6-2 | Table of Con­tents | http://​dx​.doi​.org/​1​0​.​1​7​7​4​2​/​I​M​A​G​E​.​C​C​N​.​6​-​2.8 | Martens | de la Par­ra PDF


EMIEL MARTENS | UNIVERSITY OF AMSTERDAM

A PARADOX IN CARIBBEAN CINEMA?
AN INTERVIEW WITH MINIMAL MOVIE FILMMAKER PIM de la PARRA, PRAGMATIC DREAMER FROM SURINAME

Pim de la Par­ra (Para­mari­bo, 1940) is a sea­soned and pro­lif­ic Suri­namese film­mak­er with over 50 years of expe­ri­ence in inde­pen­dent fea­ture film­mak­ing. His film career began in the Nether­lands in the 1960s where De la Par­ra rapid­ly estab­lished him­self as a charis­mat­ic pio­neer of Dutch film. Togeth­er with his for­mer school friend Wim Ver­stap­pen, he shook up the Dutch film indus­try by pro­duc­ing a prof­itable series of low-bud­get erot­ic fea­ture films, of which Blue Movie (1971) still ranks in the top five of most suc­cess­ful Dutch the­atri­cal films. This suc­cess enabled De la Par­ra to make two more expen­sive movies out­side the Nether­lands, one in his native Suri­name. In the 1970s, the film­mak­er pro­duced Wan Pipel (1976), the first Suri­namese fea­ture film ever made; in 1980s, he made Odyssée d’Amour (1987), the first Dutch fea­ture film set on the Dutch-Caribbean island of Bonaire. Both films flopped at the Dutch box office, which forced De la Par­ra to return to low-bud­get film­mak­ing. He became a mas­ter of what he calls the min­i­mal movie and put out mul­ti­ple films in only a few years’ time. In 1995, after suc­ces­sive dis­il­lu­sion­ments, De la Par­ra retired from the world of film­mak­ing and set­tled in Suri­name. How­ev­er, his pas­sion for film­mak­ing remained strong and even­tu­al­ly led him to launch the Suri­namese Film Acad­e­my in 2005. The Academy’s learn­ing-by-doing pro­gram ben­e­fits from De la Parra’s exten­sive expe­ri­ences in the field of low-bud­get film­mak­ing. In pur­suit of his dream of a local film cul­ture in Suri­name and the rest of the Caribbean, the now 72-year-old film­mak­er tire­less­ly pass­es on his prag­mat­ic mod­el of min­i­mal movie mak­ing to the next gen­er­a­tion. This inter­view, which took place in two parts via Skype (Jan­u­ary 18 and Feb­ru­ary 1, 2012), chron­i­cles De la Parra’s long illus­tri­ous career span­ning over five decades.

Martens: Could you first briefly intro­duce your­self?

De la Par­ra: I was born on Jan­u­ary 5, 1940, in Para­mari­bo, Suri­name, which was at the time still a Dutch colony. My father was a descen­dent of Sephardic Por­tuguese Jews who arrived in Suri­name around 1644. My moth­er was half-Cre­ole and half-Eng­lish. She passed away when I was sev­en, after which my pater­nal grand­moth­er and five aunties—the sis­ters of my father—looked after my younger broth­er and me. They did not raise us in the Jew­ish tra­di­tion, but in the tra­di­tion of the Mora­vian Church—Protestant mis­sion­ar­ies hail­ing from the city of Her­rn­hut in for­mer East Ger­many. My father was very busy earn­ing mon­ey to main­tain our house­hold. He ran a phar­ma­cy and was a whole­saler of med­i­cines.

Figure 1. Pim de la Parra on the upper veranda of his childhood home in Paramaribo, Suriname. He lived here from age seven to twenty with his father, brother and five aunties. De la Parra used to have his bedroom on the first floor whilst the ground floor functioned as his father’s pharmacy. ‘My father was very busy earning money to maintain our household. He ran a pharmacy and was a wholesaler of medicines.’ Photo by: In-Soo Productions / Fu Works.

Fig­ure 1. Pim de la Par­ra on the upper veran­da of his child­hood home in Para­mari­bo, Suri­name. He lived here from age sev­en to twen­ty with his father, broth­er and five aun­ties. De la Par­ra used to have his bed­room on the first floor whilst the ground floor func­tioned as his father’s phar­ma­cy. ‘My father was very busy earn­ing mon­ey to main­tain our house­hold. He ran a phar­ma­cy and was a whole­saler of med­i­cines.’ Pho­to by: In-Soo Pro­duc­tions / Fu Works.

Martens: How did you get inter­est­ed in film­mak­ing?

De la Par­ra: I devel­oped an inter­est in film­mak­ing from an ear­ly age. In the 1950s, my father was the co-founder of the Suri­name Film League and orga­nized month­ly screen­ings of pre­dom­i­nant­ly Euro­pean art films for its mem­bers in a rent­ed cin­e­ma in Para­mari­bo. I nev­er missed a screen­ing. I start­ed to read sev­er­al film mag­a­zines that my father received from the Nether­lands, in par­tic­u­lar, Film Forum, which was in the 1950s the most promi­nent film crit­i­cism mag­a­zine in the Nether­lands. I read about Dutch films, Ital­ian films, French films, Ger­man films, British films, Hun­gar­i­an films, Swedish films, you name it. And I thus saw some of these films at the screen­ings the Suri­name Film League orga­nized. I found it all very inter­est­ing and there and then I decid­ed to become a film­mak­er. I ini­tial­ly want­ed to go to Hol­ly­wood, to the Los Ange­les Film School, because for us teenagers Hol­ly­wood was the mec­ca of the movies. At the time, the movie the­atres in Para­mari­bo chiefly showed Amer­i­can movies, often already—and illegally—within one week after their U.S. pre­miere. The appeal of Hol­ly­wood was very evi­dent in Suri­name. How­ev­er, my father did not have the mon­ey to pay for my stud­ies in Hol­ly­wood, so instead I went to the Nether­lands, where my broth­er already attend­ed uni­ver­si­ty. In the time it was con­sid­ered nor­mal, almost required, to study in the Nether­lands, in the “real world.” You just didn’t remain in Suri­name if your par­ents could afford it. My father was not rich, far from it, but he was able to sup­port me and my broth­er in the Nether­lands. I went to Ams­ter­dam in 1960 and decid­ed to study Polit­i­cal and Social Sci­ences, inter­ests which my father had stim­u­lat­ed. Dur­ing my sec­ond year I attend­ed a lec­ture series on film by the direc­tor of the then-just-estab­lished Film Acad­e­my, which instant­ly grabbed my atten­tion. I wasn’t real­ly inter­est­ed in the oth­er cours­es anymore—I didn’t pass any of my exams—and the fol­low­ing year I switched to the Film Acad­e­my. That’s how it all start­ed.

