ÉCU’s 20th year anniversary :  A Glimpse into the First Year. 

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As we approach  the 20th anniversary of our festival, we find ourselves reminiscing on our first edition. In 2006, we embarked on a journey with one goal  in mind: to discover  and celebrate the best of  independent cinema. We can now, proudly say that the last twenty years have led to the discovery of the best independent filmmakers from Europe and around the world. Ever since the first edition, we had the opportunity to expand throughout the world and ÉCU has been joined by three sister festivals : All Americas Independent Film Festival, All Asian Film Festival, All African Film Festival. 

We are proud of the work accomplished by the filmmakers who have worked with us over the last twenty years. We believe that the best way to pay tribute to them and to celebrate this milestone is to give them the chance to talk about their work and their accomplishment ever since our Festival’s first edition. 

To mark the occasion, we had the opportunity to talk to Dutch director Bregtje van der Haak who directed the film Saudi Solutions( 2006) which was selected in our Documentary feature category. 

 Saudi Solutions  drew our attention because of the novelty of this project, which aimed to show the daily lives of Saudi women. In addition to her work as a filmmaker , Bregtje van der Haak is now the director of Eye Filmmuseum in Amsterdam. We had the opportunity to ask her a few questions. 

Can you present yourself and your work ? 

Bregtje van der Haak :“I am a documentary filmmaker and since last year also director of Eye Filmmuseum in Amsterdam. My interest is in social change, audiovisual archives, and collaborative documentary and multimedia projects. My background is in political science, dance, journalism and visual arts reporting.”

You are the current managing director of the EYE film museum. Do you believe that your work as a filmmaker has had an impact on your current career? 

Bregtje van der Haak :“For sure, I was approached for the position at Eye because there was an interest in shifting the next phase of the museum to focus more on filmmaking and hospitality and generosity towards filmmakers, enabling talks and debates with multiple audiences on the meaning of film for them, in this day and age. Also, having worked as a ‘documentarian’ for 25 years has shaped my way of approaching work and life in general. I see scenes, I see a timeline, I see stories, and I try to fit it all together as an edit to make it work for everyone.”

Is filmmaking still part of your life? If so, in what way? 

Bregtje van der Haak :“My last documentary project was TWIN, about Hiyap and Evenezer, twin boys who were born on the Mediterranean in 2016. In close contact with their wonderful Eritrean mother, I made seven shorts about the first seven years of their life in Europe. I am still in touch with them on a regular basis and hope to continue the project as a longitudinal film, in which they will gradually take more control over shooting and editing.”

You have made history by being the first Western filmmaker ever granted permission to film the lives of Saudi women. What is the first thing that comes to mind when you think of this moment in your life?  

Bregtje van der Haak :“The sweet flavor of warm camel milk, fresh from the camel.”

The documentary Saudi Solutions was very well received when it came out. Did you think the film would be such a success? 

Bregtje van der Haak :“At that time, I was not thinking about success or no success at all. I was just trying to behave according to Saudi rules and at the same time keep my curiosity to make an honest, non stereotypical film on how it feels and what it means practically, psychologically, and emotionally, to live by the rules in Saudi Arabia.”

Women’s rights in Saudi Arabia is still to this day,  a worrying issue. Do you think it’s possible to make a film like this today in 2024?

Bregtje van der Haak :“Absolutely.” I would love to go back and make the sequel!”

Making documentaries and running a film museum have a different impact on the film industry. What do you see as your mission in your current position? 

Bregtje van der Haak :“I think filmmaking is at a crucial crossroads because of the arrival of affordable Artificial Intelligence enabling ect. photorealistic text-to-video, the creation of humanoid ‘characters’, and ‘natural’ voices. I think the impact of AI on filmmaking and moving image arts will be enormous and I see it as a task of Eye Filmmuseum to enable an open and critical debate on the future of filmmaking in a data driven world. I have just participated as a judge in the competition of the first AI Film Festival. Even though I saw a lot of creativity in the 48 shorts I was asked to judge, it also made me love films-made-by-humans even more. I think Europe will be the place for the human-driven exploration of all these new possibilities. I hope we will be able to make data work for us, instead of us working for data.

In a data driven artificial context, I am proud and honored that Eye Filmmuseum is the trusted keeper and custodian of film history with a collection of 55,000 films, all made by humans, the first one in 1895. There is nothing like a perfectly restored 68mm film that enables us to meet and look into the eyes of our fellow humans who lived one century ago.”

If you could say a few words to reflect on your career, what would you have to say ?

Bregtje van der Haak :“Keep an open mind.” If you don’t know where you are going, you are probably going the right way. But I would have gotten nowhere without help from others, and a bit of good luck along the way.”

When we started this adventure, we never thought we’d meet so many interesting and inspiring independent filmmakers. We’re proud of how far we’ve come and we’re excited about  the road ahead. 


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