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IDFA 2020: Kids & Docs

23 November 2020

Kids in docs at IDFA

See NL profiles two profoundly moving Dutch films in IDFA Kids & Docs, one about Palestinian kids growing up beside orthodox Jewish settlers, the other about Syrian teenage siblings seeking a new life in the Netherlands.

Skies Above Hebron (screening in IDFA's Kids & Docs), can be seen as a companion piece to Esther Hertog's earlier documentary, Soldier On The Roof (2012). Both films take place In Hebron. In the first, which also screened at IDFA, Hertog's focus was on orthodox Jewish settlers living with military protection from their Palestinian neighbours. In the new film, she and co-director Paul King are looking at the lives of three Palestinian kids growing up with Israeli settlers beside them.

When she was making Soldier On The Roof, Hertog could see what was happening to the Palestinians a few yards away but didn't dare make contact with them. To do so would risk breaking her bond with the settlers. However, she and King were determined to make a second documentary from the Palestinian point of view.

"We decided as a couple in 2012 to go through the barricades and have a look through the other side of the fence. Esther had made a film about the Jewish settlers. We wanted to see what we could find out about how people lived on the other side," recalls King (who was also creative producer on Soldier On The Roof).

"When settler kids would disturb their neighbours say by throwing stones, the [Israeli] soldiers would treat them with silk gloves...but when Palestinian kids throw stones, they get arrested and put in Israeli military systems," Hertog notes the stark differences in how the two communities are treated. "The Palestinians have no human rights, especially those who live close to the settlement."

Amer, one of the three boys that Hertog and King filmed over a period of five years, lives just opposite one of the settlements. Like many others in the Middle East, he kept pigeons. "It's a common hobby. The image of pigeons flying around freely can be a metaphor for the boys' hopes for freedom, yet in reality the boys are stuck on the ground in Hebron," Hertog says.

The filmmakers didn't set out to spend five years shooting their documentary. However, after receiving initial development funding, they failed to secure production funding. "We filmed from our own pocket and in our own time," she explains of how they kept the project going. "That's what it is to be a filmmaker. You just have to trust that you have the right story whether there is money or not. We just continued because we felt an obligation to our kids."

"It was a curse and a blessing at the same time," Hertog adds of the very lengthy production period. The positive side was that they were able to witness their young protagonists growing up. Eventually, they did receive broadcast funding from the NPO and were able to complete the production.

After shooting was over, King remembers that he and Hertog were among the final few travellers to pass through Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport in March before the lockdown began. They then began editing. There were hundreds of hours of material that needed to be winnowed down into the 55 minute cut showing at IDFA and which will be broadcast on NPO2 later this month.

Also premiering in Kids & Docs is Jano & Shiro, A Brothers' Journey, co-directed by Els van Driel and Eefje Blankevoort. The film follows siblings Jano (18) and Shiro (15), refugees from war-torn Syria who travel to the Netherlands, and is part of the transmedia project Shadow Game in which the makers follow many different youngsters all over Europe for over 3 years.

"We met them in Bosnia-Herzegovina in the winter of 2018," Blankevoort recalls how she and Van Driel first encountered their subjects. At that point, the boys were living in a squat on the border with Croatia and trying to plot their route to western Europe. They were in dire circumstances. The boys were looking to travel to Germany.

When the filmmakers mentioned their plans to make a documentary about their epic journey, the boys revealed they had already been documenting their own travels. They shared the footage they had shot on their cell phones. "They are themselves shocked by what they have had to go through. They never expected this," Blankevoort says. In the end, Jano and Shiro came to the Netherlands, not Germany.

When Jano and Shiro first arrived, the filmmakers helped them find a good lawyer. "For the rest, we didn't intervene that much. They are quite far away, up in the north (of the Netherlands) but we are in touch with them often," Blankevoort says. The filmmakers note, however, that the brothers are separated in The Netherlands again. Shiro can go to school and start his integration, but Jano has been sent to an adult camp and must wait for more than a year and a half before he can start his new life. "This has a tremendous impact on Jano, who is haunted by his memories of the journey,".

The brothers have seen the film. Both were very moved by it. "We showed the film to them at our office and it was amazing what happened...Jano had never told his younger brother about his nightmares and what he was facing. Shiro is very tough. I think years ago he decided not to let anything in anymore because he had to survive. To see the film together brought them closer to each other. Since then, the contact between them has been better. For me and Els, it was amazing to see the film did that for them!

For further reading: 
-> SEE NL Magazine Online, November 2020 / IDFA Doc issue 
-> Line-Up Dutch Docs At IDFA 2020 
-> Watch: Showreel Dutch Documentaries IDFA 2020


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