Martens: You didn’t fin­ish your stud­ies there, but you did man­age to com­plete your first film and to launch your own film mag­a­zine dur­ing this peri­od. How did you expe­ri­ence your time at the Film Acad­e­my?

De la Par­ra: From the begin­ning I was pri­mar­i­ly inter­est­ed in the prac­ti­cal side of film­mak­ing. How does it work and what does it cost? I went to the cin­e­ma about 20 times a week, main­ly to watch bad B-movies, just to get the feel­ing that I could do that too. The the­o­ret­i­cal cours­es didn’t inter­est me at all—and I didn’t try my best to pass them at all. As a result, I became the first stu­dent of the Acad­e­my who was not allowed to advance to the sec­ond year of the pro­gram. How­ev­er, I did become the first stu­dent who actu­al­ly made a film. In 1962 my fel­low stu­dent Rudi Kross and I gath­ered some funds and pro­duced Mega­lopo­lis I (1963), a one-hour film about a Suri­namese man who is liv­ing in the Nether­lands but does not feel con­nect­ed to the Dutch state. In the same year, togeth­er with the like-mind­ed stu­dents Nico­lai van der Heyde and Gied Jas­pars, I found­ed a new Dutch film mag­a­zine after the exam­ple of the Cahiers du Ciné­ma, the lead­ing French mag­a­zine of rad­i­cal film crit­i­cism. We titled it Skoop and pub­lished arti­cles that chal­lenged the estab­lish­ment of Dutch film crit­i­cism. Since we were now film crit­ics, we could vis­it all the press screen­ings. One day I watched Pier Pao­lo Pasolini’s Mam­ma Roma (1962), though I couldn’t stay until the end as I had a the­o­ret­i­cal exam. But I was so gripped by that film that I decid­ed to skip the exam and just aban­don my stud­ies at the Film Acad­e­my alto­geth­er. This was in 1964.

Martens: One year lat­er, in 1965, you start­ed your own film com­pa­ny, $cor­pio Films, togeth­er with Wim Ver­stap­pen, anoth­er stu­dent of the Film Acad­e­my who had joined the edi­to­r­i­al staff of Skoop. From that time you put out film after film and also became suc­cess­ful both in the Nether­lands and abroad. How did you man­age to real­ize such a con­stant stream of film work?

De la Par­ra: I think it had to do with the tem­pera­ments of Wim Ver­stap­pen and me. We were young and eager­ly want­ed to make films. We oper­at­ed under the mot­to, “it doesn’t mat­ter what and how you film, but that you film.” We would rather make 10 bad movies than not make one movie at all. We pro­duced our first fea­ture film for 10,000 Dutch guilders [almost US$6,000], which was the low­est pro­duc­tion bud­get for a Dutch fea­ture film ever. The film, enti­tled De min­der gelukkige terug­keer van Joszef Katús naar het land van Rem­brandt (1966, Joszef Katús’ Less For­tu­nate Return to the Land of Rem­brandt), gar­nered some crit­i­cal acclaim on the inter­na­tion­al stage for its nou­velle vague style—for exam­ple, Jean-Luc Godard spoke high­ly of it at the Cannes Film Fes­ti­val. The buzz helped to get a con­stant pro­duc­tion going, though it was always a bat­tle to find fund­ing. Our big break­through came with our third fea­ture film, and my first fea­ture film as direc­tor, Bezeten: Het gat in de muur (1969, Obses­sions). For this film, we were able to secure a bud­get of around 700,000 guilders [US$400,000]. It was a Dutch-Ger­man co-pro­duc­tion and, because we had inter­na­tion­al ambi­tions, spo­ken in the Eng­lish lan­guage. We got sup­port from Mar­tin Scors­ese, whom I had met in 1967 at a film fes­ti­val, and Amer­i­can music com­pos­er Bernard Her­rmann, who was intro­duced to us by François Truf­faut. I had always want­ed to make a thriller à la Hitch­cock and Obses­sions was it—a film about mur­der and mys­tery and, like many oth­er Euro­pean films made in the 1960s, the decade of sex­u­al lib­er­a­tion, about sex. Obses­sions became the biggest Dutch box office suc­cess of the decade. Abroad the film did even bet­ter. In total we sold Obses­sions to 120 coun­tries world­wide. At the time explic­it nudi­ty in Dutch films was still rel­a­tive­ly new and clear­ly sell­ing, so our next batch of movies all had can­did sex­u­al con­tent. Most of them were films about cru­el love that chal­lenged the con­ven­tion­al rela­tion­ship mod­el of the time; I think that was, in ret­ro­spect, the great­est com­mon divi­sor of the $cor­pio films. Of all our so-called “erot­ic” movies, Blue Movie (1971) became by far the most suc­cess­ful. The film attract­ed over two mil­lion movie­go­ers in the Nether­lands and made us instant mil­lion­aires. It gave us the finan­cial free­dom to make films that we real­ly want­ed to make, films that reflect­ed our per­son­al expe­ri­ences and inter­ests. Ver­stap­pen went on to direct Dako­ta (1974), a film about a Dutch man who runs an air­line on the Dutch-Caribbean island of Curaçao, fol­low­ing his pas­sion for planes and Curaçao, where he had spent most of his child­hood. I decid­ed to direct Wan Pipel (1976, One Peo­ple), a film about a young Cre­ole Suri­namese stu­dent in the Nether­lands who returns to Suri­name when his moth­er is near­ing her dying day. Dako­ta and Wan Pipel were our most expen­sive films so far—in fact, they went way over budget—but they both flopped at the Dutch box office. We fell deeply into debt and two years lat­er, in 1978, $cor­pio was offi­cial­ly declared bank­rupt and “Wim & Pim” went their own way again.

