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Diversity in Dutch film at NFF Conference - We're falling behind but moving forward

How important is it to have film characters who look like you? You can explain that, as you did last Saturday at the Netherlands Film Festival Conference. You can also simply show that TikTok clip in which a black girl almost explodes with surprise and joyous excitement when she sees the black Ariel from the upcoming feature film version of The Little Mermaid sees. "She's black, just like me!", she cheers. Then you understand in a split second how it is. I saw that too at the conference, where diversity was one of the topics.

The meeting at Stadsschouwburg Utrecht is for Dutch film professionals to meet, attend presentations and get inspired. "Where does the Netherlands stand as a film country, and where do we want to go". That was the angle with which Film Fund director Bero Beyer kicked off a presentation organised by the Film Fund. Because, to summarise, isn't it frustrating that the Netherlands has not had a film in the main competition at Cannes for a very long time, and Belgium three at once this year?

Colour and women

But the question of where Dutch film stands is not just about international recognition. Nowadays, it is almost inevitable to look at representation and diversity, and this was addressed in two sessions. 'Everything comes together' is this year's NFF motto, and in this context you could add: 'but not enough yet.' Key perspectives on this are colour and the presence of women, in image and in the industry. Although much has already changed in this area, it was also noted that the Netherlands is quite behind compared to several foreign countries.

To get an impression, I had already taken a few samples myself and did a bit of tabulating. Looking at the directing of some thirty premieres (long and short) at the festival, it appears that the vast majority are still in the hands of white men. In contrast, the composition of this year's graduates (directing and production) of the Film Academy is encouraging. There, women are firmly in the majority. The proportion of colour is modest, but certainly quite visible.


At the conference, filmmaker Jean van de Velde pointed out that while women are well represented at the top of funds and festivals, that does not mean the shift in thinking is a fact. "It's in all of us," remarked actor Jacqueline Blom. Another participant gave the example that she was once read a script of a play starring a white man, in which female characters were all referred to as 'the wife of'. Do you then say, "We're not going to do this", or are you subconsciously afraid of the impact such a protest might have on your career? That such a silent majority can be very painful for that lone person who does dare to say something, everyone agreed.

Of course, similar issues come into play with colour or gender. It remains difficult to mirror yourself when there are no examples. And one face is not enough, says young non-binary actor Thorn de Vries.


With so much unanimity at the conference, you would almost forget that the climate in the film world is still predominantly white and male, as someone observed. Fortunately, things are changing. The situation now is totally different from ten years ago, says Jacqueline Blom. Actor Malou Gorter cites the Arnhem School of Drama as an example, where a student's thesis led to the decision to choose only plays by women for a year. She also sees that the younger generation has a completely different perspective. Which does not detract from the fact that someone like Thorn de Vries still gets a lot of hate thrown at him besides all the positive appreciation.

How to proceed?

The conference focused on the current experiences and state of affairs. With some KLEUR-produced satirical sketches for entertainment in which things were firmly turned upside down. The lack of clashing opinions or a call for revolution did make the conference a tad predictable. Besides all the positive realism, a few proposals or calls with more imagination would have been nice, But how to move forward? What needs to be done? Good will is certainly there, without any immediately ground-breaking solutions. However, there is the firm exhortation to keep proclaiming the new thinking. Keep putting it on the agenda, speak out!

Iraida Markus-Meerzorg, Manoushka Zeegelaar Breevled (KLEUR) and Esther Schmidt (Women in the Picture)

Like, for example, the booster launched two years ago COLOUR does - which thus came in sixth place in the Filmbonzen Top 20 of the Filmkrant. Whether the Women in the Picture Foundation, which published a major study on the representation of women in the Dutch film and television sector early this year. More research is on the way, including from KLEUR together with the Filmfonds. KLEUR is also involved in the HUMAN series Talking about colour. Often probing, personal conversations about experiences of diversity and inclusiveness in the Dutch television and film industry.

New stories

In any case, it is important that the company of directors and producers becomes more diverse, as they have an influence on the choice and content of the new stories. Stories in which a multitude of colours and backgrounds (think class too) will hopefully soon be so natural that it need not be the main topic. Don't forget Asian faces either, as someone in the audience noted.

Dogmatic the conference is not. For instance, it is not felt that story and writer should necessarily be of the same colour. Anyone can write anything, argues theatre producer and screenwriter Fadua El Akchaoui, but do your research. Be aware, delve deeper. Jean van de Velde illustrates this with the fact that he once made the crime film Leak made without being a criminal himself. But he did have his script read to someone from the police and an ex-criminal. In his film adaptation of the historical novel How expensive was the sugar he changed the white perspective to that of two black girls. Perhaps to speed up change, we should also think about quotas or positive discrimination, it was heard here and there.

Whether such a new momentum will also put Dutch film on the map better internationally is an entirely different matter. Bero Beyer is convinced that the talent for this is there. It's all about conditions and choices, or more freedom. Much attention during the Film Fund session was therefore given to an ongoing study from which much is expected. An in-depth comparison of the film industry in five European countries. A study of factors that might influence performance, both artistic and commercial. Results of the study are expected in November. I am certainly curious.

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Wijbrand Schaap

Cultural journalist since 1996. Worked as theatre critic, columnist and reporter for Algemeen Dagblad, Utrechts Nieuwsblad, Rotterdams Dagblad, Parool and regional newspapers through Associated Press Services. Interviews for TheaterMaker, Theatererkrant Magazine, Ons Erfdeel, Boekman. Podcast maker, likes to experiment with new media. Culture Press is called the brainchild I gave birth to in 2009. Life partner of Suzanne Brink roommate of Edje, Fonzie and Rufus. Search and find me on Mastodon.View Author posts

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