Over 150 leading figures from the European and international industry have signed an open letter in support of Christian De Schutter, former managing director of Flanders Image, whose sudden removal from his role was announced in a short email sent by Koen Van Bockstal, CEO of Flanders Audiovisual Fund (VAF), on December 20.

“We’re all flummoxed by the situation and as his longtime colleagues we think we deserve some sort of explanation. We know that many people in Belgium, including your leading filmmakers, are also confused and angered,” said the letter, which is addressed to “the decision makers behind Flanders Image”.

”We are concerned that the Flemish cultural sector will now suffer without Mr De Schutter’s expertise and far-reaching international contact,” the letter concluded. ”We look forward to a full investigation into his dismissal and a transparent public response.”

Signatories include Giona A. Nazzaro, artistic director of Locarno Film Festival, Tiina Lokk, director of the Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival, Frédéric Boyer, artistic director of the Tribeca Film Festival and Les Arcs, Karel Och, artistic director of Karlovy Vary, José Luis Rebordinos, director of the San Sebastian festival and Simon Field, former director International Film Festival Rotterdam.

De Schutter had worked at VAF for over 20 years, joining in May 2003. With his team, he was responsible for promoting Flemish films and TV dramas internationally. During his time at Flanders Image, Flemish features have had unprecedented success, achieving several Oscar nominations (Bullhead, The Broken Circle Breakdown and Close). Filmmakers including Lukas Dhont, Fien Troch, Michaël R. Roskam, Felix Van Groeningen, Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah have achieved success at international festivals

De Schutter was also one of the architects of Connext, an annual industry event launched in 2016 showcasing Flemish films and TV dramas to international buyers, sales agents, producers, and festival directors. Films to have emerged through Connext include Dhont’s Girl, which won the work in progress prize in 2017, and thriller Gangsta from Adili & Bilall, the directing duo who went on to have a huge global hit with 2020’s Bad Boys For Life.

When contacted today by Screen, Van Bockstal declined to reveal anything further about why the long-serving executive was removed from his post.

“For reasons linked to privacy, confidentiality and Belgian law and out of respect for Christian De Schutter, VAF has been advised by our lawyers not to give any further comments other than in the original mail. It is common practice according to our legal counsel that neither employee nor employer communicate about the reasons of a dismissal,” said the VAF CEO. “We regret his departure but cannot elaborate on this matter.”

De Schutter declined to comment.

Further signatories to the letter include Dennis Ruh, EFM director, Jerome Paillard, former head of the Cannes Marché, Adriek van Nieuwenhuyzen, industry head at IDFA, Simone Baumann, managing director of German Films, and many prominent sales agents including Eva Diederix (Goodfellas), Virginie Devesa (Alpha Violet World Sales), Gabor Greiner (Films Boutique), Moritz Hemminger, (The Playmaker Munich), Tine Klint (LevelK) and Susan Wendt, (TrustNordisk).

Belgian signatories included Jacques Dubrulle, honorary president of the International Film Festival Ghent, director Stijn Coninx, and leading producer Hilde De Laere, behind such hits as The Loft and The Memory Of A Killer.

“Christian has always done a great job promoting our films abroad,” said Van Groeningen, the Oscar-nominated Belgian director of The Broken Circle Breakdown.

Some are now asking if Flemish films may face more of a struggle to break through internationally. ”[Festival directors] may hesitate or think a second time before they take a Belgian film,” one signatory suggested. 

Questions are also being raised over the future of Connext: whether it will go ahead at all – and, if it does, whether delegates will be willing to attend in De Schutter’s absence.

“Christian has always done a great job promoting our films abroad,” said Van Groeningen, the Oscar-nominated Belgian director of The Broken Circle Breakdown.

De Schutter began his career as a journalist at Moving Pictures and then Screen International. He was elected to the board of European Film Promotion in 2023.  It is not yet known if another Flemish representative will now take his place. 

