European Film Awards Shortlist

*CPH:DOX (Denmark)
* Bergen International Film Festival (Norway)
* Docudays UA (Kharkiv, Ukraine)
* Biografilm Festival | International Celebration of lives (Bologna, Italy)
* Docs Against Gravity Film Festival (Poland)
* European Film Awards (Germany)

How to meet a Mermaid

Category |Environment, Human Interest
Year | 2016
Country | The Netherlands, Denmark, Belgium
Running time | 90’
Format | HD
Production | Zeppers Film &TV, House of Real (Denmark), Off World (Belgium)
Director | Coco Schrijber

In HOW TO MEET A MERMAID, the sea breaks its silence as it unveils the stories of Lex, Rebecca, and Miguel. These protagonists, each with their own reasons to entrust their lives to the water, find refuge in the sea in search of a better place.

The sea’s unpredictable nature reveals its many faces: aspects of friendship, beauty, solace, and strength, alongside its psychopathic traits, as it extends a strangler's helping hand. The sea is precisely what we choose to see in it, and what the characters try to find in its depths. Through their adventures, the film explores the obstacles in their lives and those that transcend their personalities: cruise-ship violence, suicide, and illegal immigration. The perception of reality, which is constantly in flux, determines why Lex, Rebecca, and Miguel make drastic changes to their lives, seemingly motivated by hope or despair.

'I would prefer breathing to not breathing', declared the American writer William Faulkner. Humanity, locked in its ceaseless struggles, appears to have two options: either to live, or not to live. Even though there may not be clear reasons for the pain we can experience, it is a continuous torment for many nonetheless. Under what conditions is the will to live stronger than the urge to end life altogether?

Award-winning Dutch director Coco Schrijber conquers her fear by taking a plunge to the bottom of the sea in search of an answer: why did her brother Lex kill himself in the water? Did he fear life more than death? Life under water is a close approximation of the paradise we seek so desperately in our 'indifferent universe'. However, the primal condition of life - breathing - is impossible under water. "Get out!" the ocean snaps at Coco and the viewer, "- and live!" The sea addresses us, imploring us to keep breathing, come what may. Or is this voice our own, bidding us to survive suspended between the charm of life and the attraction of death?

Director's statement : COCO SCHRIJBER

''Dutch docmaker Coco Schrijber's unusual, highly personal film negotiates her own family tragedy with a mix of investigative and poetic techniques.''
   - Guy Lodge, Film Critic, Variety IDFA Film Review


Director's statement

Life of Pi, All is Lost, Dead Calm, Cast Away; all are stunning films, each with the sea as their subject. Nonetheless, they all deal with 'the will to survive', as emphasized in their trailers.HOW TO MEET A MERMAID, by contrast, deals with 'the will to die', which exists alongside the former and triumphs over it on occasion. Just as with survival, this will to perish requires its own share of courage and strength of will. My protagonists have made their choice; for Lex and Rebecca, grim determination takes them past death's doorstep, whereas Miguel rushes headlong into a desperate adventure, as thousands upon thousands of illegal immigrants are doing at this very moment.

"To me, all human behavior is unpredictable, and considering man's frailty in the ramshackle universe he functions in, it's all irrational. It couldn't be very rational because this universe is not a very rational one, it seems to me" - William Faulkner, Nobel-prize winning American writer. HOW TO MEET A MERMAID, we hear the echo of Faulkner's words, leaning over a lectern back in 1958. Having decided to put aside his beloved bourbon for a minute, he treats his audience to dissemination on our human struggle through a crackling microphone. I am a great fan of Faulkner, and the fifty-year old recordings I've uncovered provide the motivations of Lex, Rebecca, and Miguel with a sense of perspective. The Faulkner quote stated above has served as the foundation for this film. In HOW TO MEET A MERMAID, we are hurled down onto earth by the universe, as portrayed in the stunning opening shots of the film: at times, in a paradise we no longer recognise as such; sometimes, in hell, and then there are times when there is nothing to it but to figure it out for yourself. Lex, Rebecca, and Miguel all reside in their respective paradises that have become a hell to them. Loneliness amidst thousands of fellow human beings (Rebecca on her Disney cruise), alone among friends (Lex at the diving resort) or Miguel (teaching surfing classes to tourists who are blissfully unaware of the fact that he uses his surfboard for purposes other than fun: an escape from destitute poverty and a gateway to that other paradise, America, his way barred by a fence.)

It appears as if I have produced a trilogy on the human struggle, without ever realising that the subject harbors my deepest fascination: how do we keep going? In retrospect, this trilogy started out with First Kill (2001): am I personally capable of killing a human being? Bloody Mondays & Strawberry Pies (2008) addresses the question of how to live without getting killed either by your job or by boredom. And now, HOW TO MEET A MERMAID, on the battle to remain alive.

