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How personal can it get? Students from Film Academy and Rietveld VAV present their final work

As a budding filmmaker, do you choose something personal that is close to yourself, or do you explore the world? To start with an example of the latter, Kiriko Mechanicus discovered the Italian glorification of the tomato during a stay in Rome. Graduating from the Film Academy in the directing section, she travelled to southern Italy with her crew to shoot a beautiful documentary impression. A Tomato Tragedy shows the contrast between the sanctity of the fruit and the tragedy of the illegal migrants harvesting the tomatoes.

But within the Film Academy's 2023 batch, this still appears to be an exception. As seen this week at the Keep an Eye Film Academy Festival, most graduating makers stay much closer to home. And the same goes for the more or less simultaneously presented work by the Gerrit Rietveld Academy's film department, Department VAV. Even though these are very different, usually experimental pieces of work. As an aside, a Film Academy film is not just the work of the director, but of an entire team that graduates with it. I take it for granted that the same is true of the Rietveld work.

Personal and personal

These two presentations of graduate work are not only a great opportunity to compare style, approach and topics. It also shows that the term 'personal' can mean very different things. The most explicitly autobiographical, so definitely personal film is the engaging documentary Up Close is Not So Beautiful by Rietveld student Yana Khazanovich. She recorded how she fulfils her Russian mother's dream of visiting Paris one day. And at the same time hoping to strengthen the bond with her. By way of contrast, there is then, for example, the Rietveld essay SCORE by June Ohashi. A game of football, but performed as a kind of exotic swinging ballet from which the joy of making springs forth. A quirky play with film and form that could also be called very personal in a very different way.

Playing freely

MDR (Men Dominated Reality) (image: Rietveld Academy)

A kind of free play, which may look a bit non-committal to the uninitiated, but can also be infectiously enthusiastic and appealing. I think of the nice cheeky mix of humour and teenage anger in the music video referring to contemporary cultural phenomena MDR (Men Dominated Reality) By Maïa Taïeb. Or to Bathing cap by Jet van Boekel, who translates the eroticism and playfulness of a couple in love among soap bubbles into delightfully tumbling over each other in colour effects, masquerades and undulations. Besides, this kind of romp with expression could of course, with some freedom, be called exploration. But a counterpoint to Kiriko Mechanicus' exploration of Italian tomato plantations.

To what extent these Rietveld students, with their unorthodox experiments, are really putting their personal signature on it is difficult for me to judge. But I did get such a feeling with the soberly and aptly styled, initially mysterious but beautifully blossoming Har du sett ho (Have you seen her) by Astrid Ardagh. A poetic portrayal of the experience of the polar night, I won't reveal more.


That "personal" can also mean that a film is inspired by a very personal experience is especially evident in a lot of Film Academy work. Of the 12 graduation titles, there are eight where this clearly comes into play. She incorporated the painful experiences of Razan Hassan, who fled from Syria to the Netherlands, and her confrontation with the suicide of many refugees, in On the Edge of Life, I Saw a Film. A search for important life values through candid conversations, captured in a hybrid construction. A rather experimental, and therefore sometimes a bit difficult to grasp, form that sets Hassan apart from the more traditional narrative forms of most Film Academy work.


Merhamet (image: Film Academy)

The feature films Nothing Happened (directed by Edward de Jong) and Merhamet (directed by Matthijs Sluijs), are two other very different pieces of work that also have strong personal origins. The first one very realistically conveys the oppressive feeling of a family struggling with long-concealed sexual abuse. The idea for Merhamet urged itself irresistibly when screenplay student Zeynep Dülger displayed photos of her family on the table. It became a story about a mother-daughter bond, about shameful pregnancy, painful goodbyes and love in spite of everything. A story that takes place in a migrant family in the 1980s, a world we still saw far too little in Dutch film, according to the makers.

New perspective

Also Mel Opti, director of the documentary Black Luck, in which the aforementioned Zeynep Dülger was involved as dramaturge, felt that we still see too little of some worlds. As an Amsterdam-born child of Afro-Surinamese parents, who, as it notes itself, fell madly in love with the quiet waters of the Amstel River and the mysterious alleys in the heart of the city. At the same time, it felt strange that he hardly saw himself reflected in the people who populated the city of his dreams.

It now more than makes up for that with its lively and energetic mosaic of portraits and Amsterdam encounters. The richness and celebration of life from a Black, queer and trans perspective. Yes indeed, all Amsterdammers! A different perspective that nevertheless feels very natural. As combative as it is disarming. Go see that and experience it.

The Film Academy's graduation work can be seen at the Keep an Eye Film Academy Festival, from 3 to 9 July at the Netherlands Film Academy and Eye Film Museum. For info, programme and ticket sales: On Saturday 22 October, at around 22:45, all documentaries will be broadcast on NPO3 under the banner The Night of the Film Academy. On Saturday 29 October, all fiction films will be broadcast on NPO3 at around 22:55 under the banner The Night of the Film Academy.

The films of the Rietveld students can be seen from 5 to 9 July at the Gerrit Rietveld Academie, Fred. Roeskestraat 96, Amsterdam. Info: or

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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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