The death of innocence

Theo van Gogh's murder casts a pall over Dutch film biz

The murder of Dutch filmmaker and enfant terrible Theo van Gogh continues to send shock waves through the Dutch filmmaking and artistic community. The killing engendered rage and fear in Dutch society as its vision of itself as a land of free speech and tolerance was shaken to the core.

Van Gogh was shot and then stabbed on Nov. 2, 2004, as he was cycling near his home. He and Dutch parliamentarian Ayaan Hirsi Ali had been repeatedly threatened since the August broadcast on Dutch TV of their film “Submission.” Van Gogh had directed and Hirsi Ali, a woman of Somali Muslim descent, had scripted the short, which railed against perceived Islamic tolerance of violence against women.

The alleged murderer, a Dutch Moroccan, pinned a note to van Gogh’s body threatening the life of Hirsi Ali, who then spent several months in protective custody on a Dutch military base until she demanded she be given protection that would allow her to continue her life and work. She is planning a sequel to “Submission,” but the director and cast are likely to be kept under wraps for fear of reprisals.

A screening of “Submission,” scheduled to be shown at the Rotterdam Film Festival, was withdrawn at the last minute by producer Gijs van de Westelaken after he said he didn’t have the right to risk the lives of his staff at Column Produkties, the company he co-owned with van Gogh.

The company has not forsaken van Gogh’s legacy though, says van de Westelaken. “We are going to be talking to people in Cannes about English-language remakes of three of Theo’s smaller productions, ‘Blind Date,’ ‘1-900’ and ‘Interview.’ Column will be involved in the remakes and we will shoot in the style we became known for in the van Gogh films.”

Few would argue that there isn’t a climate of fear in the Netherlands, but most filmmakers reject the idea that it is interfering with future projects.

Noted Algerian-born Dutch director Karim Traidia believes that the murder of van Gogh opened the door for people inside and outside of the film community

Noted Algerian-born Dutch director Karim Traidia believes that the murder of van Gogh opened the door for people inside and outside of the film community to express their prejudices about immigrants they might have been ashamed of before. “They can say more now, in the name of antiterrorism and freedom of speech, than they might have before,” he says.

Traidia’s latest pic, “Island Guests,” will bow in September.

Traidia has said that the climate of fear should not be used as an excuse not to hire thesp talent from the Moroccan immigrant community. As the murderer was a Dutch Moroccan, several Moroccan actors have expressed some concern about sensitive aspects of the roles they are playing in the wake of the killing.

IdtV Film has announced plans to make a pic that tells the story of the murder from the point of view of the Islamic community.

“Submission” unleashed an avalanche of criticism from Dutch Muslims, and the film, says Frank de Jonge, CEO of IDTV, the parent outfit of IdtV Film, “will look at why there was such a strong reaction (to van Gogh’s film) and reveal the emotions and reasoning within the community at the time.”

The pic, yet untitled, is in the early stages of development by IdtV Film exec producer Anton Smit and managing director Hanneke Niens.

The van Gogh murder also prompted the production of a compilation of 16 shorts put together into a feature-length film, “All Souls,” by some of Holland’s most noted production companies and filmmakers, among them Eddy Terstall (“Simon,” “Rent-a-Friend”). Production outfits that took part in the project include Motel Films, Isabella Films, Bos Bros. Film-TV Prods., Ijswater Films and Lemming Film, among others.

Lemming producer Leontine Petit, whose company produced two of the shorts, “Dylan” and “Genade,” says the making of the project was cathartic for many Dutch filmmakers, stunned by the death of van Gogh and troubled by the implications for freedom of expression in the arts. “There is still fear and confusion but less so. We don’t really have answers for what happened but on some level, ‘All Souls’ did try to formulate some.”

She adds there is a stronger feeling now that the immigrant experience has to be included more in the body of Dutch art.

Petit’s latest pic is the Martin Koolhoven-helmed lensed “Schnitzel Paradise,” a romance about a Moroccan dishwasher and a Dutch girl against the backdrop of their parents mutual disapproval, is set for a September bow.