Figure 2. ‘Pim and Wim’ in front of the Cineac Damrak theatre in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, in the second week of the Dutch release of Bezeten: Het gat in de muur (1969, Obsessions). ‘Obsessions became the biggest Dutch box office success of the decade.’ Photo by: Frans Bromet. Courtesy by: $corpio Films.

Fig­ure 2. ‘Pim and Wim’ in front of the Cineac Dam­rak the­atre in Ams­ter­dam, the Nether­lands, in the sec­ond week of the Dutch release of Bezeten: Het gat in de muur (1969, Obses­sions). ‘Obses­sions became the biggest Dutch box office suc­cess of the decade.’ Pho­to by: Frans Bromet. Cour­tesy by: $cor­pio Films.

Martens: Wan Pipel is often con­sid­ered the first Suri­namese fea­ture film ever made. You shot the film in 1975-1976, a time when Suri­name was gain­ing inde­pen­dence from the Nether­lands, offi­cial­ly grant­ed on Novem­ber 25, 1975. What did you want to achieve with your film dur­ing this crit­i­cal tran­si­tion peri­od? And why do you think it flopped in the Nether­lands?

De la Par­ra: I already want­ed to make Wan Pipel since 1962. When Rudi Kross and I made Mega­lopo­lis I, we agreed that we should make a Suri­namese fea­ture-length fic­tion film; that was what it was all about, that was our mis­sion, our dream. But then the fame and mon­ey came and we put the idea on the shelf for a while. How­ev­er, the suc­cess of the $cor­pio films not only enabled us to put more of our own mon­ey into a fea­ture film about Suri­name, but also to get fund­ing from the Dutch Pro­duc­tion Fund for such a film. When we heard that Suri­name would become inde­pen­dent, we real­ized that this was the right moment to write the script and sub­mit it to the fund. So that’s what we did and we got the fund­ing. It was still not suf­fi­cient, but the Suri­namese gov­ern­ment sup­plied us with fin­ish­ing funds. From that moment we knew that Wan Pipel would become the first full-fledged Suri­namese fea­ture film—and one with a clear polit­i­cal state­ment about the rela­tion between the Nether­lands and Suri­name. You have to remem­ber that Rudi and I were some kind of Suri­namese rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies. We strong­ly believed in the inde­pen­dence of Suriname—and this belief also inspired Wan Pipel. The three main char­ac­ters of the film served as metaphors: the Dutch woman Kari­na for the Nether­lands, and the Cre­ole man Roy and Hin­du woman Rubia for Suri­name. Though Roy and Rubia don’t have the same eth­nic back­ground, they share the same nation­al­i­ty and togeth­er are respon­si­ble for the future of their new coun­try, inde­pen­dent from the Nether­lands. The end­ing of the film, when Roy and Rubia say good­bye to Kari­na at the air­port, is very much a sym­bol­ic farewell from their for­mer col­o­niz­er. At the same, the per­ma­nent home­com­ing of Roy speaks to all the Suri­namese peo­ple liv­ing in the Nether­lands, incit­ing them to return to Suri­name to build the new inde­pen­dent nation. Dur­ing the 1970s, almost half of the country’s entire pop­u­la­tion, about 300,000 Suri­namese peo­ple, migrat­ed to the Nether­lands because they thought they would be bet­ter off there. With Wan Pipel we tried to show them that they could, and should, suc­ceed in their home coun­try. When the film was com­plet­ed, we first released the film in Suri­name; we just had to, because it was above all a Suri­namese film. The pre­miere, which was attend­ed by Johan Fer­ri­er [the first pres­i­dent of the Repub­lic of Suri­name], was a very mem­o­rable night and the film became a huge suc­cess. The peo­ple of Suri­name went to see it one, two, three, even four times in the the­atre. I think they could all rec­og­nize them­selves in the main char­ac­ters, who spoke—in the three lan­guages com­mon­ly spo­ken in our nation, Hin­di, Dutch, and our lin­gua fran­ca Sranantongo—to the imag­i­na­tion of the entire Suri­namese pop­u­la­tion. Though I don’t believe that a film can change the world, Wan Pipel was a sto­ry of the world and a doc­u­ment of the time. Some peo­ple even con­sid­ered, and still con­sid­er, the film to be the anthem of our new nation.

Figure 3. A production still from the first Surinamese feature film, Wan Pipel (1976, One People), with from left to right: lead actress Willeke van Ammelrooy, lead actor Borger Breeveld, camera man Marc Felperlaan, sound recordist Hugo de Vries, and De La Parra. ‘The three main characters of the film served as metaphors; the Dutch woman Karina for the Netherlands and the Creole man Roy and Hindi woman Rubia for Suriname.’ Photo by: Olga Madsen.

Fig­ure 3. A pro­duc­tion still from the first Suri­namese fea­ture film, Wan Pipel (1976, One Peo­ple), with from left to right: lead actress Willeke van Ammel­rooy, lead actor Borg­er Breeveld, cam­era man Marc Felper­laan, sound recordist Hugo de Vries, and De La Par­ra. ‘The three main char­ac­ters of the film served as metaphors; the Dutch woman Kari­na for the Nether­lands and the Cre­ole man Roy and Hin­di woman Rubia for Suri­name.’ Pho­to by: Olga Mad­sen.

