Docs

Chasing the zeitgeist at Submarine

Submarine is an Amsterdam-based production company that works in documentaries, animation and games and also isn't afraid to take on provocative topics. The prodco has tackled the subject of Viagra and is currently in production on docs about the oldest Red Light District prostitutes and Somali pirates. Femke Wolting, co-founder and head of Submarine, tells realscreen why the company likes to push the boundaries of media.
December 17, 2009

Submarine is an Amsterdam-based production company that works in documentaries, animation and games and isn’t afraid to take on provocative topics. The prodco has tackled the subject of Viagra and is currently in production on docs about the oldest Red Light District prostitutes and Somali pirates. Femke Wolting, co-founder and head of Submarine, tells realscreen why the company likes to push the boundaries of media.

What are you currently working on?
We have about five documentaries in production at the moment. We’re editing a film called Rainmakers which is an investigative documentary about pollution in China and the young generation of environmental activists. That’s for ZDF, ARTE and VPRO and that will be done beginning next year. We’re doing a film with a young Dutch filmmaker called Ex-Mother, about the filmmaker’s mother who is addicted to heroin and it’s about their mother-daughter love and their relationship. We just finished The Viagraman which is a film about how 10 years of Viagra has changed male sexuality. It is going to be shown on ZDF, ARTE and other broadcasters at the beginning of next year. The Erectionman is the international title.
We’re doing a film about the oldest prostitutes in Amsterdam, The Ladies Fokkens. They’ve been working in the Red Light area for more than 40 years and they’re going to retire soon. We’ve been following them for the past few months all the way up to retirement. They’re real independent hookers, sort of old fashioned hookers, like the kind that doesn’t really exist anymore in Amsterdam.
We’re also working on a film called Possession of the Sea. It’s about the pirates of Somolia, directed by Tommy Pallotta, who also produced A Scanner Darkly and Waking Life, so it’s going to be a hybrid of live-action and animation. The animation will be a reconstruction of the hijacking and the live action will be the storyline in the present about the pirates and how they are pressured to give up their profession.

What is Submarine’s mandate?
We do documentaries, games and animation so we love stories in all media, basically. We like stories that capture the zeitgeist, that moment in time and for us that can be done in animation, live action or sometimes in a game. We like to work with both young and up-and-coming directors as well as with more established directors. We’ve done a film with Peter Greenaway [Rembrandt's J'accuse], but also a game, which he’d never done before.
The Netherlands is very small, and our real mission is to make films that exist outside of the Netherlands. The audience is so small – only 15 million people have the potential to watch documentaries and only a fraction of those look at documentary film – so with every film, we first ask whether it has international appeal. Sometimes that can be done even with a Dutch subject, like with a story about the Dutch prostitutes. The Red Light area is an icon outside The Netherlands, [but] it’s still a local story. We are interested in issues of globalization and bigger themes and we try to find stories that are smaller human stories that reflect this bigger development.

Some of these topics are provocative. What other areas would you like to explore?
The topics we explore aren’t really part of a mandate. They are usually things that interest us and sometimes find their way into movies in surprising ways. For instance, we were doing research for a doc about online piracy and kept finding articles about Somalian pirates. Intrigued by a few articles, we researched more and found a fascinating geo-political story. We love how our interests can lead us to exciting places we didn’t imagine.
Also, we are very filmmaker-friendly and encourage our friends and peers to pitch us ideas. We really look for subjects that the filmmakers are passionate about, not what we think the market will want. Submarine was founded by like-minded creative people who were already pushing the boundaries of media. So again, it isn’t really a mandate, it comes from our heart.

About The Author
Barry Walsh is editor and content director for realscreen, and has served as editor of the publication since 2009. With a career in entertainment media that spans two decades, prior to realscreen, he held the associate editor post for now defunct sister publication Boards, which focused on the advertising and commercial production industries. Before Boards, he served as editor of Canadian Music Network, a weekly music industry trade, and as music editor for HMV.com. As content director, he also oversees the development of content for the brand's market-leading events, the Realscreen Summit and Realscreen West, as well as new content initiatives.

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