Open letter to the decision makers behind Flanders Image

January 12, 2024

We the undersigned are professionals in the film industry who are concerned about the termination of employment of our well respected and longtime colleague, Christian De Schutter, from Flanders Image.

We are shocked by the termination itself, also by the manner in which it has been handled by Flanders Audiovisual Fund (VAF) CEO Koen Van Bockstal. Has the board of directors of VAF been fully informed about the reasons for De Schutter’s termination? Has Mr De Schutter had a chance to explain his side of the situation?

We all learned of De Schutter’s dismissal from the organization he has served for 20+ years in an impersonal mass email sent from Van Bockstal on December 20, 2023 (see below). Van Bockstal then turned on his out of office messages for the holidays and as of the morning of Jan 12 has not replied to any inquiries about why De Schutter has been dismissed.

There has been no explanation whatsoever for this sudden and drastic move. Of course, any manager is responsible for his team and decisions about staffing. But the way this specific exit has been decided is raising many concerns and questions, as there was no explanation provided as to why a senior and very experienced expert in promotion and marketing of European films was released from his position. Were internal politics at play?

We are all aware of how vulnerable the cultural sector is – demanding and challenging in its need for non-stop performance, diplomatic qualities, multi-task executive skills, high responsibility towards the public sector, and often low salaries. To lose such a valued cultural sector expert as Mr De Schutter leaves a huge hole in the cultural landscape of Flanders.

Over the past two decades, we have found Mr De Schutter to be a huge asset to the local and international film community, passionately and professionally promoting Flemish films, TV series and talents with a deep knowledge, expertise, creative energy and enthusiasm. We the undersigned have never heard about any complaints of his work, and have no complaints ourselves.

He single handedly came up with the idea to start a new event in 2016 called Connext and built it into a must-attend event for the international community to discover Flemish talents, films and series. Connext provides game-changing international networking opportunities for Flemish creatives, thanks to Mr De Schutter’s vision.

Without Mr De Schutter’s involvement, there is talk amongst some international parties of not attending the next edition of Connext and this will be a huge loss for the Flemish creative community to lose these international connections.

We would like for VAF leadership including Van Bockstal to be held accountable and provide a transparent account of why De Schutter has been dismissed. Do the industry stakeholders and filmmakers in Flanders agree with this VAF decision?

Mr De Schutter has not asked us to write this open letter, and we’re not sure if he wants for his job to be reinstated especially given the leadership issues at Flanders Image currently, but we’re all flummoxed by the situation and as his longtime colleagues we think we deserve some sort of explanation. We know that many people in Belgium, including your leading filmmakers, are also confused and angered at this turn of events and are looking for explanations. This has clearly not been handled in a professional manner.

A number of Belgium filmmakers have told us they support De Schutter, but could not sign this letter due to fears of how it could impact their future funding. This alone is reason enough to ask the board and stakeholders in VAF and Flanders Image to bring transparency and clarity to their process as public funding should not be personal.

We are concerned that the Flemish cultural sector will now suffer without Mr De Schutter’s expertise and far-reaching international contact.

We look forward to a full investigation into his dismissal and a transparent public response.

Yours sincerely,

Tasja Abel, Producer MadeFor Film/Banijay (Germany)

Adriek van Nieuwenhuyzen, IDFA (The Netherlands)

Ido Abram, CEO, I DO ! (Netherlands)

Mark Adams, former Artistic Director Edinburgh International Film Festival and Festival Consultant (UK)

Karim Aitouna, Producer and Industry consultant, Haut Les Mains productions (France)

Luca Andreotti, Program Coordinator, Torino Film Festival (Italy)

Rod Armstrong, Associate Director of Programming, SFFILM (USA)

Beth Barrett, Artistic Director, Seattle International Film Festival (USA)

Simone Baumann, Managing director of German Films (Germany)

Charles Bin, Sales Agent, Best Friends Forever (Belgium)

Martina Bleis, Head of Berlinale Co-Production Market (Germany)