How­ev­er, when we brought Wan Pipel to the Nether­lands, only three Dutch cin­e­mas were inter­est­ed in screen­ing the film. The oth­ers did not want to screen it because, I real­ize in ret­ro­spect, it was a film with Black peo­ple in it. At the time it came as a great shock to me. Now I under­stand. It was pure racism. I con­tact­ed the prime min­is­ter of Suri­name, Henck Arron, with the request to pro­vide some extra fund­ing to print more copies, so that Wan Pipel could have the same big open­ing as all the oth­er $cor­pio films. He agreed and the film got the release I want­ed, in 25 the­atres nation­wide. How­ev­er, the Dutch peo­ple did not show any inter­est in the film and the Suri­namese peo­ple in the Nether­lands did not real­ly know of it—they were not yet unit­ed at the time—so only a few weeks lat­er Wan Pipel was out of the the­atres again. It was a huge dis­ap­point­ment.

Martens: After the dis­ap­point­ment of Wan Pipel and the bank­rupt­cy of $cor­pio Films, you decid­ed to stop mak­ing movies all togeth­er and to move to the Dutch Caribbean island of Aru­ba. Why did you decide to make this move? And how did you get back into the Dutch film scene?

De la Par­ra: After the bank­rupt­cy of $cor­pio Films, I decid­ed to write my auto­bi­og­ra­phy, Prins Pim: Over­denkin­gen van een lev­ens­ge­ni­eter (1978, Prince Pim: Thoughts of a Bon Vivant). It con­tained many crit­i­cal pas­sages about the Dutch film-fund­ing sys­tem, includ­ing that the Pro­duc­tion Fund did not want to finance films tak­ing place over­seas fea­tur­ing Black peo­ple. After that, it was fin­ished with me. I couldn’t get any sub­si­dies for my film projects any­more. I did make one more low-bud­get film, Dirty Pic­ture (1980), an artis­tic black-and-white movie record­ed with­out any sound, a silent movie that wasn’t a suc­cess; one week after its release it was already tak­en out of the cin­e­mas. I got more and more dis­il­lu­sioned with the Dutch film cli­mate and when my mar­riage also end­ed after 18 years, I just want­ed to leave the Nether­lands.

Figure 4. The promotional leaflet of De la Parra’s autobiography, Prins Pim: Overdenkingen van een levensgenieter (1978, Prince Pim: Thoughts of a Bon Vivant). ‘It contained many critical passages about the Dutch film funding system, including that the Production Fund did not want to finance films taking place overseas featuring black people. After that, it was finished with me.’ Photo by: Berry Stokvis. Design by: Marius van Leeuwen.

Fig­ure 4. The pro­mo­tion­al leaflet of De la Parra’s auto­bi­og­ra­phy, Prins Pim: Over­denkin­gen van een lev­ens­ge­ni­eter (1978, Prince Pim: Thoughts of a Bon Vivant). ‘It con­tained many crit­i­cal pas­sages about the Dutch film fund­ing sys­tem, includ­ing that the Pro­duc­tion Fund did not want to finance films tak­ing place over­seas fea­tur­ing black peo­ple. After that, it was fin­ished with me.’ Pho­to by: Berry Stokvis. Design by: Mar­ius van Leeuwen.

I didn’t want to return to Suri­name, where a vio­lent mil­i­tary coup d’état led by Desi Bouterse had just hap­pened, so I left for Aru­ba with a one-way tick­et. My peri­od there start­ed out as a sab­bat­i­cal, but in next to no time I got the idea for a fea­ture film about a love affair on the island. I approached Het­ty Los, a young film­mak­er who had just fin­ished the Dutch Film & Tele­vi­sion Acad­e­my, and we decid­ed to make this low-bud­get pro­duc­tion as co-sce­nar­ists and with our­selves in the leads. For us it was main­ly a way to show Aru­ba to the Dutch audi­ence. The result became Aru­ba Affair (1981), a 74-minute tele­vi­sion film that we shot in six days dur­ing the annu­al Aru­ba Car­naval. After that, I con­tin­ued my sab­bat­i­cal until a few years lat­er I met a Dutch woman, Djoeke Veeninga, who invit­ed me to come and live with her in the Nether­lands. Back in Ams­ter­dam, I found­ed a film pro­duc­tion coop­er­a­tive, Altami­ra Film, togeth­er with pro­duc­ers Ruud den Dri­jver and Lea Wongsoredjo—thus not a com­pa­ny with lim­it­ed lia­bil­i­ty but a coop­er­a­tive with­out lia­bil­i­ty—which seemed wise after my pre­vi­ous expe­ri­ences. If one of our films would now flop, cred­i­tors would only be able to col­lect the debts from the coop­er­a­tive and not from our pri­vate mon­ey. In prac­tice, this meant that we start­ed a new coop­er­a­tive for each new film we were about to make. In total I made three films under the umbrel­la of Altami­ra Films: Paul Chevro­let en de ultieme hal­lu­ci­natie (1985, Paul Chevro­let and the Ulti­mate Hal­lu­ci­na­tion), Als in een roes… (1986, Intox­i­cat­ed), and Odyssée d’Amour (1987, Odyssey of Love). So that, in a nut­shell, is how I got back into the Dutch film scene.

Martens: Of these three Altami­ra films, Odyssée d’Amour was yet anoth­er film made in the Caribbean. In the 1970s you were one of the few film­mak­ers in the Nether­lands with an inter­est in the new­ly inde­pen­dent nation of Suri­name; in the 1980s you seemed to be one of the few to pay atten­tion to the Dutch Caribbean, that is, the islands of the King­dom of Nether­lands locat­ed in the Caribbean. Why did you, after Aru­ba Affair, want to make Odyssée d’Amour?

