Young Hearts is a debut feature film with its roots in Flanders. It tells the story of Elias, a 14-year-old boy growing up in a small village where he feels like an outsider. After meeting his new neighbour, a boy of his own age called Alexander, Elias is confronted with his burgeoning feelings.
“First love is something that almost all of us can relate to, so I knew Young Hearts had the potential to appeal to a broad audience,” says producer Xavier Rombaut of Polar Bear, about what drew him to the project. “It’s a personal story, and that was also an attraction for me, because quality is always the first consideration for directors telling personal stories.”
Rombaut and director Anthony Schatteman first worked together on the 2020 TV series Alive, and started talking about other projects they might pursue, including Young Hearts. Schatteman developed the idea through the Cinekid Script LAB, a six-month script training programme that takes place in Dutch festival Cinekid and the Berlin Film Festival. “This experience, quite early in the project, gave a real push to the writing process,” says Rombaut.
Meanwhile, Polar Bear started to build a co-production around the project, bringing in Floor Onrust of Family Affair Films in the Netherlands and Annabella Nezri of Kwassa Films in French-speaking Belgium.
The Flanders Audiovisual Fund (VAF) quickly backed the project, with the Netherlands providing support through its production incentive. Flemish public broadcaster VRT came on board, and Nezri brought in Belgian pay TV channel Be TV. Further funding came through the Belgian Tax Shelter, and distributors Films Boutique and KFD provided significant minimum guarantees.
That meant I could go to Screen Flanders with a strong application.
“And since the shooting had already taken place in between the time of applying and the day of presenting our application to the jury, I was already able to show them some great images,” Rombaut recalls.
Those would have looked Flemish, but not immediately familiar. The majority of locations used for the film were in and around Wetteren, a town between Ghent and Brussels that is not often used for film shoots. “By going somewhere different, you get a fresh shooting experience and fresh look to the film,” says Rombaut.
This is where Schatteman grew up, so there was a personal aspect to filming this personal story there, but it also helped the production more broadly. “Local communities are often happy to have an event like a film shoot going on, and they are really eager to help,” Rombaut says. “That brings a lot of positivity.”
Actors Geert Van Rampelberg and Emilie De Roo were cast early on as the parents in the story, but decisions about who would play the two young boys had to be left until the last moment. “We were looking for kids from 13-14 years old, and at that age their voices and appearances change quite quickly.”
Casting director Sien Josephine and acting coach Olivier Roels, who has worked on the films of Lukas Dhont, found the two leads, Lou Goossens and Marius De Saeger. Both had some previous experience in front of the camera, but these were their first major roles, so having veterans like Van Rampelberg and De Roo helped them rise to the challenge.
“Geert and Emilie brought a certain stability to the production, especially on set,” Rombaut says. “They were able to accompany the child actors and give them the confidence they needed. And they were also very supportive for Anthony, who was also making his first film.”
Since then, Goossens has also taken part in the series Moresnet, directed by Frank Van Passel for production house Caviar. “Lou didn’t have a lot of experience to begin with, but now he has, and I’m sure he’s going to go far.”
The crew meanwhile was largely made up of Schatteman’s contemporaries. “It was nice to see that they have grown from beginners to professionals together, working on both local and international projects,” Rombaut said.
For example, director of photography Pieter Van Campe worked on series such as Baptiste and The Twelve, while art director Kato Bulteel worked on the Amazon series Everybody Loves Diamonds, co-produced by Menuetto.
And both had also worked with Schatteman on past projects. “We wanted the situation to be as comfortable as possible for Anthony,” Rombaut says, “and I think it paid off, because everyone went the extra mile that we sometimes need to bring magic to the screen.”
Young Hearts has its world premiere in the Generation Kplus section of the Berlin Film Festival.