Les États généraux du film documentaire 2014 Doc Route: The Netherlands

Doc Route: The Netherlands

With the support of Eye International.

The number of long films in this programme is a fairly faithful reflection of documentary film production in the Netherlands. Financially connected to the television industry and profiting from quite favourable conditions of production and distribution, Dutch documentary cinema also benefits from the dynamics created by one of the largest international festivals and markets of documentary film (IDFA - International Documentary Festival of Amsterdam, created in 1988). To that could be added the support of the Netherlands Film Fund and the promotion of the country's production abroad with Eye International whose role has been to foster a real vitality and fine diversity of documentary creation. This has allowed independent producers to promote films which find their audiences in cinemas and regularly in international selections. A single dark spot in this picture even if it be of importance: the programmed disappearance of the precious Dutch Cultural Media Fund which, after more than twenty-five years supporting creation, will no doubt lead to a reshuffling of cards and finances that could threaten this exceptional situation.

Just a reminder that the Route du Doc selection dedicated each year to a country's recent production is neither a panorama with the intention of being representative or exhaustive, nor an emblematic choice of a country's work. It is a programme that is constructed first of all film by film, then in the resonances or dissemblances they create. The resultant assembly is also the result of the meeting of two ways of looking (home-grown and foreign), two perceptions and two sensibilities. And so we permit ourselves after the fact two preliminary remarks. Pure chance, exactly one half of the chosen films were shot outside the Netherlands; hypothesis: the size of the country particularly encourages its filmmakers to go and see what's happening elsewhere, not because stories and memories are lacking but because the confrontation with the foreign remains a promise of a more intrigued viewpoint. Recurrence, a certain number of films particularly remarkable by the quality of their testimony privilege a sociological rather than a cinematographic approach, running the risk sometimes of becoming an inventory and showing an excess of formal mastery. This effort at content capacity can be a way of exorcising our fears and smoothing over those deep currents of unease which cross our lives and these films: passing time, separations, disappearances. We preferred those films which confront these turbulences as an attempted break with the norm, transgressing limits more than containing them - less in the idea of reparation than of confrontation - a little like those figures we meet, most often on the margins of a society which is too narrow for them and which leaves them little space. Boris Ryzhy, Russian poet, still irradiates by his presence those friends he deliberately left behind, breathless but not wordless. Showing a soft fantasy, a little clumsy and terribly attaching, this eponymous film transports us among these little Soviet housing estates where the filmmaker retraced a few survivors of a generation perhaps sacrificed, but still inhabited, troubled - like we the audience - by the voice of the dead poet. The presence of Matthew is truly real and alarmingly more disturbing. We penetrate like into a cavern the intimacy of the world of Matthew's Laws, authorised only by the relation that connects the director to his friend, but not without a certain unease, fearful of the sudden bursts of violence and scrutinising the lights of his face when an encounter seems suddenly possible. Via Dolorosa is a film in which the camera abandons the sets and crowds of a religious procession to isolate the faces, the faces deformed by fervour, contemplation or suffering, becoming here a figure of style. Which is not at all the intention of Ne me quitte pas whose rather brutal entry could suggest that worse is on the way, before these two inseparable drunks find their place in the film, against the will of their own inebriated bodies. More than a complicity that could become coloured with indulgence, it is the persevering fidelity of the two filmmakers which finally reveal the fragile humanities of their subjects, a fidelity in the image of these two companions of misfortune.

Elsewhere, in Sierre Leone, with Shadow'man, marginality takes on the violent form of exclusion. How can we bear witness to the suffering of these men, how can we be there with them, filming, in this precarity otherwise than in humbly sharing these moments of wandering through the night in search of a shelter, those moments of solidarity and conflict? For these men desperate to inhabit a world which refuses itself to them, the film remains a meagre refuge, as ephemeral and sometimes as intense as an encounter. Like that with Mashoud, this fisherman who seems immortal but who feels his strength leave him and longs for a final trophy. He is willing to transmit the secrets of his experience, under no doubt that he is the best, and invites us to more magical rituals. He as an irascible, impatient but magnificent master among the tribe of the Wavumba, They who Smell of Fish, the incarnation of a forgotten figure who has haunted the filmmaker since childhood.

The weight of heritage is also at the centre of the director's work in Parts of Family. His parents decided not to separate, but lived as co-tenants under the same roof of a wealthy villa, former lovers who seemed to have forgotten even the motives of their encounter. The director attempts neither to explain nor to repair, but the film makes tangible this shared common space: together and separate. He is with one and the other, he is their shared body, which irrigates during the length of the film a long dried out river-bed. “Ne me quitte pas !” resonates here strangely. An order that can also sound like a hopeless wish so clearly it announces, in the end, its inevitable response. It could be the story of Not without you, the whole life of a couple, an entire life of putting up with each other a little for there is a lot of love. And if the necessity of parting is becoming clearer, it is that death is approaching. The intimity offered to our eyes passes by the eyes of another couple, the son and his companion, filmmakers, as attentive and well intentioned as are to each other the two aging artists, still at their work. This delicate touch could also apply to An Angel in Doel whose director accompanies and supports by his presence Emilienne's refusal to leave her house. He brings to life, from one encounter to another, the fragility and resistance of these bodies, inhabitants who refuse to become the ghosts of their village destined for demolition. There, the city spreads but elsewhere, nature reclaims her rights. Nature et Nostalgie conceals behind the austerity of its title a film of greatly sensitive intelligence. Over more than a decade, Digna Sinke has observed the transformations of the last inhabited island in the Netherlands. The farmers must leave their lands. Shot by shot, we discover the metamorphoses of the landscape and little by little, is born this subversive idea that a natural landscape can be much more that which is fashioned by the handiwork and presence of men than that desire we express today for a landscape immaculate, empty and reconstructed. Memories and more intimate stories very subtly mix with these transformations of scenery, a companion disappears, a landscape erases, another is sketched in, the world changes. Some years before that, Jos de Putter filmed the last seasons of his parent farmers, attentive to their last gestures, their rare words, to the declining light. “What a fine day!” It's important to hear these words on film and look with them at the landscape to measure the full impact of the time that has passed, a day as well as a lifetime. The mutations of the country have continued and The Hum of Holland gives them unexpected form. A true auscultation of the noises produced by the flat country, the film reveals with exceptional clarity a soundscape which has become noisier, more invasive and intrusive.

As a preliminary to this programme, Lovely Weather Every Day offers to cross a century with short accounts of life in postcards, and Escort immerses us into a contemporary reality: we participate in the training of young police recruits in the expulsion at the border of illegal migrants. The training focuses on neutralising and transporting recalcitrant bodies while drawing attention to the necessity for respectful and humane attitudes and practices. The camera records the contradictions and picks up with acuity the uncertainty or lucidity expressed by some of the trainees until the day they move into practice. During the selection, a little detour with Farewell whose amazing archive images where History is unceasingly present reveal all the unease and excess of an era. Then a completely different story with See No Evil where three chimpanzees tested to react to human experiences and desires hold forth to us a troubling mirror.

Herman de Wit and Christophe Postic

Debates led by Herman de Wit and Christophe Postic.
In the presence of Guido Hendrikx, Jos de Putter and Digna Sinke.

Thanks to : Fleur Knopperts, Lisa Linde Nieveld, Erik Mund, Denis Vaslin.