De la Par­ra: I just felt a need to make anoth­er film in the Dutch Caribbean. In fact, I want­ed to make one fea­ture film in all three ABC islands, Aru­ba, Bonaire, and Curaçao. Odyssée d’Amour was again a film about cru­el love, this time entire­ly set on Bonaire. It was also again a very per­son­al film—I essen­tial­ly only make films about my per­son­al expe­ri­ences and fascinations—in the sense that it fea­tured a man who retreats into him­self and into the wilder­ness after the death of his son, as he thinks that it’s his fault that his son passed away. At the same time, I sought to por­tray how Dutch male expats liv­ing on the ABC islands use their priv­i­leged sta­tus to wreak hav­oc on the love lives of the local women by play­ing mul­ti­ple mis­tress­es against each oth­er. Odyssée d’Amour tells the sto­ry of a Dutch engi­neer work­ing on Bonaire who tries to escape from the monot­o­nous iso­la­tion of island life by keep­ing a string of Native mis­tress­es. The film was, like Wan Pipel, spo­ken in three languages—Dutch, Eng­lish, and the lin­gua fran­ca Papiamentu—while the sound­track con­tained some Span­ish songs to reflect the country’s diverse his­to­ry and cul­ture. The film was shot in only 17 days with three cam­era crews; one for under­wa­ter record­ings and two for reg­u­lar record­ings. This enabled us to shoot quick­ly as we could record at two dif­fer­ent loca­tions at the same time. The logis­tics were very com­pli­cat­ed; it was almost run like a mil­i­tary oper­a­tion. Despite all this, I was very pleased with the result. I per­son­al­ly find Odyssée d’Amour one the most beau­ti­ful films I have ever made. How­ev­er, the film flopped bad­ly at the Dutch box office. Nobody came out to see the film. I think Dutch peo­ple were still not inter­est­ed in a sto­ry that was set over­seas fea­tur­ing Black peo­ple. Besides, the film was prob­a­bly too intel­lec­tu­al and artis­tic; there was, for exam­ple, no hap­py end­ing, which is what most peo­ple want to see when they go to the movies. The film got very bad reviews in the Nether­lands and only two weeks after its release it was tak­en out of the cin­e­mas.

Figure 5. The original film poster of Odyssée d’Amour (1987, Odyssey of Love). ‘I sought to portray how Dutch male expats living on the ABC islands use their privileged status to wreak havoc on the love life of the local women by playing multiple mistresses.’ Design by: Fenna Westerdiep. Illustration by: Ton Leenarts.

Fig­ure 5. The orig­i­nal film poster of Odyssée d’Amour (1987, Odyssey of Love). ‘I sought to por­tray how Dutch male expats liv­ing on the ABC islands use their priv­i­leged sta­tus to wreak hav­oc on the love life of the local women by play­ing mul­ti­ple mis­tress­es.’ Design by: Fen­na Wes­t­er­diep. Illus­tra­tion by: Ton Leenarts.

Martens: Your three Altami­ra films marked the ear­ly devel­op­ment of what you would lat­er call min­i­mal movies, a high­ly prag­mat­ic mode of low-bud­get inde­pen­dent film­mak­ing. Could you explain the con­cept of min­i­mal movies, which would become your trade­mark?

De la Par­ra: The peri­od of the min­i­mal movies start­ed offi­cial­ly after Odyssée d’Amour, but you are right, the con­cept orig­i­nat­ed while mak­ing these three ear­li­er films. In fact, I was already immersed in the craft of low-bud­get film­mak­ing from the very begin­ning of my career, when we put out film after film with $cor­pio. These films were all made in a short time span with a low bud­get. Paul Chevro­let was made in 12 days for approx­i­mate­ly 350,000 Dutch guilders [less US$200,000], while Als in een roes… had only eight shoot­ing days and a bud­get of 300,000 guilders [almost US$175,000]. Then, Odyssée d’Amour, became, with a bud­get of 1.2 mil­lion guilders [almost US$700,000], the most expen­sive film I was ever able to make, but the pro­duc­tion still great­ly reflect­ed min­i­mal movie mak­ing. When the film became such a box-office fail­ure, I again couldn’t get sub­si­dies any­more. How­ev­er, because the project was fund­ed through a coop­er­a­tive, this time I didn’t end up in debt. I was deter­mined to con­tin­ue mak­ing films out­side the reg­u­lar grant scheme and, in order to do so, I had to per­fect the craft of low-bud­get film­mak­ing. This is when the idea of the min­i­mal movies—low-bud­get and super-fast-pro­duced fea­ture films—came into full prac­tice. First of all, I start­ed to offer prof­it shares instead of salaries to the mem­bers of the cast and crew, since I didn’t have mon­ey to pay them. These shares were based on a dis­tri­b­u­tion code, with the direc­tor, pro­duc­er, and cam­era­man receiv­ing the high­est per­cent­ages, name­ly five per­cent each, and the oth­er per­son­nel work­ing their way down to even half a per­cent of the well-defined rev­enue per­for­mance. This way I was able to reduce the bud­get of my films sig­nif­i­cant­ly. Sec­ond­ly, we nev­er worked with a script. We had an over­all idea of the sto­ry, but only on set would the sto­ry­line be devel­oped, large­ly through impro­vi­sa­tion, a key fea­ture of the min­i­mal movie. Third­ly, return­ing to a strat­e­gy I men­tioned ear­li­er, for each new film we found­ed a new coop­er­a­tive, with a dif­fer­ent board per film. Often I act­ed as chair­man, while the cast and crew filled the remain­ing board posi­tions. These strate­gies were not only designed to reduce the cost and risk of mak­ing a film, but also, and impor­tant­ly, to cre­ate open­ings for start­ing film­mak­ers, pro­duc­ers, and tech­ni­cians to actu­al­ly work on films. Min­i­mal movies were intend­ed to pro­vide them with oppor­tu­ni­ties to acquire the skills rel­e­vant to the real­i­ty of film­mak­ing. We shot our first offi­cial min­i­mal movie, Lost in Ams­ter­dam (1989), in 11 days for a bud­get of 75,000 guilders [approx­i­mate­ly US$40,000], and in the fol­low­ing years we released many more.

Figure 6. The original film poster of De la Parra’s first minimal movie, Lost in Amsterdam (1989). ‘I was determined to continue making films outside the regular grant scheme and in order to do so I had to perfect the craft of low-budget filmmaking.’ Design by: Teun Anders and Johan Vigeveno.

