excerpt from Mr. Deruddere's only American feature, "Wait Until Spring, Bandini." The principal cast members are Joe Mantegna, Faye Dunaway and Ornella Muti. Derived from a novel by the late John Fante, who has had several minivogues in Hollywood, "Bandini" was shot in Salt Lake City in 1989. It got lost in the shuffle when the distributor, Orion Pictures, began sinking a year later. It was a co-production with Francis Ford Coppola's Zoetrope.
The filmmaker acknowledges that the prospect of dual European and American careers seemed very promising at the time. "That would be the ideal," he says. "I didn't choose the clever way of pursuing an American career by falling in love with a particular project, but it was a great experience. We got really good reviews in Europe, especially in France. Joe Mantegna tells me the film has a following through cable and video. I was getting Hollywood offers 10 years ago, and now I am again. Maybe the ideal is still practical. We'll see."

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