The Dutch got a wake-up call 18 months ago when filmmaker Theo Van Gogh was ritually killed on the streets of Amsterdam and Dutch politician Ayaan Hirsi Ali received death threats.
Both had collaborated on the short film “Submission,” which criticized the treatment of women in Islamic society. Undeterred, Hirsi Ali is now working on a film which will focus on the treatment of gays in Islamic society.
Carolien Croon, director of the Netherlands Association of Feature Film Producers, said the death of Van Gogh in November 2004, and the political killing two years earlier of Dutch politician Pim Fortuyn, the subject of Van Gogh’s film “The Sixth of May” changed Dutch society.
“We lost our innocence and we were made more self-conscious,” she says.
Hans Otten, chairman of Dutch Documentary and Independent Film Association, says “For a long time in Holland, there has been a feeling that religion is not important in public life anymore. Personally I now feel that it is important to find a balance between freedom of expression and respect for other cultures. I don’t believe democracy can work without that balance.”
Some 5% of the Dutch film and TV industry are of minority heritage, this in a territory where in the four major urban areas, 66% of the population under the age of 30 come from minority communities.
The increasing awareness of those percentages has galvanized efforts to bring more minority filmmakers into the community and to make more films that express their daily realities.
“Shouf Shouf Habibi” and “Schnitzel Paradise” are both comedies that have done well with multicultural audiences in Holland. Though they were made by non-minority filmmakers, casts were Moroccan and Turkish actors and actresses who had significant input into the dialogue of the film.
“The problem of multiculturalism is clear and vivid to us,” notes Toine Berbers, director of the Dutch Film Fund.
He adds several new programs are in place directed at bringing more minority filmmakers into the community and points to an increasing number of projects in the development stage which are coming from that sector, among them “Blood Brothers,” a project by three Turkish- Dutch filmmakers.
“The President,” a sequel to “Schnitzel Paradise,” has been awarded funding, as has Algerian-Dutch filmmaker Karim Traidia for his “Chronicles of Algeria.”
With the track record set by “Shouf Shouf Habibi” and “Schitzel Paradise,” there are worries there may be a run of only comedies coming down the pike that appeal to minorities, but Berber dismisses this notion. “These things take time,” noting there is a family drama and a book by a Surinamese author that is being worked into a film script.