I caught up with writer, director, actress Joosje Duk to chat film-making, influences, the nature of truly great film, and her latest, the award-winning short film Night, out today on Joosje's site here and also embedded below the interview here. I highly recommend giving it a watch as it is well-conceived, well-executed, socially-conscious filmmaking and a very effective story.

Enjoy the interview with Joosje Duk below – I'm sure you will learn quite a bit, as I did – Joosje's approach is varied, eclectic, and boldly creative. Also, give Joosje a follow on Instagram here and like Night on Facebook here and to watch the film below.

Hello Joosje! Welcome to The 405! I was hoping we could start by giving our readers an idea of your history. What got you into film-making?

Thank you for the warm welcome! My first encounter with the world of filmmaking was when I was fifteen and got cast as an actress in a Dutch children's TV series. Up until that point I hadn't ever dreamed of being part of the film industry, but the second I set foot on a film set, I was sold. Seeing an ambitious team of people work together to reach one creative goal was something I knew I wanted to be a part of again and again, so at seventeen, I moved to New York to study Acting and Journalism at NYU.

Societal issues that were discussed in my journalism classes interested me, and getting set experience as an actress in NYU films was incredibly valuable, but for a while I searched for a way to combine the two directions; I found the answer in filmmaking. Now that I write and direct myself, I have more control over the types of stories I want to tell. I find my topics through life events and articles I come across in journalism, and then I try digging deeper into these topics through fictional films.

Favorite films and directors? Which have been most influential on you as an artist?

I'm amazed how films like La Grande Bellezza by Paolo Sorrentino, Blue is the Warmest Color by Abdellatif Kechiche and Magnolia by Paul Thomas Anderson capture the beauty and and tragedy of life so wholly at the same time. When I watch films like those, I love wondering if I could one day also make a film that feels so all-encompassing.

Often, one certain aspect of a film inspires me and reminds me to take risks, like the way Xavier Dolan plays with the aspect ratio in Mommy, and the level of absurdity the characters in Toni Erdmann reach while keeping the world realistic. Other times, reading about the process and collaborations behind films influences the way I think about my own process. The Square's director Ruben Östlund apparently doesn't write his screenplays in American standard format and Barry Jenkins collaborated with many fellow film school alums when making Moonlight. Stories like those remind me that there is no one right way to look at films and filmmaking.

One of my all-time favorite films is Mustang by Deniz Gamze Ergüven. I believe that film’s mood matches its story perfectly, and the visual style is memorable and mesmerizing. I wish there were more films by women that I could name as my favorites. I can't wait to see more up and coming female filmmakers getting opportunities to have their voices heard.

Still from NIGHT.

Absolutely. A question I ask every film-maker: what makes a great film?

A great film starts with a daring, timely script. As Nina Simone said so beautifully, an artist's duty is to reflect the times, and I believe filmmaking gets most exciting when developing a story that can only be told now. I don't mean at all it should be set in the 21st century or should be a realistic film about our world as it is today, but I do think it should respond to what we see around us in the present, especially since there are currently so many amazing and awful developments happening at the same time.

In the filmmaking world, I usually get the sense that directors are seen as the force behind a project more so than screenwriters are, but I definitely believe that when a film works or doesn't work, it can most often be led back to the quality of the script. No matter how compelling performances are, or how visually stunning a film is, if the story isn't there, I don't think the film ever sticks.

That being said, I believe a film is great when it can only be a film, not any other type of art. If what is presented in a film can be shared as effectively in a painting, a poem or a song, it means the artist needs to dig deeper into the visual storytelling aspects of the film.

Lastly, I think a healthy environment on set is crucial when trying to make great art. If everyone on set is excited to be there and wants to run that extra mile, the result will be better. Having an atmosphere on set in which all crew and cast members are respectful to each other, no matter what their job on set is, is something I will always strive for, and I don't think it's emphasized enough in our current industry. If your film is like your baby, then treat all crew and cast members as if they're your baby's fellow caretakers.

Still from NIGHT.

That is a fantastic way to liken it the film-making process – one that was also sort of echoed in my interview with Katja Benrath. Greatest triumphs so far as a film-maker? Greatest challenges?

