prince is the dutch coming-of-age saga making waves around the world

As his new film opens in theaters, we premiere an exclusive clip and catch up with bright young director Sam de Jong about bringing Amsterdam’s youth culture to the global stage.

by Emily Manning
17 August 2015, 9:29am

Based on its striking visuals alone, you'd be forgiven for wanting to spend a day inside Prince. The film's carefully constructed colour palette and buzzy neon subtitles put surreal spins on its setting: the housing projects of Amsterdam. But Patta gear and purple Lamborghini's have their price, as Prince's protagonist Ayoub learns the hard way. Director Sam de Jong's debut feature film follows the Moroccan-Dutch teenager's coming-of-age quest. Fighting for the affections of his high school's blonde bombshell, Ayoub seeks to prove himself and falls in with local kingpin Kappa. Although Prince illuminates distinctly Dutch cultural issues, Ayoub's struggle to stunt is universally relatable. We caught up with Sam to talk about capturing Amsterdam's youth scene and premiere an exclusive clip. 

What inspired you to tell this story?
Working up to Prince, I did some short films; one of them was called Marc Jacobs, about a nine-year-old kid growing up with divorced parents. He is of Moroccan descent, so as a sort of right of passage, his father asks him to go to Morocco for the first time. Through working on that, I found this kid who was insane -- he just sparked a fire in me. Following that project, I started writing Prince. I actually wanted to film with him, but he couldn't do it, so I found Ayoub. Although many themes from that film are present in Prince, the film grew in that crucial transition from nine to 15 years old.

Tell us more about Ayoub -- how did you find him and how did she shape the story?
I met him during a documentary I did for Dutch TV. It was about a kickboxer and Ayoub was in his entourage. I remember going to a match and I saw him being cornered outside by guys five years older than he is and two times his height. He just didn't give in; they were trying to come down on him and he was fearless. That just inspired me -- like this kid is special. In Prince, I tried to make him really sweet and still keep an edge to him, but in real life, he's fucking tough. He brought a lot to the story; he was my reality check. Whenever I would ask him to do something that didn't fit his real life, he'd just tell me to fuck off.

What sorts of research did you conduct or what personal experiences did you draw from when you were creating this world?
It's a blend. I grew up less than a mile from the housing development we filmed in. Many of these kids chose a life of crime, but I sort of sympathise with them. If you grow up without being highly educated and lack the talent to be a professional sportsman, but you still have big ambitions, there's not so many options to chose from. Given how individualistic our society is, setting out for a life of crime sort of doesn't seem so weird to me -- I understand why kids do it. I wanted to show that if you're living in a Western world where you need to prove yourself but you don't have the tools to do that in a legal way, it's quite understandable if you to do it illegally.

How did your experience directing music videos and shorter pieces shape your first feature?
If you do music videos and commercials, you have opportunities to experiment with different structures and styles, maybe more so than if you only make one short film and go straight into a feature. This film is a mashup of styles, so I think the richness of its textures stems from the diversity of my experiences. And at the same time, my drama work was very sober and rigid and dogmatic and elitist. For Prince, I was sick of being this aristocratic high brow director; I wanted to make a movie that would please the kids who participated in the movie, too. 

What role does fashion play in the film?
Although the movie kind of ends with an anti-brand statement, fashion is crucial. We all try to belong or shape ourselves in a certain way, no matter what age we are or what subculture we belong to. Fashion is super existential in that quest of expressing who you are and finding a family to belong to. For Prince, Nike gave us access to some shoes, and Vincent Van de Waal -- the creative director of Patta -- is actually in the film. But the kids with the mullets, their looks are really the style of Moroccan youth culture in Amsterdam: Louis Vuitton bags, Prada Sport shoes, lots of Gucci and Versace. And then Laura, Ayoub's love interest, is styled like an American cheerleader. So in that sense, we tried to capture Amsterdam's culture but create our own world a little bit, too.

We just released our Coming of Age issue. Do you feel this is a coming of age story?
What I identified most with in the film is that quest. When you're 15 you're insecure, you don't know who you belong to, where you belong, who you are. Life is really fluid -- it's easy to get lost in an externalisation of your problems. There's the illusion that dressing a certain way or copying certain attitudes will help you be happy. Ayoub sort of loses himself in the ideal of being a fly guy, but realizes he's externalising his problems. In the end, he has a moment of introspection that there's no use wearing Giuseppe Zanotti shoes or dressing up differently than who he truly is. He comes of age when he decides to be and accept who he is and where he comes from. He comes to terms with his life as he's living it.


Text Emily Manning