Thu 08 Oct 2020

Utrecht Boat Ride September 30: Whose Stories Are We Telling, and How?

The final HFM journey through the canals of Utrecht was undertaken by film professionals determined to address the processes behind 21st making, most notably in terms of fair and equal representation both in front of and behind the camera. Mariners onboard were moderator Priya Sircar (director of arts, Knight Foundation), Dutch screenwriter/director and ‘Kleur’ (Colour) lobbyist Ashar Medina, screenwriter, film director, producer, and academic Tom Kalin, Curaçaoan filmmaker Kevin Osepa, and Eve Gabereau, CEO of London-based Modern Films.

Before the debate commenced, Esther Duysker and Eché Janga, the writers of festival opener Buladó (directed by Eché) spoke to NFF’s Jordi Wijnalda. Buladó tells the magical-realistic story of a small, three-generation family on the island of Curaçao. As the different mentalities of rational father Ouira and spiritual grandfather Weljo start to clash, eleven-year-old Kenza is determined to find her own path into adult life.

“My uncle wrote a short story. It was 5 pages,” said Eché. It was about an old man who wants to die like the original people of Curaçao. There was a myth that when you are old and you want to die, you have to follow a big hawk, and the hawk will bring you to the other side. I really loved that because the old man has to go on a horse and jump from a cliff into the sea and then you will get wings and you will fly. I asked my uncle where does it come from and he told me ‘in the time of slavery, they needed hope, because Curacao had a really violent nature, [and] this is a story that people told each other when they had to walk on the plantation.”

Added Esther Duysker of their decision to focus on a central female protagonist: “I think it is more important to have female protagonists in film or theatre. I thought it was interesting when it was a girl living next to two men, and maybe being more of a tomboy… because most of the girls [in Curaçao] are raised being more ‘decent’, and I thought it could be an interesting perspective to have a girl who was a tomboy because it could be an example…to see that there is more to being a female than being a ‘girlish’ girl. I also felt I could put more of myself into the story and the character if it was a girl, because my mother died 17 years ago already and it made a deeper connection for me.”

Back on boat, Tom Kalin (whose debut feature Swoon is considered an integral part of the New Queer Cinema) explained the background to his 1992 debut.

“I made Swoon in 1992 at a time when it was very rare to see queer images on screen, to see images of people that we would now call gender non-confirming. So to make it to film was definitely a political act.”

“To use the word ‘queer’ at that time…it was meant as a revolutionary gesture, it was meant to be a word that was despised and used against the community. At the time I actually criticised the use of ‘queer’ prematurely, because it was also meant to reflect a coalition that didn’t actually yet exist. We now talk about intersectionality – we didn’t have that word then – but just a coalition of equal power between men and women in a same collective was something very rare, and then to expand those things in to race or class or gender identity, there really wasn’t that kind of coalition.”

He brought matters up to date: “It is rewarding to think, now, I just completed this year one episode of a 6-part limited series for television which will be broadcast in 2021. It’s called Pride. It’s about LGBTQ civil rights in the US, and it is thrilling to just think about the content of the show and who made it. The showrunner is a black woman. Of the two main producers, they are both female, one is black. The line producer is a man of colour. Of the six episodes, four are directed by directors of colour. Both the content and means of production reflect what is happening in the world around us.”

He added later in the discussion on the issue of pay parity: “I was very influenced by Christine Vachon who is a producer I spend most of my career working with…when I made Swoon every single department head was paid the same salary…We paid everybody the same, I mean the same horrible hundred dollars, the same nothing, but we paid the same, making the means of production more level.”

Modern Films’ Eve Gabereau underlined how while good stories are at the root of a successful industry, “who the gatekeepers are in bringing that [story] to audience is where we have a responsibility to think differently, all the way form development to production to sales and festivals and acquisitions.

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Written by: Nick Cunningham