In the writing process of Night, collaborating with the cast, my producers, cinematographer and production designer who shared their perspectives on the story and who helped shape the script was one of the most rewarding aspects of making the film. Having talented women from many different backgrounds by my side who were honest and ruthless in their feedback made me feel so lucky.

With Night traveling the festival circuit it has been such a privilege to be able to talk to people from all different walks of life about the film, and to hear their opinions and responses to seeing the film. A highlight has definitely been screening Night in my home country at the Netherlands Film Festival. People from home who are very close to me but whose thoughts on the subject I had never heard suddenly opened up to me, which made me realize how film can really be an effective, exciting conversation starter. 

When thinking of challenges, the first struggles that come to mind are always the countless rejections, but in a way I know they'll always be there, so instead of challenges these rejections have become facts that are part of the journey, so I hardly see them as challenges anymore. So I'd say the phase that's most challenging to me every time I write a script is when the writing is nearly finished, but I sense that something is still missing, even though I don't know what exactly. It's missing a spark, and it's not yet a memorable piece of work. At that point in the writing, killing my darlings and looking at my story objectively are always the hardest, because I'm so deeply involved that it's tough to take a step back and look at the big picture. So that's most often the point when I know I need to start sharing it with others, to be able to look at it again with fresh eyes.

Quoting Faulkner Joosje: I like it!

Getting into Night, I found the character-switch to be a very effective way to communicate what you set out to communicate about micro-aggressions and the minority experience. Vertigo and Mulholland Dr. are two of my favorite films anyway so I instantly gravitated to that element. The way you used that particular type of narrative twist was brilliant and something I had never seen before. What was the initial inspiration for Night?

Wow, thank you for your way too kind words! Those films aren't bad to be compared to at all. 

For my film I wanted to zoom in on everyday interactions filled with micro-aggressions I see happening around me all the time, which is why I picked New York nightlife as my setting. I actually once experienced a similar situation to the film's plot when I was in line for a club in France. Like the girls in the film, a group of guys in front of me was denied at the door without any explanation. Nobody said or did anything, even though everyone knew why they were denied. That moment always stuck with me.

In the script phase I talked to many women from various backgrounds in New York, who explained to me that it's hard for white women to understand their privilege unless they were to experience what it is like to be a minority in the United States. When something racist occurs, many people feel like minorities are being "too sensitive," but what would they say when they were the ones being discriminated against? Night plays with that question and gives people a glimpse of what it's like to be in a minority's shoes.

Initially, the script was written without the "switch", but that felt too preachy. In the rehearsal process we then explored what the story would be like the other way around, and we discovered that the film became more unique and uncomfortable in that way.

Still from NIGHT.

I agree it did. The narrative device worked brilliantly to heighten and convey that tension while also making it something teachable to people, without being "preachy" as you said because the device itself built the message to be conveyed directly into the narrative's tension where you can't parse out the message and leave the narrative intact. This, I think, made the film function very well in its intended purpose. What message do you hope audiences will take away from Night?

I'd love for Night to be a story inspiring people to feel confident talking about race in a positive and stimulating way. I hope those who experience micro-aggressions on a daily basis are listened to and taken seriously. Moments of micro-aggressions may seem invisible or innocent to some, but that doesn't mean they don't have a severe impact on others. Night is also a film about friendship, and how the dynamic within a friend group changes when people aren't completely open and honest to each other. 

Last, what is next for you? 

In The Netherlands, I'm currently in preproduction for a short film called Thin Ice, about society's growing fear of terrorist attacks, which I'll be shooting in March. The film takes place at a local Dutch ice skating rink and follows an employee who gets increasingly nervous once he sees a suspicious man with a backpack on the other side of the rink. 

In New York, I recently finished a screenwriting fellowship at the NYU Production Lab Development Studio, where I've been working on my first feature screenplay, called Sunshowers. Sunshowers tells the story of Sea, an overanxious girl who starts losing sight of color in a town where she's only really allowed to show her colorful side. I hope to finish the final draft of the screenplay this year and develop it further. Let's see where this year takes me!

Watch Night below.

NIGHT from Joosje Duk on Vimeo.