Storytelling and Soundscapes

Interview with BUMA composer Matthijs Kieboom by Young Film Critic Jason T. Liwag.

What I grew up to become — a molecular biologist, a theatre actor, a film critic — were all impossibilities for my younger self. Growing up in the province in the Philippines meant that you were in the peripheries. Despite the country’s rich cinematic culture, it is hampered by political turmoil, poverty, and troubles with distribution, resulting in films being inaccessible to the same population whose stories they share. 

Filipino storytellers do not often have a place to share their stories and perspectives; their voices and faces are largely absent from global cinema. As a trainee in the Young Film Critics (YFC) Programme, I’ve dedicated myself to seeking out and telling these stories with a constant reminder: “Look for the misfits by paying attention to the fringes.”

While I was new to IFFR, BUMA composer Matthijs Kieboom wasn’t. “In festivals like this, I always have a feeling that, even if it’s online, we can celebrate the fact that we need to make this art and we find each other — either in real life or Zoom or where ever — and we can share that passion. That’s extremely beautiful to see.” Two years after the release of Bloody Marie at the festival, he now returns for IFFR Pro’s BUMA programme. I was lucky enough to talk to Matthijs about his journey as a film composer and why he continues to make music.

Transitions into music

Like me, Matthijs Kieboom’s life had been inseparable from music since childhood. It started with simply listening. At home, he was exposed to a range of musical styles: from classical music to hard rock to jazz. This, coupled with early lessons in cello and bass guitar, allowed him to enter pre-conservatory while he did high school. 

His two early musical influences — Atlantis and An Interview with a Vampire — arrived at the same time in his life, when he felt he should return to music. “I realised: What if I combine my love for cinema and my love for music?” After those four years of pursuing media management, he mustered up the courage to tell his parents he was taking a year off to try and make it as a composer. “I was geared up for a negative reaction. But they’re like: ‘Okay’ and that was it!”

Within a year, he was doing projects together with a composer, eventually collaborating to form a company together. Fourteen years later, and now with a bevy of awards and collaborators, Matthijs works for his own company and is currently the head of the Film Music department in one of Holland’s leading conservatories.

Finding his musical signature

“No matter what kind of project it is, I will find a certain thing that I can latch on to musically” says Matthijs, emphasising the need for emotional connection between the film and its score. “Before I start composing, I will create a musical point of view. Otherwise, it will become wallpaper.”

“When it comes to music, directors are often a bit intimidated”. He describes his process of helping directors transition the narrative and visual language into music. It involves arranging spotting sessions, identifying which scenes need music, which emotions to highlight, whose perspectives to follow, and asking a dozen questions to pick their brains. 

He laughs: “I know, I have the greatest job in the world!”

Accenting Dutch film music through IFFR

“I am always a fighter when it comes to creating more attention and popularity for film music,” says Matthijs, who engages in educational work and hopes to cultivate a landscape for film music. “I’m having a lot of contact with people from the classical radio stations here to promote them to play more Dutch film music as well, because they almost never do this.” 

“We need to make people realise how sexy Dutch film music is instead of just thinking: ‘Oh we need some music for this film’.” He tells the story of how he helped create an online concert for the Netherlands Film Festival with several film composers from the Netherlands. “Music can live after the release of a movie. Why are people still listening to the music of Star Wars or even Gone with the Wind? Because it’s beautiful music and it lives so much longer than the film. That is power.”

Apart from Matthijs’ brilliant work (available here), he has agreed to make a companion playlist as a way of introducing himself to the world. Listen to it on Spotify here.

Jason Tan Liwag
Written for the Young Film Critics 2021