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Man in a Can: An Interview with Director Henk Pringels

Tell us about yourself. How did you become an artist?

When do you call yourself an artist…? What’s at the core of it? I was 4 when I started drawing and I have been doing so ever since. I probably dreamt of ever becoming an artist when I was 13. When I was 20, I was at university, reading the books of great artists. At that time I started writing myself and in the meantime I dreamt of being such a good painter, that people would look at my paintings and wonder at the mysterious nature of art. For me, art is definitely an alternative way of looking at reality, a process of deconstructing and reconstructing in a (slightly or not so slightly) different way. The urge to do so started really early in my life. But to be looked upon as an artist took some more issues to tackle…

What was your first job in the art field?

Playwright! I wrote a play, which was performed in a city theatre.

What makes you want to tell stories? In other words, what are the themes/issues you want to incorporate into your work?

That deconstructive/reconstructive process is quite important to me, naturalistic storytelling is probably not my thing. I like to fully explore the imagination in order to offer a kind of world that goes beyond the well-known accepted reality, thus expanding the boundaries of our perception. They say many Belgian artists share this penchant for the surrealistic; it’s probably true, but surrealism is an intensified (expressive) way of looking at reality, with free play for the imagination. That’s exactly what makes short films and animated films so interesting to me. Whatever strange or fantastic idea pops up, it can probably we drawn, assembled, mounted and edited, to become a real film that can be seen by millions of people.

The main issue of “Man in a Can” is the human condition, in general, and more specifically ‘needy man’ , the relationship between need and desire, and the consequences of this typically human behavior.

Please tell us about your vision and your method of approaching a new project?

Actually, the idea for “Man in a Can” just started with a very small drawing of a man - clad in black - standing at this strange building that looks like a big sardine can. And with a huge fan above the construction. I started wondering at what this man does there, in the midst of the desert. Well, he seems to be talking to someone at the inside of this strange building. And what’s more, they seem to know each other… It turns out that this man in black has procured the fan for the figure inside the building. So, I started to develop a whole story of how this man in black left an oasis and started walking into the desert to visit this figure in that building. And it turns out the this man in black can’t understand why this figure at the inside just doesn’t need anything, not even a radio or television, so far away from civilization…!

In my newest project, “Porticoes and Patios”, I started from a couple of drawings; I applied a formal link between them, after which I started writing some explanatory texts and dialogues/monologues, thus creating some sort of story line. After that, it was the normal procedure of making a story board, the decors, etc.

Who are your filmmaking influencers? What are the films that were influential for you?

In animated film, William Kentridge is a standard, of course. Many years ago, I met him in Antwerp; I was most impressed by his work, and I’m even more today. But I just can’t say whether he was in any way influential for me. I saw many short films and animated films, very often I felt jealous as to what the makers were able to. To me, animated filmmaking is a higher art. In many cases, these films are produced by only a handful of people, but the results are baffling!

But what led me to make animated films myself was not solely the nice examples of predecessors. I’m not even a real cinephile, actually, although I adore Italian cinema… You just must have seen Fellini’s films to realize the power of imagination and fantasy! But I think I’m even more influenced by paintings, drawings, architecture, landscapes, books. They have this power…

How do you think the industry is changing? How has COVID affected independent filmmaking/creation?

Covid has definitely changed a few things drastically, but not only in film industry. The whole world was affected by it, that is surely changing the game. And of course, independent artists all over the world were terribly affected by the financial consequences. As a professional singer, all concerts were cancelled, of course. But, that terrible lockdown period created opportunities as well. I just had lots of time to produce “Man in a Can”. Sometimes, when visiting painting expositions, especially of the Renaissance period, I start wondering at the enormous and delicate ‘labour’ of these famous (and not so famous) oeuvres. In 2023 we just can’t imagine working on a piece for several years, and this without our own favorite music in our ears, our social media, our Netflix series… The depth, the isolation, the silence…

What advice would you give to aspiring artists? What are some of the things they must follow/avoid?

Yes, indeed, that silence, that isolation and depth of thought and concentration… Whatever concept or idea you’re after, it’s only the monk’s perseverance that will lead to truly satisfying works. I think the biggest obstruction for young/aspiring artists is the thrill of virtuality and its inherent speed. Everybody nowadays is a good photographer, everybody can make a film or an animated film, surely with those new design programs on the market. Any fool can make pictures and make them move from one side of the screen to the other, so what’s the fuss all about?

Do you think films/stories can bring about a change in the world?

Hard to say. But yes, film IS changing/shaping/reshaping our world, in one direction or another. The other day I was reading a article about the worldwide phenomenon of tourists (lots of them!) visiting film sets all over the world… It definitely says something about the enormous impact of film industry on the lives of billions of people. It says something about the power of the virtual. Biggest part of it is mere entertainment. In dystopian ways, film industry is a real monster, manipulating masses. What kind of change is mankind really after? Change for the better? What’s better? Has Covid learnt us something? That we can’t miss flying? That television is our Saviour?

What do you think people like to watch these days? Has the pandemic changed people's taste?

So, in some of the most powerful states of this planet, television/cinema was used during the pandemic to misinform the people. Worldwide crises don’t tend to refreshen the people’s taste, rather the other way round. But still, independent filmmakers can counterbalance that tendency, I hope.

Please tell us about your upcoming projects.

Next project is that “Porticoes and Patios” I mentioned earlier. It consists of a series of animated ‘tableaux’, and it’s basically dealing with the concept of distance/proximity, either or not created artificially between the observer and the observed.

In October 1989, just before the Fall of the Berlin Wall, I was in Berlin. In one of the musea I saw a painting by Schiele (Seated woman with one leg drawn up) that struck me enormously. I wrote a short story about that girl, afterwards. If she just came alive for a moment, what would she tell me?So many years later, she might come alive in my new animated film…


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