Fig­ure 6. The orig­i­nal film poster of De la Parra’s first min­i­mal movie, Lost in Ams­ter­dam (1989). ‘I was deter­mined to con­tin­ue mak­ing films out­side the reg­u­lar grant scheme and in order to do so I had to per­fect the craft of low-bud­get film­mak­ing.’ Design by: Teun Anders and Johan Vigeveno.

Martens: Yes, you were very pro­duc­tive dur­ing this peri­od, par­tic­u­lar­ly in the ear­ly 1990s. After Lost in Ams­ter­dam, you suc­ces­sive­ly worked on no few­er than 15 fea­ture films (!) in the capac­i­ties of writer, direc­tor, pro­duc­er, and/or actor: Max & Lau­ra & Henk & Willie (1989), De nacht van de wilde ezels (1990, The Night of the Wild Donkies), Let the Music Dance (1990), Two Peo­ple, Analy­sis of a Seduc­tion (1991), Labyrint der lus­ten (1991, Labyrinth of Lust), Het gelukza­lig lij­den van Derek Beau­jon (1991, The Bliss­ful Suf­fer­ing of Derek Beau­jon), Extrav­a­gan­za (1991), How to Sur­vive a Bro­ken Heart (1991), Open­barin­gen van een slapeloze (1991, Rev­e­la­tions of an Insom­ni­ac), Fear and Desire (1992), Vrouwen van van­daag (1993, Women of Today), Dag­boek van een zwakke yogi (1993, Diary of a Weak Yogi), The Best Thing in Life (1993), Round of Pris­on­ers (1995), and De droom van een schaduw (1995, The Dream of a Shad­ow). Why did you decide to move back to Suri­name in 1996, when you were achiev­ing such a high pro­duc­tion out­put in the Nether­lands? And when did you con­ceive of the idea to start a film acad­e­my there, when you had seem­ing­ly left the world of film­mak­ing after your return to Suri­name?

De la Par­ra: Life decid­ed my fate for me. By 1993 I had moved from Ams­ter­dam to Rot­ter­dam to pur­sue min­i­mal movie projects there, but again I got pret­ty fed up with the boxed-in and nar­row-mind­ed envi­ron­ment of the Dutch film indus­try. I was pro­duc­ing films, but there was no mon­ey, no glo­ry, no noth­ing. It felt I was strand­ing as a film­mak­er. Around this time I learnt that my 88-year old father need­ed some­one back home, so I returned to Suri­name to take care of him. Before I left the Nether­lands, in 1995, I hand­ed over my entire per­son­al and pro­fes­sion­al archive, includ­ing all my film tins, to the Dutch Film Muse­um. It real­ly felt like my final break from film­mak­ing, at least in the Nether­lands. Dur­ing my first peri­od in Suri­name I main­ly occu­pied myself with doing noth­ing. My father passed away in 1998, and out of the blue my son died in 2002, which kept me emo­tion­al­ly busy for quite a while. It was not until 2005 that I got involved in film again. A few years ear­li­er, in 2002, Aru­ba-born film pro­duc­er Eddy Wijn­gaarde and his wife Hen­nah Draaibaar ini­ti­at­ed The Back Lot Foun­da­tion with the objec­tive to revi­tal­ize film cul­ture in Suri­name. In a time when our coun­try did not have any cin­e­mas at all any­more, he start­ed to orga­nize film fes­ti­vals at the Thalia The­atre in Para­mari­bo. All of a sud­den there was a place to screen films—that’s when the idea for a film acad­e­my was con­ceived, because now we could actu­al­ly release local­ly made films in the cin­e­ma and after that they could be broad­cast­ed on local tele­vi­sion. So in March 2005 I launched the Suri­namese Film Acad­e­my and, with the assis­tance from Dutch sub­si­dies and film­mak­ers, I com­posed a learn­ing-by-doing pro­gram con­sist­ing of five short film cours­es: scriptwrit­ing, cin­e­matog­ra­phy, sound, act­ing, and directing/producing. Dur­ing these cours­es, the stu­dents, approx­i­mate­ly 60 in total, worked togeth­er on the pro­duc­tion of a pilot film, Ala Di… (2006, In the Mean time…). Upon com­ple­tion, the 150-minute long film pre­miered at The Back Lot Film Fes­ti­val in April 2006 and was sub­se­quent­ly broad­cast­ed four times on local tele­vi­sion, non-stop with­out any com­mer­cial breaks. It was a great experience—we real­ly wrote history—so the fol­low­ing year we want­ed to run the pro­gram again. We received anoth­er grant from the Dutch Min­istry for Devel­op­ment Coop­er­a­tion, which again enabled us to get three pro­fes­sion­al Dutch film­mak­ers for two weeks in Suri­name to teach the dif­fer­ent cours­es. While being edu­cat­ed, the stu­dents par­tic­i­pat­ed in the mak­ing of the fea­ture-length exper­i­men­tal film Het Geheim van de Sara­mac­ca Riv­i­er (2007, The Secret of the Sara­mac­ca Riv­er). Like Wan Pipel, this film revolves around a Suri­namese man liv­ing in the Nether­lands who returns to his coun­try of birth, this time a mid­dle-aged uni­ver­si­ty pro­fes­sor who vis­its Suri­name for the first time in 40 years to cel­e­brate his 50th birth­day. He is joined by his younger wife, a Suri­namese woman who came to the Nether­lands when she was 20. The sto­ry, a psy­cho­log­i­cal thriller, fol­lows the cou­ple on their trips through Suri­name, dur­ing which they get entan­gled in a mar­i­tal crisis—and a secre­tive con­spir­a­cy. The film pre­miered at The Back Lot Film Fes­ti­val, after which it was once more broad­cast­ed on local tele­vi­sion.