With HOW TO MEET A MERMAID I stand up for the glorious beauty of our existence. This is a film about courage, doubt, difficult decisions, the lure of the sea, and the splendor of life in its occasional ineptitude at dissuading us from acts of recklessness. In the closing shot of the film, a footprint set in the concrete of a sun-drenched sidewalk, I join Faulkner by sharing in his vision: "I have great faith in man.”

IDFA Film Review - How to Meet a Mermaid

IDFA Film Review: ‘How to Meet a Mermaid’
Guy Lodge, Film Critic @guylodge

'How to Meet a Mermaid' Review:COURTESY OF DOC&CATS
NOVEMBER 19, 2016 | 06:11AM PT

Dutch docmaker Coco Schrijber's unusual, highly personal film negotiates her own family tragedy with a mix of investigative and poetic techniques.

There’s something in the water — no threat so tangible as a shark or a stingray, but a seductive, insidious pull into the blue — in “How to Meet a Mermaid,” and the more writer-director Coco Schrijber attempts to identify it, the more tauntingly it floats away from us. A distinctly personal expression of mourning that shifts, by turns, into a more esoteric rumination on man’s ever-uneasy relationship to the ocean, this visually and sonically imposing essay pic is most effective (and affecting) when it concentrates on Schrijber’s first-hand investigation into the unexplained maritime disappearance of her older brother. Attempts later in the film to weave his tragic story with two unrelated tales of the sea’s secrets are less immediately involving, though the whole is elegantly enigmatic enough to snag the attention of further doc-fest programmers and perhaps some boutique-label buyers.

“I would prefer breathing to not breathing,” a quote attributed to William Faulkner, appears on screen near the beginning of “How to Meet a Mermaid.” It’s the first in a varied, oblique range of cultural reference points, from Virginia Woolf to “Pippi Longstocking” to archive recordings of John F. Kennedy, that Schrijber — a longtime documentary experimentalist who won several international festival gongs for her homelessness-themed 2004 short “Mooie wereld” — uses to articulate her own curious, conflicted emotional state. Faulkner’s words may offer no middle ground between life and death, yet Schrijber’s absent brother Lex appears to occupy, for her at least, a kind of spiritual limbo: Years after vanishing underwater on a Red Sea diving expedition with friends, his body remains undiscovered. Speaking with Lex’s cohorts and his psychiatrist, Schrijber expresses her conviction that he committed suicide, yet closure eludes her: “Why can’t we believe in the decisions our loved ones make?” she asks, perhaps more of herself than anyone.

In puzzling out how the waters claimed his life and retained the evidence, Schrijber finds a kindred tragedy of sorts in another, equally mysterious empty space: of Rebecca Coriam, the young British crew member of a vast Disney cruise liner whose unexplained disappearance from the ship off the coast of Mexico made headlines in 2011. It’s a case still under shrouded inquiry, and where the helmer takes a kind of passively poetic approach to processing her brother’s death, the film’s manner here shifts markedly to one of anxious, untrusting investigation, as possibilities extending to murder and cover-up are broached. Additionally, the film here supplies speculative, from-the-beyond narration from “Rebecca” herself — a creative leap that won’t sit well with all viewers, though whether Schrijber is exploiting her story or channeling her own grief through it is a matter of interesting debate.

A shorter, intermediate segment of the film, bridging the uncertain fates of Lex and Rebecca with the testimony of Miguel, a young Mexican surfer preparing for his own oceanic odyssey, is the film’s most sketchily developed and thematically opaque, though its more hopeful tenor provides welcome tonal contrast.

Which is not to say that “How to Meet a Mermaid” is by and large a downbeat or severe film. There’s much melancholic whimsy here, while the filmmaker’s consistent fascination with the physical and symbolic properties of the ocean producers some moments of actual cinematic rapture: Lars Skree’s serenely composed, crystalline widescreen lensing regards the water with suitable awe, with aerial shots of whirling turquoise currents, or slow-motion profiles of cresting waves, that wouldn’t be out of place in a David Attenborough spectacle. (Or, for that matter, a latter-day Terrence Malick one.) Composer Mark Lizier, meanwhile, may earn MVP status on the pic with a lushly thrumming, sometimes brittly tingling score that gives suitably siren-like voice to the sea itself. A singular, perhaps intentionally frustrating cri de coeur, “How to Meet a Mermaid” may find its maker wrestling with bitterly mixed emotions about the life aquatic, but casual disdain is never remotely on the cards.

IDFA Film Review: 'How to Meet a Mermaid'
Reviewed online, London, Nov. 18, 2016. (In IDFA — competing.) Running time: 94 MIN.
Production (Documentary — The Netherlands-Belgium-Denmark)
A Zeppers Film production in co-production with VPro & DRK, Off Word, House of Real.
(International sales: Cat&Docs, Paris.)
Produced by Frank van den Engel. Executive producer, Judith Vreriks.
Directed, written by Coco Schrijber.
Camera (color, widescreen), Lars Skree. Editor, Gys Zevenbergen.