Ahmet Boyacioglu, General Secretary, Festival on Wheels/Ankara Cinema Association (Turkey) Frédéric Boyer, Artistic Director, TRIBECA Film Festival (USA), Les Arcs Film Festival (France), Reykjavik International Film Festival (Iceland)

Giovanni Brancaccio, Head of Programming, Giffoni Film Festival (Italy)

Sarah Calderón, CEO The Film Agency, co-founder Red Balloon Alliance (Spain)

Laure Caillol, Haut et Court (France)

Saidja Callewaert – Former Flanders Image colleague (Belgium)

Javier Chavez, Associate Film Programmer, AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center (USA)

Anaïs Clanet, Partner, RESERVOIR DOCS (France)

Jan De Clercq, Producer (Belgium)

Stijn Coninx (director, Belgium)

Didier Costet, CEO, Swift Distribution (France)

Caroline Couret-Delègue, Sales Agent, Film Seekers France (France)

Nicolas Girard Deltruc, Festival Director, Festival du nouveau cinéma de Montréal (Canada) Hilde De Laere, Producer (Belgium)

Annemie Degryse, Producer (Belgium)

Fabian Desmicht, former VAF colleague (Location Flanders / Screen Flanders) (Belgium)

Tatiana Detlofson, Owner and Executive Publicist, MEDIAPLAN PR (USA)

Ellen De Waele, Producer (Belgium)

Jean-François Deveau, Eaux Vives Productions, former buyer (France)

Virginie Devesa, Alpha Violet World Sales (France)

Eva Diederix, Goodfellas (France)

Jan Doense, Film by the Sea (The Netherlands)

Ellis Driessen – Proctor Film / Consultant for Holland Film Meeting (The Netherlands)

Nelleke Driessen, film sales (The Netherlands)

Judith Dubeau, Publicist, Ixion Communications (Canada)

Jacques Dubrulle,Honorary President of the Intl Filmfestival Ghent (Belgium)

Markus Duffner, Head of Locarno Pro, Locarno Film Festival(Switzerland)

JoJo Dye – Founder, JJDConsultancy – The MEMBERS CLUB (UK)

Emmanuel Eckert, acquisition deputy director, Mediawan Rights (France)

Christine Eloy, Managing Director, Europa Distribution (Belgium)

Basak Emre, Ankara Festival Director, Festival on Wheels/Ankara Cinema Association (Turkey) Evrim Ersoy, Head of Programming, BEYOND FEST (USA)

James Faust, Artistic Director, Dallas International Film Festival (USA)

Julia Fidel, Producer, former head of Berlinale Series (Germany)

Simon Field, former director International Film Festival Rotterdam (UK)

Damjana Finci, All Aboard (UK)

Keiko Funato, Co-CEO, Alpha Violet (France)

Colin Geddes, Former TIFF programmer, producer and consultant (Canada)

Ray Gillon, International Localisation Producer, attached Wa\rner Bros (UK)

Rita Goegebeur – Former General Manager Flanders Image and Chef de Projet Village Int’l (Belgium/France)

Martin Gondre, Sales Agent, Best Friends Forever (Belgium)

Mike Goodridge, Good Chaos (UK)

Arnaud Gourmelen, Program Manager, Angers Film Festival – Premiers Plans (France)

Robert Gray, Kinograph inc., Montréal, film festival adviser (Canada)

Gabor Greiner, Films Boutique (Germany)

Georg Gruber, Managing Director, MAGNETFILM (Germany)

Laufey Guðjónsdóttir, consultant (Iceland)

Bill Guentzler, Vice President – Acquisitions, Gravitas Ventures and former Artistic Director, Cleveland International Film Festival (USA)

Reta Guetg, Zurich Film Festival (Switzerland)

Tonje Hardersen, Festival Director – The Norwegian Int. Film Festival (Norway)

Moritz Hemminger, Head of Sales & Acquisitions, The Playmaker Munich (Germany)