Figure 7. A still from the third feature film put out by the Surinamese Film Academy, The Secret of the Saramacca River, with Kenneth Herdigein and Lucille Roberts in the roles of husband and wife in crisis. ‘While being educated, the students at the same time participated in the making of the feature-length experimental film Het geheim van de Saramacca Rivier (2007, The Secret of the Saramacca River).’ Photo by: Tom Erisman.

Fig­ure 7. A still from the third fea­ture film put out by the Suri­namese Film Acad­e­my, The Secret of the Sara­mac­ca Riv­er, with Ken­neth Herdi­gein and Lucille Roberts in the roles of hus­band and wife in cri­sis. ‘While being edu­cat­ed, the stu­dents par­tic­i­pat­ed in the mak­ing of the fea­ture-length exper­i­men­tal film Het geheim van de Sara­mac­ca Riv­i­er (2007, The Secret of the Sara­mac­ca Riv­er).’ Pho­to by: Tom Eris­man.

Martens: The learn­ing-by-doing pro­gram of the Suri­name Film Acad­e­my edu­cates stu­dents in the craft of low-bud­get film­mak­ing. What is the over­all objec­tive of the Acad­e­my?

De la Par­ra: The objec­tive is to devel­op a con­tin­u­ous pro­duc­tion of fea­ture films in Suri­name with an edu­ca­tion­al pro­gram that is based on my vast expe­ri­ence of low-bud­get film­mak­ing. Through­out my career I became an expert in mak­ing films with min­i­mal resources and almost no mon­ey. There­fore I think I was the obvi­ous per­son to return to Suri­name to set up a nation­al film acad­e­my. The pro­gram com­plete­ly reflects the prin­ci­ples of min­i­mal movie mak­ing. We always work with small, almost non-exis­tent bud­gets. Pub­lic and pri­vate fund­ing cov­ers the oper­at­ing costs of the Acad­e­my, replen­ished by the tuition fees paid by the stu­dents. The biggest over­head always con­sists of the trav­el and accom­mo­da­tion expens­es incurred by the Dutch film­mak­ers who come and teach here. For the remain­der, we only have to pay rent for a class­room and some equip­ment. We do not own any equipment—I have nev­er owned any equip­ment, not even dur­ing my suc­cess­ful $cor­pio peri­od. Also, we don’t have to hire a cast or crew, because the stu­dents work both behind and in front of the cam­eras. Some­times local pro­fes­sion­al tech­ni­cians offer us their ser­vices for free to help us out. Final­ly, to get our films on tele­vi­sion, we always have to find a spon­sor who pays for the air­time. In order to guar­an­tee the con­ti­nu­ity of the Suri­name Film Acad­e­my, we aim to release one new film on each edi­tion of The Back Lot Fes­ti­val, which is now tak­ing place at TBL Cin­e­mas, a great mod­ern mul­ti­plex cin­e­ma they opened in 2011—only then do we feel we have a right to speak. So far we have suc­ceed­ed in this aim. The first film we put out with the Acad­e­my, Ala Di…, had a run­ning time of 150 min­utes and was made in one week of shoot­ing, cost­ing around US$15,000. The sec­ond film, Hori Yu Sre­fi (2006, Bli­jf je zelf; Remain Your­self), marked the first co-pro­duc­tion between the Suri­name Film Acad­e­my and Film Insti­tute Para­mari­bo, which was found­ed by Arie Verkui­jl, a well-known archi­tect who attend­ed the class­es and vol­un­teered as a pro­duc­er. This film was shot in 11 days with a “no-bud­get” of US$10,000. The third film, Het geheim van de Sara­mac­ca Riv­i­er, was made with a small grant of €30,000 and con­sist­ed of a 12-day learn­ing-by-doing pro­gram fol­lowed by 22 stu­dents. The fourth film, The Last Desire (2008, A Kri­boi Angri / Het laat­ste ver­lan­gen), was entire­ly financed by a Dutch real estate bro­ker who just want­ed to have his own film, to give away as an orig­i­nal Christ­mas present. He gave me €30,000 and for that mon­ey we could impro­vise anoth­er min­i­mal movie with­in 10 days. After that, Arie Verkui­jl large­ly took over the direct­ing stick. He had already pro­duced the first three films of the Acad­e­my and now it was time that I would pro­duce films for him. He rapid­ly direct­ed three movies, Wat de vrouw wil… is de wil van God (2008, What a woman wants… is God’s will), Ont­worteld (2008, Uproot­ed), and Elk eind is een begin (2009, Every End­ing is a begin­ning)—but then he sad­ly passed away in 2010. Now I want to make one last fea­ture film, Krin Skin (Clean Skin), a remake of the Ital­ian film L’avventura (1960) with a Black pro­tag­o­nist, to try to reju­ve­nate the Acad­e­my for the next gen­er­a­tion of Suri­namese film­mak­ers.

Martens: With the Suri­namese Film Acad­e­my you have man­aged to put out an unprece­dent­ed num­ber of Suri­namese fea­ture films in only a few years’ time. Do you think the pro­duc­tion of min­i­mal movies can con­tribute to the devel­op­ment of a sus­tain­able film indus­try in Suri­name and the Caribbean in gen­er­al?

