The construction of a national cinema

leeuw-van-vlaanderen-set.jpgA research on the role of film production policy in stimulating a Flemish identity (1964-2002)

Researcher(s) (CIMS)

Gertjan Willems

Supervisors (CIMS)

Daniel Biltereyst

Co-Supervisors (CIMS)

Roel Vande Winkel

Co-Supervisors (other)

Philippe Meers

Funded by

Research Foundation - Flanders (FWO)


This research project started in October 2010 and culminated in Gertjan Willems' public defense of his PhD dissertation on 3 October 2014.

The role of the official film production policy in stimulating a Flemish identity forms the central research question of this dissertation. The research project examines the period that starts in 1964, when a selective and culturally inspired support mechanism for feature films was introduced in Flanders, and runs until 2002, when the support system was structurally renewed. Within the field of nationalism studies, this dissertation contributes to a better understanding of recent cultural nationalism in Flanders. Moreover, by focusing on the under-studied aspect of film policy, this dissertation contributes to the existing research on the relationship between film and national identity, Belgian film historiography and the burgeoning international field of film policy studies. This dissertation regards Flemish identity as a national identity in the context in which national identities are conceptualized as contingent, dynamic and discursive constructions. As disseminators of representations, films provide some of the building blocks that individuals and groups can use to construct a national identity. While most studies focus on the textual representations, it is equally important to study the production context and the struggles for meaning behind the representations. Within a Flemish context, the government’s film policy plays an important role in that process. To study the Flemish film policy process, this dissertation makes use of original archival research, policy documents analysis, expert interviews and textual film analysis. The research conducted for this present study shows that Flemish film policy had a big impact on film production in Flanders. Between 1964 and 2002, more than three-quarters of all Flemish feature films received a government subsidy. On average, this support counted for more than half of (the Flemish share in) the total finance plan of the supported films. The introduction of the support mechanism in 1964 was the result of the Flemish striving for cultural autonomy in the Belgian political context. In line with this, the concrete aim of the film policy practice was to culturally uplift the Flemish audience. Even though the Flemish film policy was marked by ambiguity, we can say that elements of quality and components of the Flemish character held a central place in the policy process, which aimed to construct a recognizable Flemish cinema. Nevertheless, the policy process was often ambiguous because of its dependence on sectorial circumstances and because the film policy itself was also often quite inconsistent on ensuring the Flemish character of the films. From the 1980s on, commercial and economic motives grew more important in Flemish film policy. This evolution ran parallel with the growing internationalization of film productions. The new economic perspective was reflected in the policy intentions, discourses and goals, which lessened the importance of these cultural and Flemish national inspired motivations. This, however, did not mean that those factors disappeared. The growing commercialization and internationalization also caused a renewed emphasis on the Flemish and cultural character of the films. The motivation for the emphasis on the Flemish character of the films partly shifted from a cultural educative nation-building ideal to a more economic perspective, but the final goal of constructing a body of cinema with a clear Flemish identity largely remained unchanged.