Martin Zandvliet on Land of Mine

Land of Mine will be in Dutch cinemas from March 31 onwards. This captivating post-war drama earned two awards at IFFR for director Martin Zandvliet. Both the festival audience and the youth jury recognised this exceptional film, in which young Germans have to clear mines along the Danish coast in the aftermath of World War II, with the Warsteiner Audience Award and the MovieZone Award respectively. Next year an Oscar in Hollywood?

By Anton Damen

What does an award mean to you, as a screenwriter and director?

"It's always nice to get this kind of pat on the back. The first screening of Land of Mine was late on a Sunday evening. The next day, it went straight to number one in the audience top ten, and stayed there the whole week. Of course that means something. Particularly if it's the voice of the audience – the very people you are hoping to reach. When it's a jury decision there can be politics involved that influence the outcome, and you don't know exactly why you got the award. But the audience never lies, so that's the most important award you can win. I think it's very special that Land of Mine also won the youth jury award. I think we tend to underestimate young people and that this film is proof that history lessons needn't be dull."

The film tells a dark but seldom-told tale from history.

"I had set my sights on a story about World War II from the start. I knew there is enough material out there that hasn't been used ad infinitum. During my research on the Danish corps, I came across the fact that German prisons of war – many of them very young – were ordered by the British to clear mines along the Danish coast. I found out how dangerous a job it was, and how many of them died. I knew I'd found my story. Hardly anything has been written about this; a footnote here, a short chapter there. I visited cemeteries, teased out little details like the rations they lived on and how many mines were cleared. Lots of facts and figures. Then I used all the tricks in my repertoire as a writer and director. Elements used in making thrillers, suspense and drama to horror. Land of Mine is not a documentary, but a fiction film. If you pay ten Euros to see a film, you want to be entertained. It's great if the audience learns something and gets interested in history, but I also make films to move and change people. This is actually a very Danish story, but every country and every culture has hidden, dark pages in its history the current generation is unaware of. At IFFR I ran into a historian from Rotterdam who told me that a virtually identical situation occurred on the Dutch coast during that period."

Does Land of Mine still qualify as a war film?

"Hmm, I don't know. In a way, it is a war film. But what is that? War is also what happened after the peace treaty was signed. Land of Mine talks about the after-effects. For the young Germans in the film, their war isn't over yet. So it's not a traditional war film, but one that mixes elements of drama and thrillers."

The film was a hit at IFFR. What's life like after the festival?

"We count ourselves very lucky that the film has been picked up by distributors all over the world. It's going to screen in Dutch cinemas, but also in France, Belgium, Great Britain, Italy, Japan and America, where it's being released by Sony Pictures Classic. They have high hopes – that Land of Mine will have a nomination for Best Foreign Film at next year's Oscars. As a director, your involvement with a film carries on. I would say I've spent about five years on Land of Mine. In Rotterdam, I got into a discussion with a festival volunteer. I asked him what he did outside of the festival and he told me he had just finished studying medicine. It took him six years to qualify as a doctor. Shit, instead of making this film I could have become a doctor – almost."

Land of Mine can be seen in cinemas in the Netherlands from 31 March.