De la Par­ra: Not at all. I think it’s sim­ply impos­si­ble to devel­op a film indus­try here in Suri­name. It’s already dif­fi­cult to make films in a coun­try such as the Nether­lands. When I start­ed to make films there in the 1960s, the field of film­mak­ing lied fal­low. Now there is some­thing that could be called a Dutch film industry—an indus­try that, due to the sup­port of all kinds of fund­ing pro­grams, is able to put out around 25 fea­ture films per year. There is such a great infra­struc­ture for film­mak­ing, but that’s only viable because the Nether­lands is a rich and pop­u­lat­ed coun­try in Europe. In Suri­name, one of the poor­est coun­tries of South Amer­i­ca with a pop­u­la­tion of just over 500,000 peo­ple, such an infra­struc­ture is just uncon­ceiv­able. The coun­try is too small in both cap­i­tal and pop­u­la­tion to estab­lish a nation­al film indus­try. We have only one cin­e­ma here, TBL Cin­e­mas, so you can­not gen­er­ate any prof­it from local­ly pro­duced films. You would thus need some­body who is either from a wealthy fam­i­ly, or fund­ed with grant mon­ey, or just crazy enough to pro­duce a film. I think I main­ly belong to the lat­ter cat­e­go­ry, the dream­er who just tries and tries and tries, because he just wants it that much. As said ear­li­er, I am cur­rent­ly try­ing to get my last fea­ture film off the ground. It’s very dif­fi­cult, but I will con­tin­ue my efforts until I have found the mon­ey. I want to show the young gen­er­a­tion here that you can inci­den­tal­ly make a Suri­namese fea­ture film. How­ev­er, the idea of a Suri­namese film indus­try is not real­is­tic. There is sim­ply no eco­nom­ic pow­er and polit­i­cal will. I think the same goes for the wider Caribbean region, with the pos­si­ble excep­tion of Cuba, Jamaica, and Trinidad, con­sid­er­ing their size in terms of cap­i­tal and num­ber of peo­ple, also in the dias­po­ra. Yet still, in these islands, like every­where else in the world, fea­ture films are almost exclu­sive­ly made by peo­ple from wealthy back­grounds. In Jamaica you see, for exam­ple, that most of the film­mak­ers are from the small, White- and Brown-skinned elites, while the poor­er, often dark­er-skinned peo­ple do not real­ly get to enter the world of pro­fes­sion­al film­mak­ing. Also, I think that the Caribbean islands are too frag­ment­ed in terms of lan­guage to build a strong and uni­fied Caribbean film indus­try. I am sor­ry, I am quite som­bre, but I am afraid I am too old to deliv­er mere­ly pos­i­tive sounds. How­ev­er, this does not mean that Caribbean cin­e­ma does not exist. Of course it exists! Caribbean cin­e­ma con­sists of all these indi­vid­ual ini­tia­tives in the region that have brought about, and brought togeth­er, a diverse body of films that are some­how con­nect­ed through our his­to­ry, cul­ture, geog­ra­phy, and cli­mate. There will always be young Caribbean peo­ple who will rise and pro­duce films—and so every now and then such a film could reach the whole world. We just have to keep hop­ing and to keep dream­ing.

Martens: Do you feel that your learn­ing-by-doing way of film­mak­ing could serve as a mod­el to real­ize the dream of cre­at­ing a film cul­ture in the Caribbean?

De la Par­ra: Def­i­nite­ly, I think the method of learn­ing-by-doing can be the sav­ior of Caribbean cin­e­ma. I am now try­ing to export the method to the rest of the Caribbean. As of late, I have been reg­u­lar­ly invit­ed to show my films in oth­er Caribbean coun­tries, main­ly because Wan Pipel and Odyssée d’Amour have been restored and sub­ti­tled in Eng­lish by the Dutch EYE Film Insti­tute. Both my ear­ly and more recent works are thus just now, some­times decades lat­er, being dis­cov­ered in the region. My trav­els pro­vide me the oppor­tu­ni­ty to meet the young peo­ple involved in Caribbean film­mak­ing and also to spread the idea of the min­i­mal movie through­out the region. For exam­ple, last year I vis­it­ed the Trinidad and Toba­go Film Fes­ti­val, where I not only showed two of my films, but also gave a work­shop about min­i­mal movie mak­ing to teach­ers and stu­dents at the Film Depart­ment of the Uni­ver­si­ty of the West Indies. They were all very enthu­si­as­tic and this year I will hope­ful­ly return for 10 days to pro­duce a fea­ture-length film with their stu­dents accord­ing to the prin­ci­ples of the min­i­mal movie, which they can then release at their annu­al fes­ti­val.

Figure 8. A recent portrait of De la Parra in Suriname, 2011. ‘I think the method of learning-by-doing can be the savior of Caribbean cinema.’ Photo by: Guus Dubbelman.

Fig­ure 8. A recent por­trait of De la Par­ra in Suri­name, 2011. ‘I think the method of learn­ing-by-doing can be the sav­ior of Caribbean cin­e­ma.’ Pho­to by: Guus Dubbel­man.

This way I try to chip in and con­tribute my part in the devel­op­ment of Caribbean cin­e­ma. On the oth­er hand, who lis­tens to an old man like me? I don’t feel that the young gen­er­a­tion always wants the advice of senior film­mak­ers. They do things their own way and that’s no prob­lem. Life is all about dynam­ics, about move­ments, about devel­op­ments. Young peo­ple will always rein­vent the wheel again. And they should make their own films. But maybe they want to take, at least, one advice from an old Suri­namese man, and that is that they have to remem­ber that they can already make a fea­ture-length film in 10 shoot­ing days and with a bud­get of US$10,000. It’s dif­fi­cult, but it’s def­i­nite­ly pos­si­ble. If there is one thing I have proven over the years, then it’s that.

Acknowl­edge­ments

I would like to thank Pim de la Par­ra for tak­ing the time to share his thoughts and expe­ri­ences with me for this arti­cle. For a grip­ping doc­u­men­tary on his illus­tri­ous film career, please look out for In-Soo Radstake’s Par­ra­dox (2010; http://​in​-soo​.com/​n​l​/​2​0​1​2​/​0​3​/​0​4​/​p​a​r​r​a​d​ox/)

A recent portrait of De la Parra near the Palmentuin (Palm Garden) in Paramaribo, Suriname, 2015. Photo by: Emiel Martens.

A recent por­trait of de la Par­ra near the Pal­men­tu­in (Palm Gar­den) in Para­mari­bo, Suri­name, 2015. Pho­to by: Emiel Martens.


Copy­right Emiel Martens and Pim de la Par­ra. This arti­cle is licensed under a Cre­ative Com­mons 3.0 License although cer­tain works ref­er­enced here­in may be sep­a­rate­ly licensed, or the author has exer­cised their right to fair deal­ing under the Cana­di­an Copy­right Act.