Xavier Henry-Rashid, Film Republic (UK)

Todd Hitchcock, Director, AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center (USA)

Erwin Houtenbrink, Rotterdam Arab Film Festival, Doha Film Institute (Netherlands)

Grainne Humphreys, Executive Director, Dublin International Film Festival (Ireland)

Sterre de Jong, Head of Professionals & Talent, Netherlands Film Festival (The Netherlands)

Alexis Juncosa, Artistic Director, Luxembourg City Film Festival (Luxembourg)

Louise Keller, film journalist (Australia)

Alice Kharoubi – Marché du Film (France)

Katia Kirby, Deputy Artistic director, Series Mania (France)

Tine Klint – Founder & CEO LevelK (Denmark)

Nerina T. Kocjančič, Head of Promotion & Distribution, Slovenian Film Centre (Slovenia)

Vladimir Kokh, Distributor, KMBO (France)

Milada Kolberg, X Verleih AG (Germany)

Jim Kolmar, Film Programmer, South by Southwest Film Festival (USA)

Kathrin Kohlstedde, Head of Programme Filmfest Hamburg (Germany)

Stephen Lan, Publicist (Canada)

Claudia Landsberger, Baseworx For Film (The Netherlands)

Anne Laurent-Delage, Executive Director (Austria)

Catherine Le Clef, President of CAT&Docs (France)

Agathe Lejeune, Acquisition Foreign Fictions, Canal+ (France)

Françoise Lentz (Luxembourg)

Ry Levey- Owner, RBL Films and Head of marketing and services,

Ryan Bruce Levey Film & PR Services (Canada)

Marge Liiske, Head of Industry@Tallinn & Baltic Event (Estonia)

Tiina Lokk, Director of the Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival (Estonia)

Pia Lundberg (Sweden)

Jacqueline Lyanga, Executive Director & Founder, Global Cinematheque; US Delegate, Berlinale and former Director, AFI FEST, American Film Institute (USA)

Annick Maes, Managing Director CARTOON (Belgium)

Grégoire Marchal, distributor, KMBO (France)

Hrönn Marinósdóttir, director Reykjavik International Film Festival (Iceland)

Jovan Marjanovic, Sarajevo Film Festival (Bosnia and Herzegovina)

Mallory Martin, Artistic Director, Cleveland International Film Festival (USA)

Nico Marzano, Former Head of Cinema ICA London / Current Member Selection Committee of the Rome Film Festival (UK/Italy)

Marian Masone, Curator, Film Art|Basel (USA)

Alex Masson, Delegate for France, Belgium and Canada, San Sebastian Film Festival (Spain)

Kathleen McInnis, See-Through Films, Strategic Publicist, Marketing Producer (USA)

Pierre Menahem, Still Moving (France)

Jean-Charles Mille, Managing Director, MPM Premium & Premium Films (France)

Wendy Mitchell, film festival consultant and writer (UK)

Lizette Gram Mygind – Festival Consultant, Feature Films (Denmark)

Gyda V. Myklebust, Head of New Nordic Films, The Norwegian Int. Film Festival in Haugesund (Norway)

Giona A. Nazzaro, Artistic Director, Locarno Film Festival (Switzerland)

David Nugent, Artistic Director Hamptons International Film Festival (USA)

Karel Och, Artistic Director, Karlovy Vary IFF (Czech Republic)

Stine Oppegaard, Manager, International Relations Feature Films (Norway)

Mohamed Ouasti, Producer/Head of Development at Benetone Films (Thailand) – Former Client Manager at Marché du Film – Festival de Cannes

Jérôme Paillard, Consultant, former head of Cannes Marché du Film (France)

Alejandra Paulín, Executive Director Los Cabos International Film Festival (México)

Martijn te Pas, e u R O P E doconsultancy / Mirage (Sweden)

Mimi Plauché, Artistic Director, Chicago International Film Festival (USA)

isee-images (The Netherlands)

