IDFA 2018: You are my Friend
19 November 2018
You Are My Friend is a follow-up to Miss Kiet's Children , the wellreceived documentary that husband and wife team Petra and Peter Lataster made two years ago about a Dutch primary school teacher in charge of a class of immigrant children.
The new film (IDFA Dutch Competition and supported by the Netherlands Film Fund) concentrates on a single child. Six-year-old Macedonian Branche (who featured very briefly in Miss Kiet's Children ) has recently come to the Netherlands with his family. He has to go to a new school for the first time. You can't blame him for looking nervous. He doesn't speak Dutch and he doesn't know anyone.
"During filming (of Miss Kiet ), we were already enchanted by this lovely little fellow," Peter recalls of the young boy. The filmmakers weren't able to include him properly in the previous doc - and so decided to make a brand new film about him. Branche is the only Macedonian in the class. He desperately needs a friend - but the other children aren't welcoming. It may seem a small thing but when a group of school children don't allow him to join their group, he is deeply hurt. "He felt very lonely afterwards and really suffered from it," Petra notes.
Petra suggests the secret of working with children is to treat them with exactly the same respect you would any adult subject. "Then they will help you. They will take you into their world and their way of thinking...in fact, it is very easy, to be honest. People know - and children know - whether you respect and love them or not."
Her partner makes the same point. When a kid tells a story, Peter says, you must take it seriously. "You must follow the logic of their individuality." In their films with youngsters, the Latasters make sure that the children are centre stage. They don't allow parents or teachers to encroach any more than is strictly necessary.
"The refugee parents loved the film because it gave them a chance to show that they and their children are really working hard to become a member of this society," Peter notes. "They are proud of their children's achievements." The film shows Branche learning not just how to make friends but how to keep them as well.
Miss Kiet's Children was made as a film for adults - but the directors quickly discovered that kids loved it too. The film had its premiere in the vast Tuschinski auditorium during IDFA and was given a rapturous response by all the children in the audience. "You could hear them laughing all the time," Petra says.
The directors hope tha t You Are My Friend will elicit a similar response. "Probably, every age will discover different things in the film," they speculate about how parents and their children might respond. On the one hand, the Latasters are telling the story of a particular boy looking for friendship. On the other, the documentary offers a much broader examination of attitudes toward immigration and the ‘other.' "It is much more than a film about children and their friendships," Lataster says. "It is an allegory about our societies and the need for people to get along, not using aggression all the time."
One obvious point of comparison, he suggests, is the US, where President Trump's administration has separated immigrant children from their parents and where the President will ban anyone who doesn't show him complete loyalty from the ‘inner circle'. "We are trying to show the opposite - the need that people have to be social, to bond with the people they need to work with or live with or study with, and to have a solidarity with one another," Peter states.
"The film is about a six-year-old boy but I think it is very, very political. This boy shows us that we can solve problems in the long term only through friendship and the ability to work together," Petra agrees. Geoffrey Macnab
SEE NL Magazine #33 November 2018 / IDFA Issue
SEE NL is published four times per year by EYE International and The Netherlands Film Fund and is distributed to international film professionals.