IDFA 2019: Kids and Docs
A whopping six of the 12 films in IDFA's Kids and Docs competition are from The Netherlands. Nick Cunningham analyses this year's Dutch touch.
Kids and Docs programmer Marije Veenstra tries to figure out why half of the films in Kids and Docs competition this year are Dutch. Ok, IDFA is based in The Netherlands, but the festival is generally acknowledged to be very international in outlook. What's more, the submissions from around the world were very impressive in 2019, she underlines.
"But the Dutch films are so strong it is impossible to leave them out. There is a great tradition for documentaries in The Netherlands as well as for kids' films," she stresses. Then there is the NPO Fund Kids and Docs workshop, run in association with IDFA and Cinekid, whose dedication to the sub-genre output is enviable, and whose output is high in both numerical and qualitative terms. "What you see at the workshop is a tradition that will continue into the future." Veenstra also points to the dedication (and investment) of broadcasters KRO-NCRV and EO Docs in maintaining very high levels of documentary content for younger audiences.
Of the six Dutch films in selection (all of 15 minutes duration) two were developed within the 2018 Kids and Docs Workshop, one was an EO Docs production (based on one of the articles of the UN Convention on Human Rights) and three were produced by kids doc powerhouse Tangerine Tree.
The workshop films are Sara Kolster's To the Moon and Back and Foreplay by Anne van Campenhout.
In To the Moon and Back, the character of Kess keeps the possessions of her older sister Bo very close to her. Bo died when Kess was just five and the younger sibling is scared that her memories of Bo will fade with time. The heroine's voice-over is accompanied by ink animations and old videos of the sisters together.
"This is a profound film about grief," stresses Veenstra. "The filmmaker reached a very intimate level with Kess. She made interviews of the girl and combined them with the animations and the old footage. But it's also about Kess finding her new identity after her loss and the ongoing influence of this on her new life." (Kolster was the winner of the IDFA DocLab Award for Digital Storytelling in 2015 together with Jan Rothuizen for their Drawing Room.)
Anne van Campenhout's Foreplay features school lessons about the most uncomfortable but also the most exciting subject for kids: sex education. The short film shows what these classes are like at five Dutch junior high schools as the director focuses on the reactions of the young teenagers, who snigger and make wisecracks, but also listen with curiosity. They are often frank, disarmingly naive and streetwise at the same time.
"You only see the faces of the children as they are interviewed, you never see an overview of the whole classroom," comments Veenstra. "You also see both their awkwardness and their fascination. The most interesting thing is that it is all about curiosity and embarrassment and everybody understands this. The film is also very funny."
In the EO Docs film Renildo & Vanildo by Eva van Barneveld, two twins living in Guinea-Bissau are always dancing. Their mother died when they were very young and their strict father, whom they see infrequently, can only focus on their school grades. But they want to dance for him. Will he, or can he, approve of this aspect of their lives?
"We also select films for kids to broaden their horizon and interest in other lives," says Veenstra, "and with this film you see kids on the other side of the world also struggling with topics like revealing your true self to your father or your family, a topic that any child can relate to. But the filmmaker has a very light touch, that she combines with music and their dancing skills. So it is also a very cheerful film."
Tangerine Tree's co-owner Willem Baptist outlines the qualities of his company's three films in Kids and Docs competition.
In Holy Moly, director Eva Nijsten follows eight-year-old Merle, who lives in the predominantly Catholic south of The Netherlands, as she prepares for her first Holy Communion, in the process learning about the rituals, the sacraments and the Last Supper. At the end of the process, what does she believe? Does she feel closer to Jesus? And what did the sacrament taste like?
"We already did a short documentary with Eva called How to be a Saint, about a guy who dresses up as his alter ego Santa Claus," says Baptist. "What sets her apart as a director is that it is very easy to find low points in people's lives to find drama and to be cynical about things. But Eva is totally different, she has a very positive outlook on life. Some people view everything through a positive lens, and she is like that. She is generous, and really wants to find the beauty in things that other people would ordinarily set aside."
"For Holy Moly what attracted me was that it is a story very much connected to her own life. She grew up in a Catholic village in Limburg, which is as far away from the big cities as imaginable. She lived that story, and stories that are closest to the experiences of the directors turn out to be the best movies."
Lennah Koster's Our Island concerns two sisters; Shanna, a wannabe inventor, and her older sibling Mirte, who has Down's Syndrome. They used to have adventures together on their "deserted island" but as Shanna approaches puberty her desire to play imaginary games with her sister begins to wane. "We thought that the dynamic between the two sisters, one having Down's Syndrome, and set in this one location would make a good story, one I haven't seen before," comments Baptist. "We found it very attractive that Lennah decided not to make a portrait, or a film about ‘my lovely sister', but she really wanted to emphasise the feeling of that moment when you realise that you won't be sisters for long because you are outgrowing each another. I was very interested in that process she wanted to tell, a heart-breaking process."
In Mirjam Marks' JovannaForFuture the eponymous heroine is a climate activist extraordinaire. She doesn't eat meat, and she and her family live in an "earthship," where they generate all the energy they use. And like Greta Thunberg, Jovanna goes on climate strike every Friday, right in the centre of town.
Baptist is highly complimentary about director Marks who was previously Head of TV Programming at Cinekid and as socially engaged as any filmmaker he has encountered.
"She is old school. Right now, modern filmmakers are very much more into building a narrative on paper and working things out in advance, whereas filmmakers like Mirjam go out more on a limb, chase the surprise and feel excited when things aren't clear, discovering things that they don't know, taking big risks and going on their gut feelings."
SEE NL Magazine #37 November 2019 / 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.