Zoé Protat, Director of programming, Festival du nouveau cinéma de Montréal (Canada)

Malika Rabahallah, Director of Filmfest Hamburg / former head of International Funding MOIN Filmfund (Germany)

Michael Rabehl, Director of Programming, Cinequest FIlm Festival (USA)

José Luis Rebordinos, Director, San Sebastian International Film Festival (Spain)

Jo Roddick, Split Screen (UK)

Anton Roebben, Producer Walking The Dog (Belgium)

Jan Roekens, former head of production at Screen Flanders (Belgium)

Jan Rofekamp, President/CEO Films Transit (Canada)

Deborah Rowland, Director of We Are The Tonic (UK)

Gabrielle Rozing, Managing Director, Imagine Film Distribution (The Netherlands)

Dennis Ruh, Director of the European Film Market (Germany)

Sara Rüster, Festival Consultant, Swedish Film Institute (Sweden)

An Rydant (Belgium)

Elad Samorzik, Artistic Director, Jerusalem Film Festival (Israel)

Markéta Santrochová, Head of Czech Film Center (Czech Republic)

Yianna Sarri, Director of Hellas Film, Greek Film Centre (Greece)

Maarten Schmidt, Producer and founder Storyhouse (Belgium)

Sophie Schoukens, Producer-Director (Belgium)

Ulrike Schroeder, Global Screen – A Telepool Brand (Germany)

Karel Segers, Writer, The Story Department (Australia)

Alissa Simon, Lead Programmer, Palm Springs International Film Festival (USA)

Shane Smith, Documentary Consultant and Festival Strategist, former Artistic Director, Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival (Canada)

Piet Sonck – Director/Producer, Gypsy Productions (Belgium)

Carl Spence, Artistic Director, Sonoma International Film Festival (USA)

Rastislav Steranka, Director National Cinematographic Centre, Slovak FIlm Institute (Slovakia)

Wallie Pollé,

Marjolijn Prins, director (Belgium)

Chris Schouten, Head of programming Maritime Museum Rotterdam (former Head of programming IFFRotterdam) (The Netherlands)

Elma Tataragić, screenwriter and president of Association of Filmmakers (Bosnia and Herzegovina)

Niklas Teng, LevelK (Denmark)

Andrew L Urban, film journalist, editor, author (Australia)

Godfried Van de Perre, former member of the committee, International Filmfestival Flanders- Ghent (Belgium)

Marit van den Elshout, FilmForward (The Netherlands)

Silvia van der Heiden, Netherlands Film Festival (Netherlands)

Ben Vandendaele, Sales agent, Radiator IP Sales (Belgium)

Bart Vandesompele – Former General Manager and Business Lead at International Filmfestival Vlaanderen Gent (Belgium)

Alexander Vandeputte, Lumière Cinemas (Belgium)

Michel J. Vandewalle, Managing Director, Atlas International Film (Germany)

Tom Van Avermaet, Director (Belgium)

Claire van Daal, Head of program Netherlands Film Festival (The Netherland)

Bas van der Ree – Netherlands Film Commission (The Netherlands)

Barbara Van Lombeek, Partner, THE PR FACTORY (Belgium)

Elise Van Marcke, Managing Partner Searchers (The Netherlands)

Mathieu Van Neck, former Flanders Image colleague (Belgium)

Alex Verbaere, Witebox (Belgium)

Laurence Verheijen, Former VAF colleague (Belgium)

Myrocia Watamaniuk, Senior International Programmer, Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival (Canada)

Henry Welsh, senior communications manager (Canada)

Susan Wendt, Managing Director, TrustNordisk (Denmark)

Ann-Kristin Westerberg – Former Sr. Vice President Int’l Sales – (Sweden)

For reference here is the letter that Van Bockstal sent to selected contacts on December 20, 2023:

Bruno Wyndaele, producer De Filistijnen. Former chairman of VOfTP (the Flemish Film enTelevision producers association) (Belgium)

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