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A former circus clown and children's theater producer, Jaco Van Dormael turned to filmmaking in the early 1980s, writing and directing a series of internationally award-winning shorts, documentaries and promotional films. In 1991, he made his feature film debut with the highly original "Toto le Heroes/Toto the Hero" (1991), a poignant, impressionistic chronicle that used a child's sensibilities and feelings to trace the life of an angry, disappointed man from birth to death and beyond. The film won the Camera d'Or prize for best first film at the 1991 Cannes Film Festival. He then solidified his position as an important director with "Le Huitieme jour/The Eighth Day" (1996), starring Daniel Auteuil as a harried executive whose life is changed through his encounter with a man with Downs Syndrome.
Of Belgian descent, Van Dormael was raised in Germany until age seven, when his family returned to Belgium. At his birth, the future filmmaker had nearly been strangled by the umbilical cord and received an insufficient supply of oxygen. It was feared that he may end up mentally impaired. This trauma perhaps accounts for the recurring themes in his films, which explore the worlds of those who are considered "mentally handicapped." Eventually moving to France to study film, Van Dormael supported himself by working as a clown. He began making short films in 1980 with the children's story "Maedli le breche." A number of his subsequent shorts, including "L'Imitateur" (1982) and "E Percoloso Sporgersi" (1984), had themes centering on the joy of and the talent for living.
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