My appointment with Theo... By Hassouna Mansouri

in 23th Rotterdam International Film Festival

by Hassouna Mansouri

More than ever, the International Film Festival Rotterdam confirmed how engaged it is. The 34th edition was dedicated to Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh who was murdered on november 2 nd 2004.

In fact, a few weeks before the festival started, there was a big polemic: Will Submission (2004), the controversial short film made by Van Gogh (director) and Ayaan Hirsi Ali (scriptwriter), be screened or not? Finally it wasn’t. “officially”, as someone would say. But the Filmdagkrant (the festival edition of the independent Dutch film magazine De Filmkrant) organized a special screening for a few film critics, inviting them to a discussion which was published during the festival.

Theo van Gogh was in Rotterdam in different ways. Not only 06/05 , his last film, was screened, but the filmmaker also gave the impulse to the Rotterdam Film Parliament 2005, a forum discussion entitled ‘Courage and Conviction: Filmmaking in an Age of Turbulence’ (January 30 th 2005). Speakers from many countries tried to answer evident questions such as: “What can we (filmmakers) show? What must we show? How can we show it?”

During the festival, the image of Theo van Gogh appeared again through a new award created by his friends: ‘The Golden Cactus’. The first Theo van Gogh Award for Maverick Film Makers went to 29 year old Russian filmmaker Ilya Khrzhnovsky for his daring debut entitled 4 . The author ‘relishes his freedom to take all the risks necessary to shape and show his cinematographic vision’, as the jury motivated. At the end of the festival the film, which was also in the Tiger Award Competition, got one of the three Tiger Awards.

For me, the presence of a figure like Van Gogh, at this moment and in this festival, inspired me to reflect on some personal ideas.

It is strange that I met him again… for the second time after his death while we had much more time to meet during his life. He was a filmmaker, I’m a film critic, so we should have met one day… Met, I’m saying. I should rather say that it’s strange that I missed him again. It seems that it will be in another life that we will finally meet.

The first time it was in that morning of November 2nd . That day I was preparing to go to a press screening with some friends. That day, early in the morning, there was something special, something terrible happening in the TV news. I saw Theo van Gogh, but he had already left this world. That day I saw some images made by him. I saw him in some talk shows. “JUST A FREE SPEAKER”. That’s what he was, in his discourse and in his movies. Perhaps too much for some people but even…

Then I got some information from my friends about him, reading some things and I following the news in a language I didn’t know. In fact, I’m not Dutch, I’m Maghrebian. I’m coming from the same geographic area, the same culture of Van Gogh’s murderer. Then a mixture of feelings and ideas crossed my head and my soul: anger, pity, anxiety, guilt, fear…

That day, at seven o’clock in the evening, there was a crowd at the Dam, the main square of Amsterdam. And I was there between thousands of Amsterdammers, me the Maghrebian, saying goodbye to Van Gogh, a man who was killed because he had made a film. What could be more stupid?

As a journalist I thought that I could write an article about it. I could have written it in French, in Arabic even. It’s much easier for me. Actually, it’s not a linguistic handicap. No language, at least in this world, can help me to find words to describe what happened. The fact is that it’s something indescribable.

I’m again in the Netherlands only three months after the fateful event, for the International Film Festival Rotterdam. I have to write about what is happening here. I feel a kind of duty to see Submission . But, in the program, there is no screening of the film because of what happened. Submission will not be showing!!! It’s the same as saying that they won, those who killed him. They wanted him to shut up. No! He will not!!! Others will go on, on behalf of him, or like him… Like all free men in the world they will say ‘no’ to oppression, injustice, obscurantism, fanatism, only one way of thinking.

Once again I have to look for words. I could think to words like solidarity, tolerance, dialogue of civilization, cultural bridges… No way. Once again I’m confronted with the absurdity of life. Once again I’m coming back to the question for which I don’t have an answer: Where is the world going?

Something is certain: no one can say they are far from evil. Evil is everywhere. Nevertheless, there will always be someone who will say that things should not be like this. There is a better way to look at things. This is the job of artists, even when they are dreaming. Like soldiers, they are paying with their own life. They fight against evil. They fight for a better human being.